Arguably, the most radical realisation of a floating city is Georgii Krutikov’s City of the Future project from 1928. In the first of two post about Krutikov, we well examine the City of the Future project (often referred to as the Flying City) in more depth. Part 2 will looks at Krutikov’s proposal for a flying car and see where that is leading us.

Krutikov was a student of the Soviet Rationalist Nikolai Ladovskii at VKhUTEIN (the Higher Art and Technical Institute, previously known as VKhUTEMAS, the influential school of architecture in Moscow), and presented the proposal as his final diploma project. That a student project from 1928 is so highly regarded as a pioneering piece of avant garde architectural speculation is a testament to the radical nature of the scheme presented, and also the efforts of reknown Constructivist architectural historian Selim Khan-Magomedov.

Flying City 2

Two perspective images define the project. The first, in white on a dark background, shows a shimmering, upside down paraboloid (containing the residential zone), hovering above a whirlpool industrial zone on the surface. The residential zone consists of series of rings radiating upwards. The image is illusive, evocative, dynamic, with rays of light shooting upwards.

Flying City 3

The second image is a stark contrast to the first. Rendered in dark ink on a white background, it is much more traditional architectural illustration of the residential block. Here eight 5-storey residential towers are arrange around a ring block of a communal housing block.

Flying City 1

Flying City 4

Moving between floating elements, and connecting ground to earth, are flying cabins. Krutikov conceives of these almost as detachable rooms, mobile homes.

Flying City 5

How is the city powered? How does it stay aloft? It is not clear, other than some vague assertions of 'intra-atomic energy' While there is little detail about how the Flying City actually functions, it does not reduce the proposal to pure fantasy. In presentations of precedents and research for the project, Kruitikov went to great lengths to show not only forms of mobile architecture, but also of mans' endeavours to extend horizons, and in the 'Conquest of New Spaces' precedent study, Kruitikov also showed examples of technologies (such as the railway) that were thought fanciful or ridiculous, before achieving mainstream acceptance.

In her excellent essay, “Two Utopias of Georgia Kruitokov’s ’The City of the Future’”, Alla Vronskaya explores the project within the utopian pedagogical approach at the VKhUTEIN under Ladovskii:

“Rather than being dissociated from reality, 'The City of the Future’, explored reality at a deeper level. What the Architecture Department claimed was the Kruitikov’s ‘Flying City’ was not a science fiction, but a utopia, a word too painful for post-Revolutionary Soviet culture to be pronounced openly.

Vronskaya continues to examine how Krutikov project fitted within two utopian ideals in operation at the time of its conception: "the Romantic, post-revolutionary utopia as a hope and the proto-totalitarian utopia as a rigid social organisation, associated with the economic politics of the First Five-Year Plan."

Krutikov’s proposal oscillates between these utopian paradigms, the two defining images discussed above could be seen as occupying the two positions. The first image, of the spinning ‘gleaming thimble’ contrasts with the more prosaic architectural representation of built form and social organisation in the second, even if we are no closer to understanding how it resists gravity.

The power of Krutikov’s vision, of spinning vortices of light, remains a compelling one:

"Even eighty years later this project lends itself primarily to aesthetic appreciation, its sheer magnitude arousing feelings of awe and incredulity. The pleasure that Krutikov’s project offers is the pleasure in the sublime, a disinterested pleasure in perceiving something immense that transcends a moment and a place"


Kiruna is a city destined to keep being rebuilt.

Due to the threat of collapse to the existing settlement, much of the Swedish city of Kiruna, located deep inside the arctice circle, is to be demolished, and rebuilt two miles away.

New Kiruna

Subsidence caused by the mining activity, by state owned mining company LKAB, which provides the raison d'etre for Kiruna itself, has grown to the extent that the city is no longer safe.

