Tomorrow’s Myths - Serang Chung - A Story of Eight Cities

A Story of Eight Cities

Serang Chung

Paolo Soleri,” Macro Cosanti” (1964), colored crayon, pencil, china ink on gauze backed paper. Courtesy of the Cosanti Foundation.

Tomorrow’s Myths
May 2023

In 2086, without precedent, a great, discretionary power was granted to the organization for the Decarbonization Initiative. People from all walks of life united by a shared vision temporarily put aside their main professions and sat down at the roundtable. In order to extract society from that self-destructive addiction called mass production and mass consumption that had been underway for nearly 200 years, the meeting that would last until the very end went on. Finally, it was Ara Choi, considered by many to be the genius architect of the time, who came up with a plausible idea.

“Ultimately, isn’t it a sense of belonging that gives you as much pleasure as consumption? What if you could pick a lifestyle and live within it all the time, like the way you follow an idol or a sports team? If every group standardizes an architectural form, clothing style, and food materials, wouldn’t it be possible to manage resource production without waste?”

“What would you call such a group?”

“A clan, if you have to put a name on it. When you combine a city and a clan…”

Ara Choi inadvertently fingered the edges of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the book she was holding in her hands.

“Would that be possible? Won’t people get tired of it? What if you want to change in the middle?”

“It’s possible you would want to change, but think of a baseball team, have you ever changed the team you’ve been rooting for?”

Ara Choi looked around at the people at the meeting. They were all shaking their heads.

“I haven’t changed my favorite team once since I chose them when I was ten. They haven’t won a championship in thirty years, and it still makes my blood boil.

“The sense of belonging… is something you hold onto even if you think it’s wrong in the middle of it.”

“It has to be beautiful. It should be beautiful and enjoyable. If both of those criteria aren’t met, it would be unsustainable.”

It was not surprising that an architect came up with such an idea. It is not uncommon for a city or a village to have various restrictions and regulations to maintain its unique style. It was the marketer who then realized the idea of the architect. As is often the case with successful marketing, over time it took on the appearance of myth.

The First City

They choose the crow as a symbol. Crows love shiny metals. They love many types of metals, but mostly aluminum. This recyclable metal became a modular home, a beautiful dome, and feather-like cladding. Building materials, once produced, remained in a closed loop for near eternity.

The people enjoy wearing black clothes, and since it is calculated that no part is discarded from the initial cut cloth, the clothes, falling in straight lines, are comfortable to wear.

The fabrics, produced in limited quantities each year, have subtle differences, even if they are all in the same color. Because the production quantity is determined through astute data analysis, there is no instance of wastage or lack. And even in the case an exception arises, it can be resolved.

People in this modern city are perennially busy, and hence prefer personalized nutrition cubes that are easy to store and consume.

The Second City

The mushroom is their icon. They lay claim to anything that can be decomposed. The houses are built with wood and mushroom mycelium as the main materials. Every year, they like to challenge themselves to see how high a wooden structure can be built. They revived traditional architectural techniques and devised new methods for designing columns, beams, and rafters that interlocked perfectly.

They wear off-white plant-based clothing. Probably because it goes well with the houses. Each year, they dye fabric in various mushroom patterns in limited editions. The clothes are beautiful when worn, and when buried in the ground, decompose in a matter of weeks.

The mushroom burgers are famous. It is often somewhat forced upon their visitors.

The Third City

The inhabitants wanted a dolphin as their mascot. But they were referred to as spiders from outside, so it ended up being a spider. Re-weaving ocean debris, fishing nets in particular, the whole city resembles a labyrinth of hammocks. Naturally, the nets are secured with steel cables used on ships.

There are well-equipped floor panels for rolling anything on wheels of any kind, but gloves made of rubber and split-toed shoes are commonly worn, as there are inhabitants who occasionally want to get off the road and explore the nets. Since the city has the color of green fishing nets, striped T-shirts in purple shades are worn to easily distinguish people. Each year, clothing with stripes of different thickness and spacing is produced, rousing collectors.

They take pride in products made from seaweed.

The Fourth City

Opinions were initially divided as to whether the city should be called a “city.” It started with a group of campers and the units gradually grew larger. Quickly distributing fresh groceries has always used up a lot of energy, but turning this problem on its head, these inhabitants chose to move the city to sites of seasonal production. They move around all year, mapping winding roads and taking care of distribution between cities while working as short-term laborers during the harvest season.

“You know those old-time campers, they would say they loved being in nature, but then they changed tents every year and used a ton of disposables. What a disaster!”

“Of course, we can say this because we’re past the days of burning firewood for ambience.”

