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Ascetic Aesthetic

"It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove."
— Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Locations set the mood of a scene just as much as the characters in it, and few locations say so much with so little as those with the Ascetic Aesthetic. A setting built with an Ascetic Aesthetic is "decorated" in a modern, minimalist and exceedingly clean style. Walls will likely be plain, featureless gray or white, perhaps with a light blue accent. Buildings will have either no curves at all, favouring a blocky and efficient feel, or have oddly sterile "organic" curves. Furniture will likely be plain and industrial, favoring function and comfort over style.

The net feeling these places will evoke is the absence of it. Rooms, buildings and cities will seem cold and empty even when full of people. Though Minimalism as a style can have a lot of character and personality, the Ascetic Aesthetic invokes an uneasy emptiness, be it of life (people are alienated), nature (nothing non-human lives there) or oppression (Dystopia loves this decorative statement).

The most extreme uses of this trope will be just one moving van away from becoming a White Void Room.

This may be justified if it's a hospital, bio-laboratory or high tech factory where everything has to be clean, but usually goes a little farther in making the set dehumanizingly impersonal. Futuristic settings post Zeerust will usually embrace a form of this trope where Everything Is An iPod In The Future and there are Shiny-Looking Spaceships. Not surprisingly, the polar opposite of this trope is the Used Future, where the edges will be dented, the patina scratched, and the once angelic halogen lights will flicker if they still work at all.

Please note that authors don't always cover every inch of their settings with an Ascetic Aesthetic. It can be localized to just one room as easily as a planet. For this reason, stories that feature a place with an Ascetic Aesthetic will often be contrasted at one or more points with at least one homey, hearthy, or all-natural location, where the characters who are closer to Earth dwell. If two factions embrace these opposite aesthetic and philosophical views, expect Slobs Versus Snobs.

Another uses for this design aesthetic is that it doesn't distract viewers as much as homier or "busier" sets like the Bazaar of the Bizarre, turning the focus on characters and any significant decoration or out of place element. Like a flower pot, pet cat, dropped MacGuffin or blood covered wall. Because when something is out of place or has Gone Horribly Wrong in these locations, it's very easy to tell.

In the shiny end of Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty.