"In a highly unusual case of urbanism, the whole town centre and its surrounding neighbourhoods are to be demolished – and rebuilt at LKAB’s expense two miles away, leaving behind some unaffected areas which will now become the western edge of the new city. The 3,050 homes that would be affected by the impact of the mining – in addition to shops, offices, schools, the city hall and the hospital – will all be bought by LKAB, knocked down and relocated. The process of moving the city will happen in phases, with the majority estimated to be completed by 2040."

I'm intrigued about how the process of moving from one city to another will unfold. Will some refuseniks remain in the old town, awaiting the inevitable slide into the precipice?

New Kiruna

Tantalisingly, rebuilding Kiruna gives the city the chance to start again. Which city, given a chance, wouldn't like to begin over, to fix the mistakes of the past - those annoying bits of leftover infrastructure where things didn't quite connect properly: the quirky changes in material and style between buildings; the misaligned changes in level of the streetscape; that bridge at slightly the wrong angle. New Kiruna, Kiruna 2.0, is a chance to make it right.

New Kiruna

Initial images of the first phase of New Kiruna, or Kiruna 4-Ever, as competition winning practice White Architects called their proposal, show a tightness of urban planning, a playful interlocking of contemporary buildings united by a crisp layer of snow. It’s a look that the old unruly town could never have achieved, while the mine looms over the old town as a portent of doom.

"The first phase of the masterplan is a new civic square, which will be home to Kiruna’s historic clock tower as well as a new travel centre (2018), facilitating connections between old and new, and a new city hall, The Crystal, designed by Henning Larsen Architects (2016). Phase 1 will also comprise a new library (2019) and swimming pool (2016) and by 2021 the Kiruna Church will be carefully demounted and reconstructed on the new

Cities and memory

Kiruna's phased development "will allow the city to ‘crawl’ along a new urban belt to its new home". But what memories will remain of the old Kiruna?

New Kiruna

In Sicily, after the town of Gibellina was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968, the new town of Gibellina Nuova was built 11 kilometers away. The site of the original city was turned into an immense artwork by the artist Alberto Burri, who encased the entire ruined city in concrete, a modern Pompeii. The buildings reduced to rubble, what is preserved are the traces of the old street plan, the craquelure of a painting scaled to the size of a town.

"And yet the Grande Cretto – which has finally been completed earlier this month, twenty years after Burri’s death – stands against the tendency of abandoned cities to be forgotten. What was broken by the quake is fixed in time. Burri’s final cretto is a momento mori because it preserves the energy of destruction."

In Gibellina the memory of the old town is preserved, the streets and buildings trapped in a Brutalist amber. The inhabitants of New Kiruna will only be able to watch as the town of old Kiruna is erased piece by piece, building by building, either by demolition or collapse into the mine workings.

The chance to start again

As a culture, we are drawn to creation myths. The superhero genre is particular creation myth is obsessed with the origin story, a tale that keeps being retold, a chance to retell the same story in a new way. In films, the reboot is a way to retell an old story in a new way. What if we could do the same with our cities? Will Kiruna 2.0 be cleaner, healthier, happier?

New Kiruna

New Kiruna

In Calvino's Invisible Cities, there is the story of Eutropia (Trading Cities 3):

"On the day when Eutropia's inhabitants feel the grip of weariness and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his house and his life, debts, the people he must greet him, then the whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them, empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will see another landscape on opening his window, and will spend his time with different pastimes, friends, gossip."

One can imagine that each new Eutropia is more refined than the last. The city approaches perfection. The video game SimCity allows us to construct a perfect city, and erase the bad parts or begin again if things don't turn out.

Kiruna seems destined to keep being rebuilt:

'It’s not the first time that Kiruna has had to demolish buildings for the mining to increase. “But never on this scale and never the city centre,” Peter Niemi, Kiruna’s municipal chief executive, tells me at the event. If the mining is set to continue, I wonder, is a move of only two miles enough to keep the town safe? “As far as we know,” Eva Ekelund, head of the department of land and development, replies, “but iron is under the new town centre, too.” So could the city move again in another 100 years? “It will be too expensive for LKAB to move the city again,” Peter says simply.'

Kiruna 4-Ever, forever?


