Week 9: Visionary Cities

MOOC Summaries - Designing Cities - Visionary Cities - Silhouettes of business people standing in an office building.

Week 9: Visionary Cities

“Technological Visions… Ecological Visions… Revolutionary Visions… The Self Organizing City…” 



  • 9-1: Introduction
  • 9-2: Technological Visions
  • 9-3: Ecological Visions
  • 9-4: Revolutionary Visions
  • 9-5: The Self Organizing City

9-1: Introductory Discussion

  • Throughout history, designers, philosophers, writers and cartoonists have envisioned visionary cities or future cities.
  • Many of these were never built but they have been very influential and inspired generations of architects.
  • These include visionary cities inspired by innovations in technology, reactions to environmental conditions and/or political conditions, self -organizing cities, and emergent cities.
  • Visionary cities are the “R&D” for the designing of cities: they might fail or need to be adapted but they do produce new ideas.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/115

9-2: Technological Visions

  • Look at experimental cities inspired by technological progress.
  • What would the city look like with inventions and technologies such as:
    • elevator and escalator for tall buildings;
    • cars at street level;
    • extensive subways underground.
  • Example: what architects envisioned for New York such as a multi-layer city, segregated levels of transportation, and really tall buildings (that inspired the look for Gotham City in Batman stories).
  • Example: what an Italian artistic group – The Futurists – envisioned cities as huge, agile, mobile and dynamic shipyards; houses as gigantic machines; technological features were prominently exposed; and rejection of much of the past.
  • Example: Soviet Union Constructivist movement, which envisioned flying cities where people would live and commute to the Earth surface for work and recreation.
  • Example: London’s Archigram group, which imagined walking cities, and instant cities.
  • Example: Japan’s Metabolists movement, which used biology – central spine, arteries, tree branches etc – as its technological inspiration.
  • Some of these visionary ideas have inspired today’s developments e.g. hyperbuildings
  • New technological advances (e.g. nanotechnology, synthetic biology etc) could suggest exciting new ways for building cities in future living e.g. cities that grow and repair themselves based on bricks made of protocells and nano machines.
  • As exciting as these visionary cities might be, we still have to ask if living in these cities would be desirable, and who would finance them?
  • Next class: ecological cities.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/117

9-3: Ecological Visions

  • Look at some of the most visionary eco-cities. Ecology has been a major source of inspiration for those designing future cities.
  • Throughout history, designers of ecological cities have responded to evolving environmental conditions such as the effect of industrialisation on cities in the 19th century gave rise to the Garden City by Ebenezer Howard.
  • Later in the 1950s, when it became clear that our oil supply limited, some designers considered how we could be less wasteful with natural resources e.g. Paolo Soleri’s idea of arcology (architecture and ecology) that led to the idea of Mesa City, a self sustainable city that would generate its energy from the sun, water and wind.
  • Buckminster Fuller also investigated ways of making our cities more energy efficient e.g. a large dome over Manhattan that worked like a large greenhouse, and which would be highly efficient and low cost (as it had a constant climate).
  • He also designed the floating Triton city, an idea for a Japanese client, that while not built, was considered practical and water worthy.
  • With climate change and concerns about carbon emissions, eco-cities are popular today, and Masdar City is the most well known. Designed by the British firm, Foster and Associates, and funded largely by Abu Dhabi’s ruler, it will be both smart and sustainable, and aspires to be the world’s first carbon neutral city.
  • In response to new climactic forecasts, Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut, designed a floating city – called a Lilypad – for future climactic refugees.
  • Next class: revolutionary visions.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/119

9-4: Revolutionary Visions

  • Look at visionary cities drawn up by designers armed with a radical political mission, such as to subvert and overthrow the establishment and/or inspire deep social and political change
  • Before that, we need to understand that spatial organization of cities can provide authorities with power to influence or direct people’s behavior e.g. the ideas behind the city of Chaux, and the Panopticon.
  • Baron Hausman’s 1850 plan for Paris was a way for the government to establish order. Wide boulevards made it easier for the military to move quickly and for artillery to fire, and made it harder for revolutionaries to barricade.
  • Examples of concepts of revolutionary cities in the 1960s: Naked City (to counter the planned city structure), and New Babylon (a post-Capitalist utopia to accommodate rising standards of living and leisure time).
  • Another example was the ideas of Superstudio, an Italian group of architects from Florence who believed design could contribute to equality.
  • Their project(s) inspired a generation of architects, including Rem Koolhaas, who conceived of Exodus in the 1970s, where people would be voluntarily admitted, and as they mass defected, instead of an outright revolution, Exodus would slowly crumble the power structures from within.
  • The design of Exodus would contribute to alternative social formation, and is an ambiguous project that robbed visionary cities of the 1960s of their innocence.
  • The 1980s and 1990s saw sparser revolutionary cities. American architect, Lebbeus Woods, was a big exception. He was one of the few architects to design for the reconstruction of war torn cities after the Bosnian War.
  • His vision for Sarajevo was radical: formed buildings out of the debris of the war – by deliberately making visible the scars of history, people will be forced to change (it was a broader critique how cities are typical reconstructed where traces of the conflict are wiped out).
  • But revolutionary cities in built form are hard to come by.
  • Next class: the self-organizing city.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of  https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/121

9-5: The Self Organising City

  • In reality, many parts of the world do not follow grand designs (e.g. informal settlements), and in recent history, designers have tried to harvest some of the self-organizing processes in the city.
  • Concepts of the self-organizing city can be tracked back to the Metabolists (in Japan, as discussed earlier), who argued that incorporating biological processes into cities would make them more efficient, and able to structure growth.
  • An example is the Helix City Project – inspired by the discovery of DNA – and Marine City, which were supposed to be flexible and modular but structured.
  • Hungarian Yona Friedman designed something called a spatial infrastructure, that allowed for a mobile architecture, where people could use as they wish e.g. by filling in their own walls and floors.
  • British group Archigram also imagined the Plug In City – which was not a city of buildings, but a city of cranes, shifting around standard components in a series of slots, like a domestic version of a shipping container terminal – thus allowing for rapid change.
  • Another British architect, Cedric Price, wanted to design a city formed by learning rather than vice versa, leading to a more optimal university configuration. He was also the first architect to apply cybernetics in his design for Fun Palace, a laboratory of fun with facilities for dancing, music, drama, and fireworks.
  • The computer game industry has opened up new avenue for city design, as video games such as Sim City are well able to simulate different possible scenarios for future development.
  • Different firms and architects are also experimenting with computer generated scenario building e.g. a computer program to help people quickly visualize different urban design scenarios. This facilitates discussion and also changes the role of the city designer.
  • Other designers use urban designs scripting programs to create iconic shapes e.g. parametric urbanism – a complex computer algorithm takes into consideration a whole range of parameters to come to an ideal form that they call responsive, but:
    • they are only responsive during the design process, as parametric computer models with the designers inputting the parameters, not the users.
    • it has not empowered people with the flexibility to adapt the city, but fixated the city in a static, iconic image, perfect for city branding.
  • The paradox is that the self-organizing cities of today, are less the high end districts formed by designers harnessing self-optimization with sophisticated software, and more their antithesis, the informal settlements built by inhabitants desperate for shelter.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/123

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