Contrast/See also Design Student's Orgasm.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Saint Beast, Zeus' shrine and Heaven's Palace are opulent for their sheer size but there's very little filling the space and the dominant colour is white.
  • Tiger & Bunny really strikes home on how empty and lonely Barnaby's life is when his apartment is shown for the first time. The place is a large, modern studio, with hardly any decorations and almost no furniture save for an ergonomic chair and an elaborate computer/television setup that he uses to obsessively investigate his parents' murders.
    • His superhero partner Kotetsu's bachelor pad, on the other hand, is a sprawling, messy and colorful loft full of bookshelves, CDs, and photographs of his family. The contrast could hardly be sharper.
  • Death Note introduces its Anti-Hero Antagonist L in a room like this, with nothing but his laptop and four white walls. Of course, it's hard to tell because he's sitting alone in near darkness. Most likely used to foreshadow the prevalence of Intelligence Equals Isolation in the shaping of his character, or, as some theorize, to dip into the series' underlying meditations on Zen Buddhism.
  • Hueco Mundo, part of the afterlife and the world of Hollows, in Bleach is a barren desert with almost no features aside from a petrified tree here and there. The ground is made up of stark white sand and the sky is always pitch black and completely featureless aside from the moon. Aizen's fortress in Hueco Mundo, Las Noches, is a better example architecture-wise. It's the size of a country and, from the outside, mostly just looks like a gargantuan, white box sitting in the desert. The inside is a bit more complex, but the architectural details are usually pretty bizarre.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Jacques Tati's Playtime.
  • In Cube 2: Hypercube, the death-trap maze of interconnected cube-shaped rooms has a user-friendly look, with sleek white surfaces and touch-to-open panels.
  • This was the standard design aesthetic for science fiction until Star Wars hit the scene. Chronologically, it is likely the first aversion in film with Star Wars: A New Hope, which debuted in 1977. Two years later, Alien averted the trope yet further, as the starships were gritty and grimy, just as you should expect a giant long-haul vehicle that is its own repair garage would be in space. Less "sports car," more "Australian outback 4WD". Tales of Future Past has pages of examples.
    • Star Wars actually uses it to good effect to contrast the clean, dark and minimalist Imperial Star Destroyers with the dirty and homey Millennium Falcon, and the shiny and regal Naboo royal cruiser. Also subverted via All There in the Manual in Episode 2 with the Kaminoan homeworld: the Kaminoan buildings look like they have a white minimalistic appearance, but the Kaminoans' vision is mostly in a spectrum that humans can't see, so all their artwork and painting is in ultraviolet.
    • Cloud City follows this trope to a 'T' with it's interior decoration dominated by the use of white.
    • Another example is given in the X-Wing series of Expanded Universe novels. When we are introduced to Ysanne Isard, director of Imperial Intelligence (basically running the Empire at this point), we are showed her huge office with nothing in it but a non-descript (though large) desk. The viewpoint character even comments of how luxurious it is to waste that much space on a crowded planet like Coruscant.
  • TRON and TRON: Legacy which is perhaps justified by The Grid being a computer world where everything would have had to be programmed in.
  • San Angeles gives off this vibe in Demolition Man.
  • The Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Film.
  • Miranda in Serenity. Also shown with the scenes from the Academy at the beginning of the movie, and on the Alliance ships in the series proper, which were designed to look sterile and colorless with both architecture and uniform.
  • Patrick Bateman's apartment in American Psycho looks stunningly elegant and organized. He's also got dozens of corpses piled up in the back rooms.
  • In Logan's Run, the dome city is decorated on these lines. In reality, much of it was filmed at the Dallas Market Center
  • In Richard Lester's 1965 youth comedy The Knack, Tom, who is a bit mad, moves into the townhouse advertising for a tenant (without notifying the landlord first) and immediately empties out all the furniture and paints it completely white - floors, windowpanes and all.
  • The Sarang moon base in Moon has white, geometrical atmosphere that emphasizes the loneliness felt by the protagonist. It is a bit dirtier than the typical example, though.
  • The time travel chamber in Guest from the Future is a white room with a control stand in the center, and the Time Institute is made of polished metal panels.
  • Equilibrium uses this to show the difference between the clean, calm, boring, and unemotional society and the dirty, downtrodden and emotional heretics.
  • Aside from the "Dawn of Man" segment, 2001: A Space Odyssey practically defines this trope.
  • In Invasion Of Astro Monster, aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, the underground complex on Planet X is composed primarily of plain white tunnels with curved walls.
  • The Arboria Institute in Beyond the Black Rainbow.
  • How the Tet and anything related to it (the Towers, the drones, the firearms) is represented in Oblivion (2013). Borders Everything Is An I Pod In The Future in some places (like the Towers' communication consoles).
  • The Transworld building's Floor Zero in Upside Down comes off like this, at least in the part of the floor where all the cubicles are.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Battlestar Galactica, the colonials and Cylons have very different design aesthetics, with the former being in a run-down warship, with even the newer ships (ala Pegasus) are distinctly utilitarian; the latter in ultra-modern organic/technological starships.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Starship Enterprise looks like it was designed by Future Ikea, because it's always clean and sterile.
    • This actually works to exalt the small touches that characters add to their personal spaces. Picard has an exotic fish in his office, and Data has Spot the cat.
    • One interesting detail though that the set designers added was the curved wooden oval with the tactical station on the bridge. It is probably the only time in Star Trek we see a Federation ship with natural materials featuring prominently in the design. In interviews they mention it was to add a "homey" touch that also reinforced the "cruise ship in space" feel. Some of the concept sketches for the Next Gen Enterprise included hanging plants on the bridge.
      • And indeed, in the show itself, a captain of another (smaller, older) Starfleet vessel refers to the Enterprise as a "Flying Hotel".
  • The TARDIS from Doctor Who, particularly in its original 1960s incarnation. Attempts by some designers to update the look of the TARDIS to make it look consciously futuristic (most infamously in the 1980s) have, ironically, dated faster. Latterly the TARDIS set design has moved away from asceticism to embrace steampunk and clapped-out organo-gothic.
  • Massive Dynamic from Fringe is in love with this style, combined with Sinister Geometry.
  • Farscape in inside of the Scarran ship are unusually white and clean, compared to the outside of the ship which has Spikes of Villainy.
  • Justified in Flashpoint, in the apartment of a man who's been coping poorly with Eidetic Memory. Overwhelmed by the sheer mass of past images in his head, he'd simplified his living quarters as much as possible, with white furnishings and minimal necessities in all-white rooms, so seeing them wouldn't add still more imagery to his accumulated memories.
  • In Helix, parts of Research, Inc. Arctic Biosystems are sleek, modernist and spare to the point of creepiness, which makes it a perfect backdrop for an outbreak of The Virus. Some promos Exaggerate the contrast, showing Bad Black Barf dripping on stark white modernist furniture and walls.
  • Space1999: Moonbase Alpha has this in spades

