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The quest for the ideal city: from the 60’s utopia to the modern eco-city.
On an effort to provide an answer to question related to the sustainability of the new proposed eco-cities, this study starts with a general discussion on the dysfunctions and the environmental impact of the contemporary cities.
The concept of an “ideal city” has been the subject matter of visionary architects of all times. This study discusses first ideal city models that appeared in the sixties and were proposed by pioneer architectural teams of the times such as the Metabolists, Archigram and Superstudio. The main traits of these trends and the emphasis they placed on issues related to the city users (dwellers) and the environments are presented.
Then the study focuses on contemporary examples of eco-cities, while an effort is made to identify similar traits in the city models that were proposed in the sixties. Each discussed eco-city case study is compared against its equivalent of the sixties.
Finally the study closes with some general conclusions with regard to the potential of the proposed eco-cities to address contemporary sustainability issues and the needs of the future cities’ users.
List of contents:
Environment-City-Man: mythological, historical and theoretical references
- A modern interpretation of Plato’s cave allegory: the end of illusions and the waking of the decade of 1960.
- Bioclimatic design and viability
- Theories and considerations on the city
In search of the ideal city:
- The search of the ideal city:
Definitions and historical references
- The ideal city from the mid 20th century to today:
Visions and considerations – Metabolists\ Archigram\ Superstudio, the searches of the present
Examples of ideal cities: from the decade of 1960 to the present
- Monumento Continuo and Logrovo Montecorvo eco city
3.1.1. Monumento continuo by Superstudio
3.1.2. Logrovo Montecorvo eco city by Mvrdv & Gras
3.1.3. Comparison and correlations
3.2 The 12 ideal cities and Masdar city
3.2.1. 12 Ideal cities by Superstudio
3.2.2. Masdar city by Foster and partners
3.2.3. Comparison and correlations
3.3 Tokyo bay plan and Brockholes visiting centre
3.3.1. Tokyo bay by Kenzo Tange
3.3.2. Brockholes visiting centre by Adam Khan architects
3.3.3. Comparison and correlations
3.4 Nakagin capsule tower, Walking city and Dynamic tower
3.4.1. Nagakin capsule tower by Kisho Kurokawa
3.4.2. Walking city by Archigram
3.4.3. Dynamic tower or Da Vinci tower by David Fisher
3.4.4. Comparison and correlations
List of illustrations
From the early 20th century and the first tries of architects to fight the dysfunctions of the city, a number of “treatments” and visions for an ideal environment have been suggested. Through a short search in relevant scientific articles and magazines, in newspapers and the web, you can discover a huge number of new cities that are designed from scratch and are considered ideal. Most of them, if not all, are described as eco-cities, meaning ecological friendly cities that have the ambition of giving the answer to the huge ecological problem that the earth is facing. These towns bear names such as “the future city”, “future eco-city”, “the first autonomous city” and “future sustainable eco-city”.
Are these cities after all the future ones? Furthermore, how necessary is for new cities to be designed? Is designing a successful city from scratch feasible? Will the city be appropriate for its citizens and will it be sustainable? Is the future welcoming after all or is it threatening? These are some reasonable questions resulting after logical consideration.
Before anyone tries to answer these questions he must firstly attempt to define some of the components that are needed to lead into the either the success or the failure of these new cities.
In this attempt a report in a general frame of reflection concerning the problems that a city is responsible for and concern the planet but also the parameters that concern the sustainability of a city in a wider sense. A special reference in the 1960-decade is being made, with groups such as the Metabolists, Archigram and Superstudio that are considered characteristic cases of future cities proposals that also appear a problematic relevance as far as environmental problems are concerned.
Moreover, looking up in corresponding proposals, concerns and visions of past generations, I try to find common elements with modern trends but also to understand better how relevant environmental concerns are incorporated in the new future eco-cities proposals. Through selecting proposals from 3 characteristic groups of 1960, an attempt is being made in relevance with modern examples from 3 city categories: land based cities, floating cities and vertical cities.
