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June 26th, 2011
Utopia Forever – Visions of Architecture and Urbanism

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utopia_frontThere is a difference between the cities that we live in today and those that we need to be living in. Editors R. Klanten and L. Feireiss include images and concepts about architecture, city planning, urbanism and other representations that challenge our thinking about current cities. A triad of architecture, mobility and energy is expanded upon, and futuristic possibilities are presented in both graphics and text. The creative possibilities through the use and application of sustainable design is included. 


Visions of Architecture and Urbanism


Editors: R. Klanten and L. Feireiss


ISBN: 978-3-89955-335-2  256 pages


Review by Jeff Thurston

Utopia Forever: Visions of Architecture and Urbanism includes numerous pictures and descriptions about the city of the future, although one might very well argue that the depictions represent more of what we need today. 

Many cities seem outdated today. They often include architecture, transportation and other infrastructure from a time when sustainability and greater efficiency was not as prominent – or necessary. By comparison, new design possibilities often include new architectural designs, often magnificent in beauty, simplicity and style, while including high degrees of efficiency and energy management. 

Editors R. Klanten and L. Feireiss have assembled a collection of images and descriptive text that represent new thinking, new design and a recognition of how the past must give way to change, often including what appears to be futuristic. Included are five chapters including:

  • Rising Tides – focused on rising tides and speculative design as it adapts to these events
  • Great Scapes – oriented toward large-scale architectural projects
  • Ecotoperia Emerging – describes ecological and radically based future alternatives
  • Technology Matters – pursues energy efficiency through designs not yet available; includes ecological concepts
  • Sky High – outlines the potentials and possibilities for vertical living

“There are no perfect blueprints for everlasting utopia on earth, as they cannot ever fully respond to the complexity, and contradictions of reality,” the opening remarks state. But as the book points out, the journey from now to tomorrow is more about change and transformation. “All things considered utopia – both model as well as method – can therefore be described as an optimistic process of possible realisation.”

While Le Corbusier attempted to open the city to light with his Radiant City, Buckminster Fuller’s Tetrahedral City aimed to place people into a growing payramid, oriented toward vertical growth. The project Multiplicity in Australia by John Wardle Architects and Stefano Boscutti was envisioned for Melbourne as a means to change the structure and form of the city, including a parallel city above the existing structures.

The Berg was proposed as an urban project that would be located on the site of the now closed Berlin Templehof airport, site of the Berlin airlift some sixty years ago. As Milo Studio proposed, a large mountain would rise out of the airport proper to a height of 1000 meters – and include snow in the winter on it’s top. 

This book is filled with individual projects, each following the same format of presentation; where the project is located, the basic conditions relating to the projects that often includes the background of the region and what prompted the thinking behind the project, and finally, the key principles of the project – a summary of the principles the project is built / designed upon and how it is to be implemented and operated.

This book raises import concepts that the modern day geospatial audience, often surrounded with realism and practicality, does not often consider to spend time, interest or query upon – although they should. The content within these pages does not necessarily side-step what exists today, it merely evaluates it critically and considers other possibilites while stretching the imagination, releasing predictable boundaries and avoiding leglislation, thereby pointing directly at solutions and alternatives. It is about breaking out of boxes, not innovating within them. 

Who can argue with the freshness of cities atop aircraft carriers, as Cruise City, City Cruise is proposed by NL Architects. How about Flooded London by Anthony Lau, a city design built on the notion that urban growth is forcing development to occur on flood plains, thus, urban planning must embrace flood potential. 

Other architectural design such as Giant Water Lilies by The Why Factory design team is based on the idea of floating cities whose surfaces rise above the water surface, while also dipping below the surface, complete with sub-surface living communities. This design includes energy efficiency concepts such as solar energy being directed down into the centre of the design, exchanging heat and cooling between surfaces. 

Aquatown by NH Architecture and Andrew Mackenzie would be based off the coast of Australia by 2050, complete with a decoupling of agriculture, manufacturing and residential areas from the mainland – to become a self sufficient water based city. 

Recognising the recent economic meltdown, The Eco-Commune by Richard Hardy takes reality one step further, suggesting that the City of London’s financial district will become less central to the city by 2050 as the financiers move elsewhere leaving a large number of buildings empty. Scavengers and others will move in, transforming these tall structures to sustainable biological based cities on the principles of communes. 

Geotube by Faulders Studio is proposed for Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The design of the sculptured tower is built on the realisation that the Red Sea water contains high level of salts. Therefore, the Geotube needs a membrane skin that establishes chemical reactions to support the city’s energy needs.  This building is never complete, it simply changes the form of the surface with large salt crystals taking shape as a balance of positive and negative ions permeates the structure. 

The balance of nature and man-made infrastructure is a key part of the sustainability foundation. In the proposal Urban Forest by MAD Architects, Chinese cities would contain higher vertical development, coupled to aerial agriculture to support the inhabitants. This structure attempts to follow eastern philosophies of nature-human balance. 

In summary, this book provides a good summary of current thinking about future cities and some of the directions they may take. What makes it particularly interesting is that many professional architects, urban planners and others involved in design have created the proposals and wide range of graphics that they have designed. 

The rate of population growth is already triggering changes in cities and placing pressures on energy systems. Futuristic designs for buildings are likely to include a wide range of ecological and biological based knowledge into them. Sustainability in these perspectives, as represented by many proposals, is not something geospatial professionals today often venture into. The editors strike a balance between what we know and how we live today, and what we ought to consider and how design can lead us toward that end. On this basis, Utopia Forever nudges us not to think in boxes and past experiences alone, but to keep an eye toward new possibilities and beyond where we can go, to where we need to go. 



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