The limits of safety: deconstructing the notion of shelter in cinema

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There are moments in history where what is considered to be stable and safe starts to lose its protection value. There are events and social phenomena that lead to phobias and fears; architecture and urban design have to provide answers to this inquietude. This paper seeks to follow the succession of four major urban and architectural phenomena and the way they are connected with various fears. Starting from the house, particularly the ‘60s suburban residence; moving into the ‘70s with the commercial malls that are marketed as earthly paradises; and ending with the concept of the gated city/community, which today presents itself as the safest place to stay, the paper links these phenomena with social changes and a demonization of anything that is different. The main guideline for this paper is the way these shelters appear in horror films, and, more specifically, George A. Romero’s ‘… of the Dead’ series, better known as the zombie films. By examining their simple structure (people under attack, fortifying into an edifice) and making the connection to the historic and social context, the paper uncovers the parallels and allegories hidden in the films. Apart from the link with the relevant social structures, the paper tries to connect the films with urban and architectural policies; spatial proposals that respond to the eternal and instinctive quest for shelter. In his films ,Romero aims to reveal the danger these shelters conceal and the traps we create for ourselves every time we try to define the limits of safety. In the last 50 years, and especially in the last decade, fear has been a basic instrument of control, and as result there has been a huge change in our relationship to public and urban space, as the issue of safety becomes more important. As symbols of a whole society slowly fail, we try to fortify our spaces; craving order and security, we build walls and try to mark our safe space, excluding the other, the stranger, the different. Romero’s deconstruction of these shelters alerts us to the fact that the real danger is not always outside the walls.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-60
JournalEdinburgh Architecture Research
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Cinema
  • Horror Films
  • Urban planning
  • City
  • Architecture


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