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Introductory Discussion

Course video 46 of 52

So far we have focused on city designs that were actually built. But throughout history, architects, artists and philosophers, have imagined and drawn up visionary cities. Many of these designs are what we call “paper” projects, since they were typically relegated to the drawing boards only, and never built. Despite this, some were very influential, and inspired generations of city designers. This week we will look at visionary cities. A range of new historical conditions, whether technological progress, political situations, or environmental problems, have inspired designers to radically rethink the future of cities. We will focus on four kinds: technological visions, revolutionary visions, ecological visions, and self-organizing cities. What would it be like to live in a walking robot, a floating city, or a flying spaceship? Is this mere science fiction, or the shape of cities to come? In the first lecture we will look at the most experimental cities of the past century, conjured up by designers electrified by technological progress. What if our cities were covered with large domes to be more energy efficient, or if floating pods housed climate refugees and cleaned carbon-saturated air? In the second class we will look closer at some of the most visionary eco-cities. Designing cities is also a form of colonization, a tool to help establish political control over a territory. In the third class we will look at visionary cities drawn up by designers armed with a radical political mission: to subvert or overthrow the establishment. In reality, many parts of the world do not follow grand designs. As we have seen last week, informal settlements follow a different logic, often characterized by self-help housing construction. In the final lecture, we will see how some designers have tried to harvest some of the self-organizing processes in cities. As you are handing in your third assignment this week, we hope that some of the examples shown will inspire you to rethink the way in which we organize our cities.

University of Pennsylvania
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