On the Visual Design of Birnin Zana, Wakanda’s Capitol

Design & Designers, Geek out!, Movies & TV

All the “best of 2018” movie lists I’ve seen remind of how much I loved Black Panther. So, I’m stealing an early start to the Martin Luther King Day weekend and reading about the design of Wakanda’s capitol city.

It’s called Birnin Zana and nicknamed the Golden City, although neither name appears in the movie. The Birnin Zana we see on the screen is the creation of the movie’s production designer, Hannah Beachler.

In a CityLab interview with Nicole Flatow, Beachler recounts her starting point:

“You know what’s keeping us together: the connectivity of people, not the connectivity of users. We’re not users; we’re people, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re users,” she said. “So I took all of that, and I just chucked it out of Wakanda, because the people were the most important thing about it, and we’re forgetting it. And I think that’s why people responded to Wakanda on this massive level: people.”

CityLab Marvel Studios Wakandan Street View

Marvel Studios; via CityLab.

The first impression of Birnin Zana is of course the skyscrapers, but if you look closely, there is water and ample greenery, too. The skyscrapers don’t seem to block the light too badly either.

Wired Marvel Studios City from Above

Marvel Studios; via Wired.

And if you really look, you can see greenery both in and on the buildings.

fxguide Marvel Studios Royal Landing Pad

Marvel Studios; via fxguide.

Vanity Fair Marvel Studios City Concept

Marvel Studios; via Vanity Fair.

Ahh! Nice.

Many of the building shapes hark back to traditional African aesthetics; also the surface detailing is rich and striking. In an interview with Collider, Beachler talks about the influences for her work:

“I started poking around and looking at really modern architects who have designed in Africa, all over Africa, east and west Africa. And someone who I really fell in love with was Zaha Hadid, who has passed away, but she is one of the foremost architects. So I started looking at her. Her architecture is very voluptuous and very flowing, very organic. So I thought this would be good. And the more I started digging into Senegal and Nigeria and finding things, while not necessarily futuristic-looking, very modern in their sensibilities as far as the way they’re putting together their elements and the colors that they use. I was struck by that. So I took a lot of that in. And a lot of it does come from Nigeria. I think in Kenya, Uganda, Johannesburg was another one, where no matter where you go, you really do see that they’re always keeping in mind the tradition.”

Los Angeles Times Marvel Studios City Concept Low-Built Area

Film Frame / Marvel Studios; via Los Angeles Times.

Collider Marvel Studios Wakanda City Concept

Marvel Studios; via Collider.

Beachler also created a 500-page “Wakanda Bible” for the actors to study, including the history of Golden City and names for all the buildings. The records hall held special meaning for her:

“Because [Wakanda residents] know everything about their past”—a privilege that real-world African Americans don’t have—“and [that] will never go away again in this city.

“I felt that way because I never knew my history. I didn’t know my ancestry, I didn’t know how far back it went …That was truly the most important thing to me. I don’t have that, but I could give it here in this fantastical world.”

I wish we got to see it, but I don’t think we do. (If you’ve spotted the records hall, let me know!)

Anyway; gorgeous through and through, isn’t it?

Now, I’m a city girl and have been almost my entire life. However, my concept of a city is different: all urban areas back home are typically so roomily built I’ve heard that if we were to follow some particular EU directive the whole country of Finland wouldn’t have a single city. (No idea whether that’s true, though.) Add my introversion to the difference in our respective urban population densities, and I suspect I would need a lot of alonetime were it possible for me to visit the Golden City.

Other than that, I LOVE everything we see: Color! Fantastic public transit (maglev trains, streetcars), but with people and their needs (and not cars) clearly at the focus. Traditional crafts and art that live very comfortably next to high-tech. Street vendors of almost every stripe – especially the food vendors make my mouth water every time I see them.

I do wish we could have a real-world Wakanda, for many reasons, the fabulous design being just one.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.