Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Book of the Machines

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posted on 2024-01-18, 09:18 authored by Courtney Roose

In her article “The Allegorical Architectural Project as a Critical Method”, Penelope Haralambidou proposes that an allegorical architectural project can be used as a critical method for the design of architecture. Haralambidou argues that when an allegorical architectural project is employed to unravel a work from another creative discipline, such as literature or fine art, the findings can be used as a method to generate unexpected speculative architectural outcomes. This design-led research investigation proposes to test Haralambidou’s proposition by using Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon as a literary provocateur for the design of an allegorical architectural project.

Butler’s novel Erewhon is set in a fictional country based on his visit to New Zealand from 1860-1864. Its principal chapter “The Book of the Machines” was a commentary about how the evolution of machines in the Industrial Revolution parallels Darwin’s 1859 treatise on the evolution of mankind. In the novel’s fictional realm Erewhon (a backward pun for “nowhere”), the rulers recognise both the essential nature of machines, as well as the danger machines represent as they surpass mankind. In his 1968 essay “Difference and Repetition”, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes Samuel Butler’s Erewhon as “not only a disguised no-where but a rearranged now-here” (Deleuze 380).

The literary theme of Erewhon establishes a dialectical narrative about the essential nature of the machine in our lives, as well as the danger machines represent as they surpass mankind. This theme has a contemporary real-world parallel at the Chittagong ship graveyard in Bangladesh, where enormous mechanical ships, symbols of wealth and prosperity, are deconstructed by impoverished workers living in toxic conditions. As a speculative allegorical architecture project, this thesis uses the real-world Chittagong ship graveyard as an allegory for Butler’s Erewhon to explore what might happen if the buried ‘sentient’ machines of ‘Erewhon’ are uncovered and come to life once again.

Using Samuel Butler’s allegorical devices and narrative framework from “The Book of the Machines” as the generators of an allegorical architectural project, this design-led thesis investigation asks: how can an allegorical architectural project re-present Butler’s fictional realm of Erewhon — that Deleuze chillingly describes as now-here — as a way to enhance our awareness of the tragic story of the Chittagong ship graveyard?


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Brown , Daniel