New camping gear is rarely produced. Items from the past are more than enough. Old tents are combined to make grand public structures. The representative color naturally took on a shade between beige and khaki. People from other cities refer to them as plovers.

They share seasonal food recipes every year.

The Fifth City

Amidst the climate crisis, good-natured knitters unraveled old sweaters. Strands of yarn circulated endlessly. When people learned that sheep, alpacas, and goats that had been liberated in the process had nowhere to go, they decided to take them in. Each inhabitant would adopt one animal as a pet, and carefully shear the animal in the spring to produce new yarn. Sheep that were genetically modified early on couldn’t live without being sheared. Thus, the inhabitants took charge of the responsibility. Pet-sheep grooming became as wide-ranging as dog grooming. The helmet cut, the heart-shaped cut, etc., long- and short-term trends abounded.

Several ruined cities have been knitted over. Broken pillars and gaping roofs, everything that was cracked or run down.

It had nothing to do with the animals, but for some reason, the city’s plant-based cheese is regarded as the finest.

The Sixth City

The city was built through 3D printing using polymers made of sugarcane and straw. It was designed like an anthill, at first unintentionally, and later with purpose. The air circulation structure modeled on an anthill suited the city well. They chose a light pink, especially beautiful in the setting sun, for the city color. Since the structure did not let in much sunlight, people wear light-colored clothing and prefer luminous fabrics. In order to extend the life of luminescent fibers, they invented several waterless laundering methods.

Predictably, their sugary deserts are famous.

The Seventh City

More than any other city, this city believes in permanence. Going beyond hundred-year-old buildings, they dream of thousand-year-old buildings. The region was selected with earthquakes, typhoons, and floods in mind, and the buildings were constructed with a structure eight times stronger than ordinary buildings. Pillars are positioned on the exterior of the structure so that the interior can be flexibly modified. One never knows what peoples’ tastes might be like in the future.

Color experts were mobilized to create the most timeless color scheme. An exquisite ice gray that suits anyone serves as the primary color, to which five accent colors were added. Much of their effort goes into developing abrasion-resistant fabric.

Passionate about planting oak trees with great carbon storage capacity, they are famous for a variety of acorn dishes.

The Eighth City

They insist that bamboo should be the material of the future. In particular, on why bamboo is a superior material than sugarcane. The panda is their mascot, but it is somewhat incongruous for this tenacious group of people. It would appear as if they decided to resolve all matters of food, clothing, and shelter with bamboo. Occasionally, they also use rattan, and make good application of patterns from Asian paintings.

Their representative menu consists of bamboo shoots and bamboo rice.


A few other city models were attempted, but none were realized. The inhabitants of the cities that were established loved the cities to which they belonged. Most of them did not leave the city of their birth. Similar to inheriting the political stripes of one’s caregivers, they lived their whole lives with the sense of belonging that they felt at a young age, and only a few left in search of a different way of life. People who sought to explore other cities infused vitality between them. Cities one wasn’t born into were always attractive travel destinations, and because of their many aspects that cannot be known through travel alone, there were many exchange programs for each turning point in their lives.

If you wanted to, you could try living in every city, but rather than those who went so far as to try, the majority tended to explore two or three cities in depth.

“The idea that everyone can experience everything is a lie that has passed its expiration date.”

“It’s a lie that corporations used to tell. To try to sell you something. We know that when you try to experience everything, you just end up drifting about until the end.”

The next to be deployed for the continuity of cities were storytellers. Over time, the members of the Decarbonization Initiative have changed, but new members inherited their orientation. They came to the agreement that it was time to overlay the narrative. Nothing survives longer or more persistently than a story, so they decided to attach them to cities like a bonding or reinforcing agent. Most of the storytellers came on board with nondisclosure agreements. Some stories were produced and disseminated through official channels, while others were created and spread in more subtle ways.


A ghost story first enveloped the Eighth City. It told of something living in the bamboo forest. Even in the age of reason, bamboo groves at night struck people’s hearts with a particular darkness. The fear that something might be lurking out of sight was ever-present. At first it was said to be a wild animal that might bite people, then it was said to be an escaped convict, but it was mostly rumored to be the spirit of a dead person.

“Wait a minute. Is this a rumor we made up?”

The people in charge of the project were perplexed.

“No, but don’t you think we should use it?”

So, the people in charge created the “answering being.” It was a simple device made up of a microphone, speaker, and natural language processing AI, but the results were effective. People with questions shouted them deep into the bamboo grove, and sometimes an answer came back. The answers were ambiguous yet appropriate, and at times extremely sharp.

