Thursday, December 9, 2010

Retro-Futurism: 13 Failed Urban Design Ideas

Many an architect has dreamed up visionary plans for city centers, but few have actually seen their designs come to fruition in a real live urban setting. And while many such unbuilt concepts are technically viable, others are wacky, fanciful or downright bizarre. These retro urban design ideas for the future, from perfectly symmetrical egalitarian communities to the egotistical demands of a deranged dictator, will probably never become reality – and in many cases, we’re better off that way.
Gillette’s Metropolis

Gillette had a utopian vision for the future which revolved around a waterfall-powered tiered city he dubbed ‘Metropolis’. All residents of this imagined city would have access to the same amenities including rooftop gardens in the perfectly round, precisely divided multi-functional buildings in which they would live, work, play and eat. The design never went anywhere, but it’s notably similar to many very modern 21st-century concepts for sustainable urban centers.

This concept, published in a 1947 issue of Life magazine, detailed how to atomic bomb-proof America by spreading the population across the land in a geometric grid and relocating all industry into underground structures so that any single bomb would do a minimum of damage. The whole plan would have cost a measly 5 trillion dollars in today’s currency, and the authors – atomic scientists from Chicago – thought it could be pulled off within a decade.
Hotel Attraction

Antoni Gaudi’s architecture defines Barcelona, Spain even today with its fluid curves, reflective surfaces and organic shapes – but it would stick out like a sore thumb in the comparatively staid cityscape of Manhattan. Perhaps that’s what he had in mind for ‘Hotel Attraction’, commissioned in 1908 and also known as the Grand Hotel. The rounded, spaceship-like form would have risen in the exact spot where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were later built, but the idea was ultimately abandoned. Gaudi’s unrealized design was actually considered as a possibility for the Ground Zero memorial after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Ville Contemporaine

The architect known as Le Corbusier was an essential figure in the development of what we now know as modern architecture, and his many theoretical urban design projects aimed to make life better for residents of cramped cities. Displeased with the chaos of big cities, Le Corbusier designed ‘Ville Contemporaine’ as an orderly home to three million people where housing, industry and recreation all occupied distinct areas connected by roads that emphasized the use of personal vehicles for transportation.

Triton City
If not for a certain tell-tale 1960s aesthetic, Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Triton City’ could easily fit among today’s designs for floating eco-friendly cities. The futurist, architect and inventor was ahead of his time as usual when he imagined this tetrahedronal metropolis for Tokyo Bay, a seastead for up to 6,000 residents. Fuller wrote about the possibility of desalinating and recirculating seawater “in many useful and non-polluting ways” and using materials from obsolete buildings on land, which were hardly popular ideas at the time.
Future New York, “The City of Skyscrapers”

By 1925, many of New York City’s skyscrapers were already present, but futurists of the time envisioned not only a great deal more but a sort of aerial civilization complete with elevated train platforms and perhaps a rather unsafe number of aircraft flying around all at once.

New York City’s Dream Airport

This concept for “New York City’s Dream Airport” featured an astonishingly large – and some say ugly – runway platform. But for all of the prime real estate that this monstrosity would have devoured, it seems as if it could only handle a handful of planes at a time with absolutely zero margin of error, sending errant planes straight into Central Park or the East River.

Slumless, Smokeless Cities

How do you build a city so egalitarian that slums are eliminated entirely, and nobody ever has to breathe in pollution? Sir Ebenezer Howard, the father of the garden city movement, believed that a careful layout with six satellite garden cities connected via canals to a densely populated central city would do the trick. Thoughtfully, the design included specially designated spaces for “Eplileptic Farms”, “Homes for Waifs”, “Homes for Inebriates” and an insane asylum.


“Just imagine a resort entirely centered on the culture of alcohol. A boozer’s paradise built expressly to facilitate drinking and the good times that naturally follow. Where the bars, clubs and liquor stores never close.” Mel Johnson’s ‘Boozetown’ was an entirely sincere proposal with street names like “Gin Lane” and “Bourbon Boulevard” that would have begun as a resort town in Middle America and eventually expanded into a full-sized adults-only city with permanent housing and its own suburbs. After many obsessed years of struggling for financing, Johnson gave up on his dream in 1960 and died in a mental hospital in 1962.

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