Halo's Forerunner Architecture Is Some Heavy S**t

Their name alone speaks volumes about what their architecture embodies: the way they see themselves, the image they want to present to others. Forerunners. A group of individuals that comes along before others, setting the stage for their existence. They named themselves this, with all the vanity in the world.

Forerunners. This seems like a good place for me to start, given my experience with the Halo franchise, as well as the relevancy in their architecture to contemporary studies. To sum them up:

We are Forerunners, guardians of all that exists. The roots of the galaxy have grown deep under our careful tending. Where there is life, the wisdom of our countless generations has saturated the soil. Our strength is a luminous sun towards which all intelligence blossoms. And the impervious shelter beneath which it has prospered.“ -- The Ur-Didact

That’s some heavy shit!

Some heavy, solemn shit. Think about what someone’s house would look like that had this view of themselves. Somebody who saw their ideals as the perfect way to exist. Now you might be thinking that this all sounds a bit religious, and indeed it seems to be. The light that I view the Forerunners under is religious not in context, or in content, but in scale. Yeah, the Forerunners outlined a way to live. And? The example of all life to come, the stencil of success. Welp, this is what that house would look like, it seems.

Part 1: The Library

Now, I know that building a fucking massive library to your own knowledge seems a bit vain, but hey, these guys deserve it. Vanity aside, let’s take a look at the design of it. The forerunners were all about their ideals, right? They didn’t need gigantic golden gates to flank their entrances, they didn’t embellish themselves to hell and back with gems and precious stones. There’s a common thread that winds its way throughout almost every piece of forerunner architecture, and the library is a perfect first example of it. There is an architectural idea proposed by Le Corbusier, the Law of Ripolin, which perfectly explains what I believe to be the aim of Forerunner architecture.

Corbusier believed that “modern industrialized ornamentation and colouring [...] reeked of confusion, disorder, dishonesty, imbalance, subservience, narcosis, and dirt” (source). The Forerunners stood for honesty, cleanliness, and balance. Their architecture is a clear reflection of this. Clean lines, geometry, and most of all, a profound lack of colour and ornamentation. This library is nothing like the ones that us humans build. In our society libraries are typically overpowering and emanate prowess, however the Forerunner Library projects a different image of its builders. Honesty creeps out of every fine line, cleanliness has been practiced on every joint and corner, and a balance of power and decency has been achieved with every crooked spire. The image might appear intimidating, but try to think of the library out of the context of its surroundings. The spires all point towards the middle of the structure, as do all of the accented lines (the lit-up parts).

The Library is speaking to something more than its creators, or what is contained within. It’s trying to exemplify what the knowledge stands for. Something more than just physical beings, or the reputation of whoever built it. The Forerunners see themselves as an ideal, as an example to be followed, and the Library exemplifies their selflessness by removing any trace of their physical selves from history: the source of all the wisdom that has saturated the soil.

Part 2: Architecture as a Character

The subjects of this image are as nameless and integrated into their environment as the structure they have created. Without the subjects, you might still imagine them to be this way.

The concept of architecture being a character of its own is something that I strongly believe in. During school I wrote a number of essays on this topic in relation to film, but in gaming the effect can be much more profound. Take the Forerunners as an example of this. In Halo, you don’t really interact with too much of the Forerunner race, save for a few exceptions. Nothing on the level of your interaction with the races of the Covenant, at least. Now, think about how much you know about the Forerunners. Seems strange, doesn’t it? Even without being directly told anything about these Forerunners, you have a clue as to what they were like, the lives they led, their outlook on the universe. For this, I look towards architecture. You’re subtly hinted, from that first beacon in Halo, towards a race best described as solemn. Tall, spired structures project skyward, dropped in the most unlikely of places.

The feeling I get when I see images of this type of architecture is probably best described as forlorn. The namelessness, the anonymity, the voicelessness. The Forerunner’s architecture is meant to express them as a people, and if we consult the Ur-Didact once again, we can see that they viewed themselves as a race that was to be forgotten in body, but remembered in spirit:

”From my life let the best be taken. Let the growth inherent in this youth be examined and maximized. Let all that is potential and beloved of the Mantle be nurtured and encouraged. Let all that was past be put away, and all that is future brought forward, made real and physical…” — Ritual Prayer

Leave any suggestions for which game to cover next in the comments below, or any general comments about the article. As this is my first actual article any feedback is greatly appreciated!

Aaron Cote is an architecture student studying at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. His posts can be found at Monolith, a gaming community created by his brother, Tyler Coté.


    I don't know about everyone else, but there was something off about the Forerunner buildings in Halo 4. They all seemed too clean, too flashy, trying too hard to impress.
    Previously they were barren, spooky even. Making you wonder how it all works.

      I suppose the difference is that the ones on requiem hadn't seen any use since the Didact was imprisoned... where as the others felt 'lived in', or had been repurposed.

      They were kind of made that way.

      343 wanted to design the buildings in a way that made them much more active compared to previous games. They wanted to show that the Forerunners had awakened, and the buildings are a reflection of this.

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