Maybe through this attempt results will be made that will allow us to understand if after all these are realistic future visions or just misleading photorealistic images.
1.Environment-City-Man: mythological, historical and theoretical references
- A modern interpretation of Plato’s cave allegory: the end of illusions and the waking of the decade of 1960.
“In a cave, beneath earth, a group of people is chained in a way that they can only see the wall in front of them. They cannot look back, neither left nor right. Although, behind them a fire is lighten. So whatever takes place behind them is reflected in shadows on the wall in front of them. Because these people in all their lives the only things they have seen are the shadows of things, they are under the impression that the shadows they see on the wall are the actual ones. If though one of the chained people in the cave manages to get free, get out of the cave, climb above earth and, under the sunlight and see the situation he will understand the wrong impression that he was living under when he was in the cave chained. He will perceive then that his companions that still are chained in the cave, still live under the same illusions”.
Plato provides an explanation of the cave allegory, saying that the one that frees himself is the philosopher that sees the creatures and the ideas themselves and not their reflections. The chained people that live, without knowing, in a fake illusion and the chains symbolize their senses that obliges them to observe the fake reflections of ideas. Instead of their senses though, they must trust their mind.
An illustration of Plato’s allegory
Such a allegory is of course timeless and the facts of each time period can alter its meaning accordingly. Nowadays, we can say that people are trapped in our own bodies and the chains are the illusions that are created by egocentricity, the need for acquisition and power, individualism, the ignorance on others, the adhesion on physical needs and those that commanded in order to obtain self complacence. The people in the cave respectively, symbolize the environment that we comprehend with our senses, the world that our desires create and lead men into the impression that he is alone and that he will survive by imposing himself over others, and over the environment as well.
The environment is divided into natural and man-made. So an important role in the proper flow of life on the planet is the right balance between these two. Until know men have considered the environment as an enemy that he had to subjugate, as a servant, a provider and lost his sensitiveness in that process. For example, men dealt with the domestication of nature’s elements like the protection of river overflow, the drainage of disease bearing marshes or the clearance of forests. The technological evolution and the invention of new materials and techniques gave him the power and led him in undermining and forgetting the simple (traditional ways) and natural goods that he had in his disposal until then.
Industrialization and the environmental pollution
The industrialization did not only led to bad living conditions in the city but also brought out big damage in the environment. For example:
- The extraction of huge amounts of natural materials for their conversion into industrial goods.
- Production and consumption of huge amounts of energy for industrial purposes.
- Usage and pollution of huge amounts of water and air quantities, through the several phases of the productive process.
- Big local concentration of the production in contrast with agriculture that is dispersed.
- The constant and repetitive rhythm of most industrial procedures that does allow the environment to restore at least part of the damage.
- The pollution caused by the consumption of industrial products.
Technology as well as science is obvious that is the driving force that helps men to achieve his goals but on the same time causing problems and questions that appear in all time periods, in maybe different forms.
Hand-to-Hand, Technology and Society
The feeling that dominates is that technology can be a factor for a complete society but in parallel it is proven that changes the social, cultural and environmental constants, not always to the better.
As it is mentioned in the allegory of Plato, there are always some who are released from their shackles and discover the truth. So, from time to time, there are those who become sensible and recognize the harm that is caused in the environment and try to prevent it through their actions.
During the sixties mainly, for the first time moves of environmental support are found and people appear to awake and recognize that technology and its achievements pollute. More precise, in 1950 in U.S.A. the ecological movement starts, that has as a purpose the protection of nature. A decade later that movement spreads to Europe. The first mobilization in the form of protests against polluting activities or political decisions that led into the industrial development planning without taking into consideration energy and material savings.
As years passed, the resentment for environmental pollution spread in fast pace. “ Green” teams and movements search passionately to convince the rest. Some groups support that the value of a tree, a wild animal’s or a flower can be valued in economical criteria and as important as a human life.
One characteristic example is the hippies, a culture that was born in the mid 60’s that were some of the people that reacted in the time’s ideology and the American way of life. Some of them created their own communities far from civilization and created a nomadic way of life with vans-homes trying an alternative way of life and promoted renewable energy resources.
