Four Failed Modern Urban Planning Designs 3

Sunday, November 10th, 2013
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Kaba Australia  (Dorma)- 300 x 250 (expire Dec 31 2016)
Ville Contemporaine by Le Corbusier
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Architects and urban planners create visionary plans for future cities to help deal with population growth, but not every design can be successful, even when created by celebrated architects.

The urban planning projects below are an example of unbuilt concepts designed by great architects. They may offer interesting and innovative ideas, but they all ended up not being developed enough to become reality.

Broadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City

Broadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City was an urban plan designed in 1930 by Frank Lloyd Wright for a decentralized community. It proposed that every citizen should have a full acre of land and a house within carefully organized cities. The plan also offered the option of apartment buildings: tall skyscrapers made of steel and glass located in wide open parks.

The idea was to create the opposite of high-density city centres like New York, a city Wright had criticized more than once. He saw centralised cities such as New York as being unnecessary and primitive. He said that in ancient cities, it was necessary to live close together because personal contact was the only means of communication and there was a lack of transport options. In contemporary cities with the new means of communication and transport, he argued, there should be no need to be so close together.

Instead of one large city with millions of people, Wright called for dozens of self-sufficient sprawling cities able to host the same population, but distributed over more land to offer the conveniences of urban life but the open space so common in rural areas.

While Broadacre City might resemble a typical city suburb, the main difference is that suburbs cannot exist without a large central city that provides work and facilities for its inhabitants.

Ville Contemporaine by Le Corbusier

Fondation Le Corbusier

Fondation Le Corbusier

Ville Contemporaine was a project designed by Le Corbusier in 1922 that would house 3 million people in a group of 60-storey cruciform skyscrapers built on steel frames with glass curtain walls. The new prefabricated identical high-density skyscrapers were designed to feature both offices and residential apartments. They were to be built in large green open spaces and arranged in a Cartesian grid, allowing the city to function as a “living machine.”

The centre of the city was a public transport hub for bus stops and train stations, as well as highway intersections. The city also featured an airport.

“The city of today is a dying thing because its planning is not in the proportion of geometrical one fourth,” Le Corbusier said. “The result of a true geometrical lay-out is repetition. The result of repetition is a standard. The perfect form.”

The architect was greatly criticized for segregating the pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorifying the use of the automobile.

“The one thing no one would have is a place to bump into each other, walk the dog, strut, one of the hundred random things that people do,” Australian-born writer and television documentary producer Robert Hughes said of the plan. “…being random was loathed by Le Corbusier…its inhabitants surrender their freedom of movement to the omnipresent architect.”

The project was never built, though its concept was adopted to design the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. Built on a vacant site provided by the Government of Brazil, architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer created a geometric city with separate monumental administration zones and identical housing districts owned entirely by the government. Applying Le Corbusier’s principles, the architects aimed to create a city that fostered equality and justice.

As with the Ville Contemporaine, Brasilia has been criticised for ignoring residents’ habits and desires and for its lack of public spaces for urban encounters.

Seward’s Success in Alaska

Seward Success Alaska

Seward’s Success in Alaska

Seward’s Success was designed by Adrian Wilson Associates of Los Angeles after the 1968 discovery of oil reserves at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.

The $800 million, four-phase project was envisioned to provide a home for 5,000 people and called for 56,000 square metres of office space, 28,000 square metres of retail space and an indoor sports area. It was to become the world’s first totally enclosed, climate-controlled community.

The temperature inside the building would have been kept at 2o degrees Celsius year-round with a glass shell designed to work as a greenhouse. The energy to power the community would be generated through natural gas available on-site.

Transportation between Seward’s Success and nearby Anchorage was crucial to the plan. The concept called for a high-speed aerial tramway and eventually a monorail to connect the town with Anchorage International Airport.

Cars were not allowed within the community so all transportation within Seward’s Success was provided by the aerial tramway, monorail, bicycle paths and moving sidewalks.

The project was never built due to its extremely high construction cost.

Triton City by Buckminster Fuller

Triton City

Triton City by Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller was a brilliant visionary, scientist, environmentalist, and philosopher who, in the 1960s, developed Triton City, a floating city for up to 5,000 residents of Tokyo Bay. The city was designed to be sustainable, encouraging people to share resources and conserve energy.

Commissioned by the US Department of Urban Development for further design and analysis, Fuller’s project was developed to be resistant to tsunamis, provide as much outdoor space as possible, desalinate sea water for consumption, offer privacy to residents, and provide the most surface area with the least amount of volume, which is why Fuller designed it as a tetrahedron.

Educational, recreational and entertainment facilities would be a part of the city. Fuller also claimed low operating costs would result in a high standard of living, and he proposed to use materials from obsolete buildings on land.

Today, there are derivatives of Triton City, such as the artificial island Kansai and its airport in Osaka, Japan, but they pale in comparison to the scope of Fuller’s vision.

Still, there are many cities around the world where land is in short supply such as Singapore or Shanghai where this kind of project could be developed. Abu Dhabi could be an ideal location, as land there is in short supply but  money is abundant.

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  1. Sissy Katz

    I found your article so interesting……I knew part of it but had no information on the Buckminster project that could be constructed in water… amazing!

    Thank you for your contribution

  2. Nathan Alexander

    As an urban designer, my experience is that great architects rarely understand cities, and so rarely design good ones. They tend to think that if they can design buildings, they can scale up to cities, but they are different beasts.
    Abu Dhabi has plenty of money and plenty of land on the mainland, so no need for floating buildings!

  3. Joan Miller

    What an interesting article and I agree with Nathan below regarding the breadth of architectural visions for cities from their greats – I think they instead create one off architectural masterpieces for cities. Would love to see a floating city come to fruition or Le Corbusier’s skyscraper city. Looks like we’ve been thinking about prefabricated skyscrapers since 1922!