Architecture and urban design beyond the Pyramid Age

32 "Discarded" Guggenheim Proposals You Should Know About

32 “Discarded” Guggenheim Proposals You Should Know About

This building is based on a very clear vision of neo-liberal capitalism – it’s all steel and concrete and glass; it could easily be an airport building, or a shopping mall. Of course this is a very strange building but if there’s no challenge then it’s not interesting. I’m not interested in making a comfortable gallery, something that is just the consumption of art. I don’t think it is a competition between the building and the art, I think it just forces an engagement. If you want to create a new society based upon a given society, you think about the vision of the revolution but you also have to go through a long process of engaging with the given reality and come up with different manners of occupation. So that’s how I approach it with the gallery space and the art I want to put in that space.

Hou Hanru, curator’s of Rome’s MAXXI, designed by Zaha Hadid, Rome’s Maxxi art museum aims to build creativity out of crisis, Guardian, 19 December 2014

We imagine that society would be organised so the average person only has to work for a living three hours a day. For one thing, it is possible that person might enjoy his work so much he would want to work longer at it without more pay. There would I think be a huge proliferation of hobbies and adult education. A big expansion in travel. These things would fill many of the hours. And then: feasting. Music. The essence would be that people would do more things because they wanted to do them…Another idea is a citizens’ income…I have always regarded the metaphor of being in a race as a nonsense – “We must keep in the race, or the Chinese will overtake us.” I mean, races must come to an end; they don’t go on for ever…I think the onus is on those people to demonstrate that the human race as a whole is incapable of rising to patrician levels. That was always the old socialistic dream of course – that once the economic necessities of life were catered to then you would get a huge expansion of human curiosity.

Robert Skidelsky: ‘Why don’t more people aspire to living a good life?’, Guardian, 25 August 2013



Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Without leisure creative people have little chance to grow and reach their full potential.

Technology and a citizens’ income could relieve us from work that is pure toil and empower us, on condition that we democratize our workplaces and our society (more knowledge, participation, self-governance and transparency) and seriously start using our minds and hearts.

Otherwise, our techno-porn future will be rather unpleasant (The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’, Guardian, 17 December 2014).

I like to tell a story about a management consultant I once saw give a talk about technology and the future of civic governance. During the Q&A after his very conventional, bullet-pointy presentation, he was asked if he thought the basic forms of democratic municipal government — elected mayors, city councils and so on — were still relevant, and would remain so. And very surprisingly to me, he said no, that there was a decent chance that due to the decentralizing and distributing effects of networked information technologies, more power would come to reside with citizens themselves, organized in something resembling a federation of autonomous local collectives. I mean, this was a very conservative, very buttoned-down guy, who worked for the most prominent name in his industry, and whether he quite knew it or not, what he was describing would have been immediately familiar to, say, the members of the anarchosyndicalist CNT union who ran the Barcelona Telephone Exchange during the first part of the Spanish Civil War.

Adam Greenfield, interview, February 2014

Anti-capitalism_colorIf our intention is to bury the current “pyramid age”, then we need more passion for people and life, and for their contexts and circumstances, so that:

(a) idealists and humanitarians will stay and engage with society, instead of lapsing into alienation, escapism and self-segregation;

(b) less leeway will be available to aesthetically intoxicated egomaniacs, mostly focused on control (Richard Sennett, No one likes a city that’s too smart, Guardian, 4 December 2012) and attention seeking (i.e. egotecture).

It seems to me that architecture is, in fact, the machine that produces the universe which produces the gods. It does so not fully through theories or reections, but in the ever non-repeatable and optimistic act of construction.

Daniel Libeskind, 2004

Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, by Daniel Libeskind

Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, by Daniel Libeskind

Contemporary social systems are designed to force the vast majority of the population to become totally dependent on them to live.

It is obvious that, nowadays, the rich and powerful shape the definition of desirable (that is, conservative or cunningly reactionary: “for things to remain the same, everything must change”) futures and environments; in societies in which the gaps are widening and, among the most affluent citizens, segregation in gated enclaves is becoming the norm.

This trend is clearly unsustainable and will lead to unrest and chaos.

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

How do we build more resilient, organic, smarter, sharper societies, guided by metis (“crafty intelligence”, see James C. Scott, a “Professor Who Learns From Peasants”, NYT, 4 December 2012)?

Aside from narrowing the gap of inequality and restoring public accountability, I think that having architects and urban planners working side by side with psychologists and social scientists could be a good idea. This would help us refocus on context, respect and the dignity of human beings, on their true needs, questions and demands. Wouldn’t that be a wise course of action?

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

After all, undisciplined, short-sighted, forgetful, naive and inconsiderate creative forces may do far more harm than good. Unrestrained creative forces are insufficiently sympathetic to and generally divorced from actual human beings (A Plea for an Uncreative City. About Rotterdam). For them, diversity is an obstacle that must be overcome and human life is to be subjected to a standard of technical efficiency and aesthetic harmony.