    Manhwa 
  • Many of the halls and rooms in Tower of God, specifically in Evankell's Hell and other testing areas are big, spacious, blank and white, with little detail. Makes it slightly unnerving, but also easy to draw.

     Music 
  • The video for Björk's All Is Full Of Love features spotless white rooms and robots.
  • See Minimalistic Cover Art for this trope in record sleeve art. Main culprit: Peter Saville.
  • David Byrne's stage design for Talking Heads' 1983 tour, as seen in Stop Making Sense. The instruments and microphones were painted matte-black to get rid of "distracting" elements. Byrne wouldn't even allow cups of water onstage, to the irritation of bassist Tina Weymouth.

    Tabletop RP Gs 
  • Magic: The Gathering offers various examples of this. The perfect metallic plane of Phyrexia and, later, in Alara there are the Sphinxes and the neatly polished Etherium.

    Videogames 
  • The Nano Age buildings in Empire Earth are all stylish and predominantly white.
  • The Citadel in Mass Effect.
    • ME2 worked a lot to subvert this trope. The Wards (parts of the Citadel where normal people live) are much more crowded and dirty than the pristine Embassy section. Omega takes it Up to Eleven, practically passing for a Blade Runner set, all to make the sequel Darker and Edgier.
      • Zig-zagged with the new Normandy: apparently the intent of the brightly lit steel-and-white colour scheme of the SR2 was to invoke a cold sterile, medical atmosphere compared to the old Normandy. Unfortunately a lot of players had found the SR1 to be under-lit and eye-straining, and actually preferred Cerberus' choice of décor.
  • The test chambers in Portal, to some extent. The offices backstage also use this style.
  • Most of the public spaces in Mirror's Edge are this way, albeit with bright colours to offset the white, everything's so clinical in its cleanliness that it quite effectively drives home how oppressive the regime truly is.
    • It's notable that of the colors used, one is absent - green.
  • In keeping with its anime style, Oni did this. In an inversion of Artists Are Not Architects, the level design done by actual architects was commonly slagged by players as excessively bland.
  • Kingdom Hearts locations The Castle That Never Was as well as Castle Oblivion utilize this aesthetic, as does Naminé's room in the Twilight Town mansion, accordingly.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, the final part of Orphan's Cradle, immediately prior to the Final Boss, is a stylish, clean white room that looks eerily like a lobby or waiting room. Unsettling, especially considering the surreal alternate dimension previously traversed to get to that point.
  • The entirety of the world in the indie game Against The Wall, which is "set on the side of an infinite brick wall". Don't look down.
  • The Yi-Lono-Mordel Control Room of the Interactive Fiction game The Weapon is described as this.
  • Around the Turn of the Millennium several annual contests known as "Geocomps" ("Geometry Competitions") were held for Quake III: Arena masters for who could build the best map with only ten textures. This led to a very extreme form of this trope with structurally complex but extremely sterile and abstractly textured maps. Some of them were very striking to behold.
  • Later, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the player comes across a single, all white room. It is unique to the game's setting (where every other room is a mess of papers and litter), and strangely uncanny.
  • In Borderlands 2, most areas controlled by Hyperion fit this design philosophy. All of the Hyperion areas have a very modern, clean, white/yellow paint job and look neat and orderly, especially the interior of Hyperion buildings and the as-yet-unoccupied city of Opportunity. Handsome Jack actually deliberately enforces this, as he has essentially declared the act of littering to be punishable by death.