There were also more official examples. Such were the team X that was consisted of architects, who started wondering and searching a connection between the natural structure of the city and its social function. Other groups of architects with revolutionary work were the Archigram or Superstudio that talked not only with designs but also with texts, pictures and collages trying to pass messages by supporting (occasionally) the technological movement.
Until today the rage created by the environmental pollution is a critical political issue, a new subject for debate and a cause for activist manifestations. More and more people try to escape the cave and engage into who is responsible for the environmental destruction and try to obtain measures for the protection of the environment, without always having successful and acceptable results.
Cook Peter, Archigram, 1999, Archigram, Princeton Architectural Press, New York
Eaton Ruth, 2002, Ideal Cities, Utopianism and the (Un) Built Environment, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London
Gargiani Roberto, Lampariello Beatrice, 2010, Superstudio, Gius. Laterza & Figli, Bari
Green Jonathan, 1999, All Dressed Up, The sixties and the counterculture, Pilmico, London
Kostof Spiro, 1999, The City Shaped, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
Raydan Dana & Melki Habib, 2005, PLEA, Environmental Sustainability, The challenge of Awareness in Developing Societies, NDU Press, Lebanon
Tafuri Manfredo, 1976, Architecture and Utopia, Design and Capitalist Development, The MIT Press, London
Rossi Aldo, 1982, Architecture of the City, The MIT Press, London
Rogers Richard & Gumuchdjian Philip, 1997, Cities for a Small Planet, Faber and Faber Limited, London
Vlastos Thanos, Milakis Dimitris, 2006, Urban Planning Vs Transport, From Declination to Divergence, Kontorousis, Athens
List of illustrations:
Architecture of the city by Aldo Rossi: Aldo Rossi provides a deep new "post-modern" perspective of the city as a diverse and collective human feat that refutes Le Corbusier's view of the city from the mere standpoint of urban planning. He offers a different dimension to see a city. Not only from utilitarian view like Le Corbusier's Radiant City, but from another dimension in a socio-historical perspective. Rossi ideas about collective memory, urban artifacts and the city's permanence are very profound.
Ideal cities, Utopianism and the (un) built environment: Ideal Cities presents a vast panorama spanning more than two millennia of attempts to invent the perfect city. Embracing architecture and town planning but also art, literature, philosophy and politics. The author takes us through the imaginary environments of a wide variety of controversial movements and figures, including Plato, Filtrete, Leonardo da Vinci and many more. The book explores the ability of ideal cities to stimulate reflection and change, and suggests under what conditions they might continue to exercise their vital function in relation to the urban environment of the future. The ideal cities exist for the most part in the virtual domain of ideas, treading the fine line between dream and nightmare. While it is true that notorious attempts to cross the border to reality have greatly discredited utopianism, it is good to recall that 'a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at'.
The city shaped by Spiro Kostof: The City Shaped is full of a lot of interesting insights into how and why various planners (public and private) have chosen certain layouts for cities, and how human patterns of usage both are and aren't shaped by the forms those planners have tried to choose for them. As an example, the grid pattern has been both praised and criticized for seemingly contradictory things - it either constrains human behavior and forces them into lifeless, regimented order or it's an efficient, predictable substrate that encourages growth, simplifies transportation, and democratizes the cityscape. Not that forms are completely neutral, but humans are adaptable in contrast to animals, which is why our civic forms don't play the same role that the honeycomb does to the hive. Kostof has a big array of examples of how seemingly similar patterns can result in very different cityscapes, in the same culture and even in the same city.
Architecture and utopia by Manfredo Tafuri: the book is written in a neo- Marxist point of view and goes beyond architectural form into a broad understanding of the relationship between architecture and society, of the architect to the workforce and marketplace. It discusses the Garden cities movement and the suburban developments it generated between several others and assesses the prospects of socialist alternatives. This author gives a good explanation of how the enlightenment came to America through city planning and architecture and also manages to explain the alteration of values through this process.