Saturday 26 August 2023

Invisible Cities Visualised

The multitude of AI platforms now in existence make a buffet of resources for assisting creative work-flows.  AI is diversifying and specialising, with different applications taking the lead in different creative disciplines including essay writing, coding, song writing, music composition, story telling and visualisation etc.  

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Experimenting to see how Midjourney would tackle Italo Calvin’s ‘Invisible Cities’ created some interesting results and it became a very useful introductory exercise to see how the software works.  

Midjourney’s representation of Isidora: 
A dreamy city with spiral staircases encrusted with 
sea shells and buildings with telescopes… 

The latest skill-set to learn appears to be ‘prompt engineering’; a combination of descriptive words, reference images, correct prompt sequencing, grammar protocols and reference codes to generate the required image.  But it often involves a lot of trial and error and it’s like working with another person in the room.  Sometimes the images are incredible and sometimes you just have to accept what you are given, despite all the hours down the Midjourney rabbit-hole.  

Midjourney’s representation of the futuristic city of Dorothea, 
With aluminium towers, gates and draw bridges, moats, and canals…

As an architect, it s important to be able to produce your own design images directly,  Being able to ‘hold a pencil’ is the first skill, but packages like this can make a powerful support tool when managed accurately.  

Midjourney’s representation of Isaura, city of a thousand wells…

It appears to work with some preconceptions based around the prompt words. Images related to cities often result in vertically stacked buildings or historical scenes, pointing towards a dystopia or utopia, depending on the vibe in the prompts.  

Midjourney’s representation of the city of Armilla with no walls,
ceilings or floors, just water pipes where house should be…

The creative direction has to come from the accuracy of the prompts.  The software is powerful in both executing the instructions and creating compelling graphics, but it appears to draw on its enormous library of reference material and established comprehension of the world, rather than open minded creativity.  

Asking Midjourney for an image of a room with no walls, ceiling,
floor, walls, doors or windows, just to see how it copes…

Meanwhile, back at the point of this blog post, the objective information from a selection of the cities in Italo Calvin’s book were drafted in to a prompt sequence with great excitement for the images Midjourney would assign to each city, realised over half a Century after Invisible Cities was written!

Experimenting with he idea of a city built on scaffolding…

Some images are are very exciting and evocative.  Others looked a bit more like products of a set process.  There was a lot of trial and error, experimenting with the text, prompt settings and results.  The exercise was also useful because it prompted careful focus on the cities being described in the Midjourney engine and it was telling that all the images i imagined I’m my mind looked nothing like those given by Midjourney!  

Experimenting with the idea of a city in the sky…

Obviously there is still no substitute for developing your own drawing skills yet, but at the very least AI offers an incredible set of reference resources to work with.  

Experimenting with he idea of a city in the sea,
constructed from scaffolding…

In conclusion, this is an incredible resource and easily an important tool in the design arsenal.  It’s advantage as a professional resource comes in to play with he skill of knowing prompt engineering.  But unlike most other software packages, it’s fun to engage with and provides lots of exciting visuals on the way to reaching your final image.  

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