     Web Animation 
  • Lucky Day Forever has the Whites' Society, which is used to contrast against the Proles's dirty, colorful society.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In that SpongeBob SquarePants episode where Squidward goes to the future, he discovers that everything in the future is chrome: literally. A flower pops out of the ground and a truck shows up to spray it with chrome. The overall effect gets creepy after a while.
  • Providence from Generator Rex love this trope and wish to marry it. It provides a good visual contrast with their freakish biological enemies, the EVOs.
  • Detroit Deluxe in MotorCity is all white and glass and rounded corners, but the sleek environment belies the BigBad's iron grip on the people.
  • On Dexter's Laboratory, Mandark's laboratory was this before it was turned into an Obviously Evil design.

    Real Life 
  • Hospitals and anything that has to do with biological research, and with good reason.
    • Hospital bedrooms and such, anyway. Hallways and such that dont need strict cleanliness can be more decorative, aparently.
      • Childrens Hospitals tend to be a stark contrast to the normal hospital look. Childrens Hospital Seattle has two main buildings, one for surgery and appointments and one for hospital bedrooms. The building for appointments is entirely aquatic-themed (to the point that they have a huge orca whale decorating the middle of the building and fish statues somewhere on most floors) and the building for hospital beds is entirely jungle-themed, with the same attention to detail. It has an overall calming effect, which is useful when your patients are all under the age of 21.
  • Many an office or classroom uses this, so much so that employees decorate their cubicles to offset the maddening blandness.
  • The Wii and the Wii Menu, right down to the white-and-cyan scheme.
  • The living areas for many a military recruit or cadet, due to The Spartan Way being adopted to varying degrees. Indeed, "Spartan" is another word used to sometimes describe the minimalist nature of this aesthetic.
    • Spartan is vastly different in that the point isn't blank and soulless, it's function over form and comfort. You don't actually need a bed to sleep, a designated corner technically works just as fine, you don't need bay windows, but having holes big enough to see what's going on outside could give you vital information you can use to influence your next action, etc.
  • Apple Corporation started using this as its main design aesthetic from the late 1990s and onward.
    • It's Older Than They Think. This style was Steve Jobs Author Appeal from the very start and was first applied in the early 80snote , with Jobs' insisting on the clean, uncluttered lines of the Apple's GUI and the adoption of the sleek, geometrical Snow White design language first seen in Apple IIc and then used until the mid-Nineties, though with Jobs being ousted in 1985, new Apple leadership started to scale down these designs, replacing them with the jewels like the 20'th Anniversary Mac. It wasn't until Jobs returned to the company in 1997 that minimalism got restored. Note that Jobs, a lifelong Buddhist, was probably inspired precisely by the Zen approach.
  • Japanese Zen practitioners have had this aesthetic mastered for centuries; so much, that it's nearly a cliché to imagine Japanese rooms as mostly geometrically sleek, serene and empty, with possibly a wall scroll or a nude branch of a tree artistically propped up at an angle as the sole decoration.
  • Bauhaus architecture, the style's name was coined by one of its most famous proponents, German architect Walter Gropius. Frank Lloyd Wright hated the aesthetic and accused it of lacking a soul.
    • Ironically, both are now regarded as a leading figures of the architectural modernism, and Wright actually shared a lot of ground with Gropius.
  • German designer Dieter Rams is the Trope Codifier.
  • Clean Style/German Style (see a trend here?) of automobile tuning. It focuses on invisible mechanical improvements, lowered suspension, large rims and tyres and very Spartan bodywork exterior, inasmuch as even factory brand badges are sometimes removed.
  • The Washington Metro. Rather than the usual American subways with square stations with low ceilings and tiled walls that veritably scream "1920", or the Moscow Metro model of opulent, palatial stations, the Metro goes for vast circular or elliptical stations with high ceilings in concrete with rounded-rectangle coffering, brick-red hexagonal tile floors, clean white-on-black signage (in Helvetica no less) and prolific use of rounded corners (many of which make the structures look like they could've come from Picard's Enterprise despite being designed at least ten years before that ever aired) and escalators. Oh, and it's remarkably efficient, the information displays—themselves simple, square, and unornamented—always tell you exactly how long you have to wait for your train, and it is seriously, seriously clean.note  It's probably the most pleasant subway ride in the Americas. I mean, get a load of all this!


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