Posts Tagged 'metropolis'


just look at the little guy...

More future cars! Spotted in The New York Times last week, the “carbon-neutral” city of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, has been infested with subterranean driverless cars. The city is apparently raised  23 feet off the ground to catch the desert breeze, and to make room for the local network of robot cars. Ostensibly little different than a subway, the very private personal transports took their design – it seems –  from well, every clean Utopian Sci Fi film ever made. Norman Foster, lead designer for Foster & Partners, who helmed the UAE’s new eco-mecca is supposedly a “lifelong tech buff who collaborated with Buckminster Fuller” – so that explains a few things.

Nicolai Ourorrsof from NYT explains:

But Mr. Foster’s most radical move was the way he dealt with one of the most vexing urban design challenges of the past century: what to do with the car. Not only did he close Masdar entirely to combustion-engine vehicles, he buried their replacement — his network of electric cars — underneath the city. Then, to further reinforce the purity of his vision, he located almost all of the heavy-duty service functions — a 54-acre photovoltaic field and incineration and water treatment plants — outside the city.

The result, Mr. Foster acknowledged, feels a bit like Disneyland. “Disneyland is attractive because all the service is below ground,” he said. “We do the same here — it is literally a walled city. Traditional cars are stopped at the edges.”

Driving from downtown Abu Dhabi, 20 miles away, you follow a narrow road past an oil refinery and through desolate patches of desert before reaching the blank concrete wall of Masdar and find the city looming overhead. (Mr. Foster plans to camouflage the periphery behind fountains and flora.) From there a road tunnels through the base to a garage just underneath the city’s edge.

Stepping out of this space into one of the “Personal Rapid Transit” stations brings to mind the sets designed by Harry Lange for “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You are in a large, dark hall facing a row of white, pod-shaped cars lined up in rectangular glass bays. (The cars’ design was based on Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for a compact urban vehicle, the D-45, which helps explain their softly contoured, timelessly futuristic silhouettes.) Daylight spills down a rough concrete wall behind them, hinting at the life above” [emphasis added].

The first 13 cars of a proposed fleet of hundreds were being tested the day I visited, but as soon as the system is up, within a few weeks, a user will be able to step into a car and choose a destination on an LCD screen. The car will then silently pull into traffic, seeming to drive itself. (There are no cables or rails.)

 the fleet in stationCheck the diagram and slideshow for more.

Shanghai Expo 2010

From the Ottawa Citizen

The Shanghai 2010 Expo is now underway, having initiated a summer of spectacle with the largest fireworks display in history. The fair is the latest in the long history of World’s Fairs whose recent and less gratuitous iterations have passed unnoticed during the last few decades. But not China. Having spent either $4 billion or $58 billion (depending on the source) on the expo, the city of tomorrow is making an appearance that is hard to ignore.

How is the vision portrayed in Shanghai today different from the World’s Fairs from the dawn of industrialization?  Here’s the New York Fair from 1939:

Now here’s Shanghai 2010 as seen in the Guardian:

Not much has changed at first glance, but the city surrounding the Expo is dramatically more technological than New York was in 1939 (here is Wired’s roundup of images from the 1939 Fair). More than specific advancements, today’s city is built upon the legacy created by those early World’s Fairs.  Together with the Modernist idea of elevated aesthetics, the visual history of World’s Fairs has helped shape our understanding of what the Metropolis should be.

As more and more of the world’s population migrates into urban settings, the city reflects more than ever the social practice of its inhabitants and the esteemed value of technological progress that has ruled for so long. Look at this poster for the 1933 Chicago Fair and see how hard they’re pushing the new technology of the day:  the steam engine.

If technology is key to social progress, is there anything else to consider as we build our future?

The official motto for Shanghai 2010 is “Better City, Better Life”, presumably to enforce the total dominance of urban living. The spectacle of the World’s Fair serves to showcase the emerging technology of the time. This focus on emerging inventions ostensibly serves to cement the host nation’s status as a world power. Indeed nationalism is the real purpose behind these things, but what I’m interested is how these displays of technological dreamscapes affects the city surrounding the Fair. As shown repeatedly on this blog, even the mundane has been modeled after Science Fiction. And it seems to me that the larger-than-life quality of these Fairs literally allows them to transcend architectural status and become futuristic beacons – stated goals for the everyday.

The following images are from The Big Picture’s fantastic series on Shanghai 2010. They’re previously featured the construction of the thing, and I’m already looking forward to their documentation once things really get under way.  And for a good collection of each country’s pavilions I recommend the Ottawa Citizen page linked to above.


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