A Tale of New Cities

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The architect must be a prophet…a prophet in the true sense of the term … if he can’t see at least ten years ahead, don’t call him an architect.

Frank Lloyd Wright
An illustrated sci-fi city

A Postmillennial Paradise? [Alexander Somma / Flickr]

Ten years? What about being able to see a hundred years into the future? That’s what the History Channel asked leading architecture firms to do in a contest to design postmillennial versions of the nation’s three largest cities: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

This wasn’t a fanciful exercise in imagining a futuristic utopia with the amenities of Star Trek’s Transporter or Sleeper’s Orgasmatron. This was a rigorous assignment: architects had to project the consequences of today’s social and environmental trends to 2107 and design cities optimally suited to their 22nd century contexts.

The winning contestants foresaw a waterlogged Manhattan whose skyline is dominated by towering “vanes” that vaporize and purify water for consumption; “eco-boulevards,” transforming the Windy City into an oasis of wetlands and wild grasses; and Angelinos finally freed from the freeways by a new network of tracks, bridges and power grids.

In many ways these model cities suggest that the architects are looking back to find the future. If the architects are indeed prophets, their metropolises herald a bare bones, utilitarian world that might be more recognizable to Fred Flinstone than George Jetson.

How do you see the real estate around you in Century 22? Is your city undergoing a troubled obsolescence or will a familiar infrastructure of highways, sky rises, and parks live on to greet another century? What is your vision of a postmillennial urban paradise?

Michael Sorkin

Principal, Michael Sorkin Studio

Director, Graduate Urban Design Program, City College of New York

Eric Owen Moss

Principal, Eric Owen Moss

Adam Yarinsky

Principal, Architecture Research Office

Martin Felsen

Architect, UrbanLab

Extra Credit Reading

herbert browne, in a comment to Open Source, 1/11/07: “Perhaps another paradigm for future city planning is Habana, Cuba, which had to deal with an abrupt termination of cheap petroleum, and learn to get along without it. The radical change in food production there was reflected in the city, in which small plots of vegetables and fruiting plants became ubiquitous.”

alokemon, in a comment to Open Source, 1/11/07: “Right now I’m living in Shanghai. The architectural/urban planning zeitgeist here is basically the opposite of those chastened models of the 22nd century New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.”

Matt Gross, In Shanghai, Balancing the past, the Future and a Budget, the New York Times, January 21, 2006: “In Shanghai, the present does not exist.”

Charles Siegel, City of the Future — Or City of the Trendy Present, Preservation Institute Blog, December 14, 2006: “If you want a design that endures, then design a city that is a good place to live today. No one has ever created a livable city or an enduring design by trying to design a city of the future.”

James Howard Kunstler, A Reflection on Cities of the Future, Kunstler.com, October 23, 2006: “Back in the early 20th Century, when the cheap oil fiesta was just getting underway, and some major new technological innovation made its debut every month – cars, radio, movies, airplanes – there was no practical limit to what men of vision could imagine about the future city, though often their imaginings were ridiculous.”

Via Ben: Diane Lewis, Within NY Chicago LA, The Cooper Union School of Architecture: “By presenting the deeper relationship of structural skeletons and how they can be seen in cities throughout time, Lewis’ overview may illuminate a reading of the visions of the future presented by her colleagues, and provide an architectural understanding of how the present and future cities are rooted in ideas that endure and transform over centuries.”

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