They are prone to superimpose a fantastic, lifeless reality upon a tangible, animated one. They do not acknowledge their imperfections, as their chief goal is to keep alive their imagination and desires, their longing for coherence, order, unity, freshness, purity, clarity, dualism, vitality, strength of will, appropriateness and, above all, meaning, which mask the duplicity and the pettiness of some, the fatuity of others, the naive idealism of still others.

This place would make Albert Speer seem delicate. Utter simplicity of meaning. No ambiguity…the similarity between the corporate and the bureaucratic states of mind. Anyone of those buildings there you could imagine with an eagle on top, or a swastika, or a hammer and sickle. It makes very little difference to the building. If you forget about the projects and the manifestoes and think about what it actually built, there is no doubt that our culture has its language of political power. It is not linked to any particular ideology, it’s value free, it can mean anything. In the area of public buildings, our century has not yet managed to come up with an architecture of free will.

Robert Hughes on “The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza” (from “The Shock of the New”)

Let us instead draw inspiration from R. W. Emerson (Works and Days), Alexis De Tocqueville and Solženicyn (on self-government in New England and Switzerland), Kropotkin and Lynn Margulis (on cooperation), Frank Lloyd Wright (Broadacre City) and Hayao Miyazaki (Antony Lioi, The City Ascends: Laputa: Castle in the Sky as Critical Ecotopia), as we seek to strike a balance between creative thinking, human dignity and ecology.

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright is a good starting point. One of the most celebrated architects of the past century, he believed that well-managed technological advance (a human birthright) could make vertical, hierarchised aggregates such as the dense, mechanized, dehumanizing, greed-driven metropolitan areas obsolete, pushing towards self-sustaining, empowered, flexible, resilient, decentralised, green “living cities”.

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Broadacre City, by Frank Lloyd Wright

This ideal community – Broadacre City: A New Community Plan – was partly urban and partly rural, decentralized, organic (a “living structure”), in direct contact with nature, connected through a complex network of telecommunications, freeways and airways for airships and environmentally friendly land vehicles.

Its residents would be encouraged to become both manually and intellectually skilled, in order to reach human wholeness (see his Taliesin Fellowship). Assisted by advanced technology, they would follow Emerson’s, Thoreau’s and Kropotkin’s advice and strive to be self-reliant, free, highly mobile, responsible, creative and cooperative, setting up small governments and classless democracies in which material sufficiency and technology serving the principles of life and nature would be the order of the day.


Jean Giraud Moebius

We live in cities of the past. We can not solve our living and transportation problems by burrowing under and climbing over, and why should we? We will spread out and in so doing will transform our human habitation sites into those allowing beauty of design and landscaping, sanitation and fresh air, privacy and playgrounds, and a plot whereon to raise things

F.L. Wright, “Lecture at the City Club of Chicago”, 12 February 1932

Why not make more free to “the poor” the land they were born to inherit as they inherit the air to breathe and daylight to see by and water to drink?
I am aware of the academic economist’s reaction to any land question. Nevertheless, Henry George clearly enough showed us the simple basis of poverty in human society. And some organic solution of this land problem is not only needed, it is imperative. What hope for stimulating a great architecture while land holds the improvements instead of the improvements holding the land? For an organic economic structure this is wrong end around, and all architecture is only for the landlord.

Frank Lloyd Wright, The Disappearing City, 1932

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

References and further readings

Michael Kimmelman, The Dreams of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York Review of Books, 11 August 2005

William R. Shaw, Broadacre City: American Fable and Technological Society, Thesis, University of Oregon, December 2009

Revisiting utopias | Broadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright, Arkinet, 15 February 2010

Broadacre by Tom Martinson

Stéphanie Baffico, La ville évanescente de Frank Lloyd Wright, Urbanités, 23 June 2014

Stefano Fait, Città smart o città viva?, FuturAbles, 30 July 2014

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

James C Scott, Seeing Like a State

Adam Greenfield, Against the smart city

Douglass B Lee, Requiem for Large Scale Models

Anthony Townsend, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

Evgeny Morozov, La città intelligente è un po’ scema

Xavier de La Porte, Pour une ville intelligente qui soit aussi ignorante, affective et idiote 

Gérard Magnin, Qu’y-a-t-il derrière les “Smart Cities’’?

David Sasaki, The Quantified City

Richard Sennet, No one likes a city that’s too smart

Courtney Humphries, The too-smart city

Rem Koolhaas, Singapore Songlines. Ritratto di una metropoli Potemkin

Giuseppe Berta, Oligarchie. Il mondo nella mani di pochi

Michele Vianello, Costruire una città intelligente

Mara Balestrini, Empathic Cities

Mar Abad, ¿Cómo será la ciudad del futuro?

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