“The key is that it has to be ‘sometimes.’ It’s no fun if it answers every time you ask a question.”

It was effective to adjust it to the most random setting possible. There were times when answers came back to many people in the middle of the day, or when it came back to a single person at the break of dawn. There were times when it answered in succession, and there were times when there were no answers for over a month. The storytellers carefully selected books from which sentences would form the basis of its answers. As one would expect, copyright holders signed confidentially agreements and received royalties.

“The sentences that came out of the book the other day were inappropriate. Nonetheless, language that is too dated would be disengaging to contemporary folks. Let’s set the period to about fifty years ago and choose books from that time frame.

The AI’s answers, derived from adding and melting books-on-books, even touched the project managers’ hearts to an astonishing degree. People, of course, noticed that the ghost stories, regardless of how they began, were developing into slick contrivances, but delighted in them anyway.

A musical with a runtime of six hours was produced for the people of the Seventh City. It was a musical based on the life of Shin Minhee, an anthropoid scholar who discovered a new antibiotic. Act One presents the story of Shin Minhee’s birth and childhood in the Seventh City. It is elaborately composed of anecdotes of the loss of her sister to an epidemic, her tragic breakup with her first love, and how she waged a campaign on behalf of urban ecosystems with her friends. Act Two, which started again after the break, had a completely different feel. The depiction of the story leading up to her research with gibbons and the episode with the poachers was both dramatic and grand. Utilizing even the space above the audience’s heads, the gibbons with their spectacular movements, masterpieces of Peninsula Robotics, appeared as if they were actually alive. The combat scene with the poachers that formed the climax of Act Two was favorably received. Even the pacifists had no qualms about wanting to see the death of the poachers. Act Three sang movingly about Shin Minhee’s discovery and how it went on to save countless lives. While observing a black-handed gibbon, Shin watches the gibbon bring a never-before-seen plant to its wound, which she then relays to the botanists and microbiologists. The three scholars engaged in a secretive love triangle was an overreach. It was a choice taken for the masses, but those who belonged to the same research center at the time couldn’t help but grumble.

“Can you believe how they just made all that up? It wasn’t love, it was just collegiality!”

“Why can’t dry stories just be dry?”

The musical was staged every year on the anniversary of the city’s founding. The performance hall was designed more perfectly than in any other city, so people from other cities came to visit the Seventh City to see the musical.

The Sixth City was the hub of the idol industry. It was the fans that were the first to raise questions about the wasteful aspects of the idol industry. The culture of throwing away albums without even opening them, or just clicking without listening to increase the streaming count has completely changed. Deliberations on and attempts to bring about more gratifying experiences, while consuming less, pressed on. While wrestling with the problem of how to replace the sense of accomplishment peopled used to feel through sales rankings, a planner from the Decarbonization Initiative came up with the AR quest. The gently winding roads and dim interiors of the Sixth City were well suited for AR content. An exciting competition began over which idols’ fans could complete the most quests. Music and dance still held center stage, but there were additions that exceeded expectations. At the end of the year, the results of the quest were announced alongside a string of award ceremonies. The quests consisted of a good mix of electronic gaming and public service activities. This was not surprising as it had been idol fans that originally created the largest expanse of forest area.

A children’s book author born and raised in the Fifth City wrote a children’s book with a baby sheep as the main character. Danbom, the baby sheep, was experiencing hair loss.1 No matter what she tried, her hair wouldn’t grow.

“If I am a sheep but not fluffy, then what am I?”

When the first volume of Danbom’s struggles to find the meaning of life and existence was greatly loved, the Decarbonization Initiative immediately made the author into a full-time writer so she could focus solely on the Danbom series. As the books piled up, the baby sheep worked through the relationship between herself and the world in a healthy way. The image of Danbom growing into an adult sheep with neither excessive self-hatred nor excessive self-love but with confidence touched a part of people’s hearts that other stories had been unable to reach. The Decarbonization Initiative made enterprising use of the Danbom series in the form of animation and educational content. Not just children in the Fifth City, but children in every city grew up reading the Danbom sheep series. Travelers arriving in the Fifth City, when they came across a baby sheep, would cry out “Danbom!” on the verge of tears. Baby sheeps pet-owners found such travelers ridiculous, all the while inwardly taking pleasure in the thought: “My sheep must look like Danbom!”

The people of the Fourth City wanted to open a circus from the beginning.

“It just makes sense, if we move around in big tents like these, why would we do something other than hold a circus? I mean, wouldn’t that be strange?”

