Diego's Engineerium

When writing a book like Mortal Engines, set in made up places full of strange stuff, there are some things that you imagine in great detail - I know exactly what the inside of the airship Jenny Haniver looks like, for instance - and others that remain a bit of a blur. The building called the Engineerium is one such blurry place for me: it's where London's ruling caste of Engineers hang out, but I didn't want to bog the story down in complex detail of its floorplan, so I while I was writing I saw it in a more dreamlike way; I know there are many different levels, and balconies, and a big open central space with a monorail spiralling up through it, but exactly how it all fits together I never needed to know.

So pity the poor production or set design student who has to visualise it all in 3D and can't just say, 'They turned down another corridor' and rely on his audience to supply the details.  Diego Miguel PĂ©rez de la Guardia was set the task of designing a building or structure for an imaginary Mortal Engines movie as part of a college project, and took his inspiration from the scenes in the book where Bevis and Katherine break into the Engineerium.  He says:

"The claw shape of the building gave me a bit of a headache as I did not like any of the fancy shapes that I ended up designing. So, in the end I took a portion of Battersea power station in the actual London and built around it a massive steel and black glass structure supported on four legs similar to a bicycle suspension. This made the building look like a claw and also by the use of springs it would keep the whole building held to resist the movements of London.  Inside I made a different kind of structure formed by pillars and bridges. On some of these platforms I also placed small labs made from prefab units (as it is all about recycling…) Through all this I managed to design a monorail inspired by cable cars that you find at ski stations. It is a closed cycle formed by two spirals: the interior spiral that takes the cars up and then on the top level it opens up, making the exterior spiral to take the cars down. 

"I also designed all those cogs which are supposed to produce the energy to move the monorail and columns that have springs inside to once again support the movements. I wanted to have a double high laboratory where the engineers are sort of designing a new planet or world order. There are a couple of more things but basically I wanted to provide gateways, bridges, balconies, stairs and different spaces where the two kids could run and get confused between the engineers."

The results is this extraordinary model, which somehow looks all the more eerie and Engineerish for being deserted and uncoloured. Many thanks to Diego for these photographs. Sadly I don't have one of the claw-like Battersea Power Station exterior, but I'd love to see it.  As with a lot of the Mortal Engines artwork which people send me, I wish I'd had these to refer to back when I was writing the book!


Tim Knight said...


Sarah McIntyre said...

Wow, this is amazing!!!

Jo Durnall said...

It is very exciting to see Diego's work here. I am his tutor at The University of Glamorgan TV and Film Set Design course. I have been setting a project based on 'Mortal Engines' for three years now.
Imagining that the book were to be made into a feature film second year students have to choose one 'set' from the book to design. I chose Mortal Engines as there is so much visual variety within the settings from the glossy 'Engineerium' to make shift 'Speedwell' built by 'somebody whose idea of good carpentry was to bang a couple of nails in and hope for the best'.
Over the three years we have had great fun coming up with different interpretations for The Gas Bag and Gondoler, Valentine's Villa, Speedwell, Tunbridge Wheels, Batmuunkh Gompa Anna Fang's Laboratory and many other locations.
It would be great Philip if you could come to this year's final critique in May 2013 - it would be fantastic to see what you think of the various designs.
It is an exciting project and will probably run until Mortal Engines is made into a film - then unfortunateley we will have to look for a replacement book whose visualisation is still up for grabs.... Jo Durnall

Philip Reeve said...

Thanks, Tim & Sarah. And Jo, it's nice to know there's an upside to Mortal Engines not being a film yet! I expect I could get to the University of Glamorgan for next may: drop me a line at thesolitarybee@gmail.com .

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