When the artistic direction of the circus was taking off, the added rock climbing elements were quite refreshing, given that the people of the Fourth City were basically mountaineers. Bouldering holds were wedged all over the stage both visible and hidden, and the performers, who appeared to have overcome gravity, used the space three-dimensionally. Many storylines were drawn up, but the story that was most loved was the story of the people of the Fourth City setting out to find a young teenager, who upon arriving from another city for an exchange program fell into distress. With every performance, the originating city of the youth was changed. Taking into account the teenager’s personage, who was lovable but careless and unprepared, it was a good idea to do so. The protagonist’s mishaps, the crisscrossing paths of the search party, and the mythical beings issuing from natural objects that the protagonist encounters in delirium, were all portrayed through pantomime. The people of the Fourth City found the people of other cities excessively talkative, and were satisfied with their choice to use pantomime. Without even a single word, the circus viewers could leave the stage tent with a good tip or two on how to survive when thrown into the wilderness.

If the people of the Fourth City were mountain climbers, the people of the Third City were divers. For this group of people, who obtain diving licenses like a driver’s license, a legend about undersea treasures was prepared.

“They say that the slush fund was hidden on an island that was submerged by the rise in sea level.”

“Whose slush fund? What form was it in?”

At first, it was naturally assumed to be in gold, but others began to appear with different ideas, such as stolen art or ancient artifacts, technical information that had been forgotten but people wanted to restore, or a riddle that would unlock the inheritance of a celebrity if solved. There were people who would dive once or twice and then forget about it. But there were also those who persistently devoted all of their leisure time to it. Once every few years, an intriguing element worth calling a clue was discovered, but the definitive treasure has yet to be found.

“Every time we dive, we come out with trash. Do you think they’re using this to clean up the trash?”

“Those Decarbonization folks, they must be at it again.”

The people who hid the treasure smiled nonchalantly. If one were found, then they would hide another. The list of candidates has been around for hundreds of years. No one knew until the list was made that there were so many types of treasures that could withstand water as well as time.

The people of the Second City created an action game with a large assortment of anthropomorphized mushroom characters. If you were determined to figure out why the mushrooms had to fight each other, the reasoning was bizarre, but no one really pushed it because the mushroom characters were shockingly cool. The wood pinkgill mushroom threw off its satgat like a martial arts master,2 and the skirt train of the veiled lady mushroom was mesmerizing. The lobster mushrooms attacked in clusters and the magic mushrooms assaulted the mind. Players loved the staghorn mushroom’s handsomely raised horns and the cinnamon cap mushroom’s bobbed hair. When edible and poisonous mushrooms resembled each other, it was accompanied by a background story about siblings or rivals with hidden secrets around their birth and lineage. The game controls were simple but the storylines lavish. All of those stories were not merely used to deliver knowledge about poisonous mushrooms. Instead, the game came closer to capturing the sense of wonder about objects of a different kind. It was a game that seemed to say all along that while some peculiar organisms may be good or bad for people, their complex and elusive existence arouses wonder, and it is when people wonder that they are most human. The game has been loved for a very long time. The winners are always elementary school students.

The people of the First City realized one day that a story was hidden like a code in their favorite spelling game. Since when, and who was it, that started hiding the story? Everyone suspected the storytellers of the Decarbonization Initiative, but surprisingly they didn’t have a hand in it. Rather, the Initiative was also startled and in the process of monitoring it. They observed with astonishment those who were discovering, adding to, and developing stories that no one appeared to have made up.

“What if the story gets too dark? Shouldn’t we intervene then?”

“A story that ends in despair won’t be written. Some may push it that way out of malice, but it won’t end like that.”

An unprecedented collaborative production ensued. A story soon diverged into several directions. The stories became similar and then dissimilar. They were either completely disconnected or mutually influencing one other. They were either focused on amplifying emotions or concentrated on conveying a message. The side that sought to impose order and the side that reveled in the chaos clashed vigorously.


Cities will be built and destroyed. Even if the city were to perish, those who believe that stories will leave behind the outlines of the city have taken over the warp and weft of the loom. And eventually, whether they exist inside or outside of the story has become uncertain. That is up to you to decide.


Translator’s note: The sheep’s name, Danbom, means “sweet spring” in Korean.


Translator’s note: The satgat is a conical shaped hat often made of bamboo originating in East, South, and Southeast Asia.

Tomorrow’s Myths is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and “2086: Together How?,” the Korean Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia curated by Soik Jung and Kyong Park.

Architecture, Urbanism
Science Fiction, Futurism, Dystopia, Mythology, Storytelling
Return to Tomorrow’s Myths

Translated from Korean by Alice S. Kim

Chung Serang is a South Korean science fiction and fantasy writer.


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