Mackie 1

Just finishing at the James Freeman Gallery in Islington is a show by Mackie. You were shit in the 80s, a series of paintings of landscapes and old buildings, each harbouring an iconic work of modern art. Each pair of paintings relates to an artistic argument - between Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, or between Damien Hirst and David Hockney.

The Hockney painting Portrait of Nick Wilder is reproduced in a removed panel from the disused Pennine Tower at Lancaster Service Station, whilst Hirst’s infamous stuffed shark sits in an isolated country barn.

Whether you find the theme of these artistic feuds fulfilling, or just enjoy the impeccable detail on the paintings, there’s something here for everyone.

Mackie 2

The tower and the cylinder


I recently discovered a series of renderings of a 3D model of Ivan Leonidov's Narkomtiazhprom “People’s Commisariat of Heavy Industry” proposal from 1934, published on EligoVision. This competition for Red Square in Moscow attracted 120 entries from many of the leading architects in the Soviet Union at the time, although no winner was ever appointed, and the project was cancelled in 1935 when the master plan of Moscow was changed.

Leonidov’s design for the Narkomtiazhprom (or NKTP) features three towers on a long, horizontal stepped plinth, with colonnades running the full length, with a low rise glass office wing to the rear,. As a counterpoint to the composition, a small, concave drum sits at the opposite end, like a dwarf cooling tower, designed to be a workers club, I think.



Each of the towers, though of approximately equal height, had a different plan shape, and was to be constructed in a different material. The rectangular tower, features a lattice of exposed steelwork, and suspended terraces at high level constructed of stainless steel. An external elevator is cantilevered away from the main tower. The circular tower, by contrast, is a smooth surface of glazed brick, punctuated by suspended balconies, and its translucent quality would have made it glow at night. The third tower, Y-shaped in plan with curving facades, is given a simple surface treatment of unknown material. In most of the images of the project, this tower is hidden behind the rectangular tower, because it lacks the formal tension that exists between the tower and the cylinder. The three towers were linked by a series of high-level walkways and gantries.




At lower level, Leonidov proposed that the spaces be open to the public, and with a multiplicity of functions to ensure a vibrant, multi-use piece of civic architecture, rather than an insular bureaucratic edifice. Hence the proposal calls for a ‘polyclinic', a kindergarten, a creche, mechanised canteen, a hotel and a library, as well as a number of external spaces - gardens, spectator stands for Red Square parades. Thus we see the Constructivist ideal of the 'social condenser’, the production of equitable space.





Leonidov was perhaps the archetypal Constructivist architect, obsessed with form and not so concerned about the socialist fervent of the revolution. It’s no surprise that he looked so longingly towards the skyscrapers of New York, seeking to strip away their Art Deco façadism in favour of a more industrial aesthetic, although he couldn’t resist the ‘component' flourishes, the suspended gantries and the trellises. But the NKTP was technically unbuildable in the USSR in 1934, and with the approved style of architecture veering towards the monumental classicism of Socialist Realism, stylistically unbuildable also.

Leonidov’s Constructivist stylings became increasingly out of favour:

“I consider that the architecture of the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral should be subordinate to the architecture of the Narkomtiazhprom, and that this building itself must occupy the central place in the city,” wrote Leonidov.

Narkomtiazhprom influence as a building design as a piece of visionary architecture, remains strong, Rem Koolhaas has pretty much based his whole career on it - a programmatic approach to function, the wilful approach to form, the overlaying of disparate elements to create new functional intersections

In Delirious New York, Koolhaas talks about the Needle and the Globe as pair of formal archetypes twinned together in the laboratory of the city, to be repeated throughout the history of the city, from the Worlds Fair of 1853 to the World’s Fair of 1939, via Coney Island's hybrid Globe Tower and beyond.

"In many ways, the history of Manhattanism as a separate, identifiable architecture is a dialectic between these two forms, with the needle wanting to be a globe and the globe trying, from time to time, to turn into a needle."

In Delirious Moscow, an alternative future history of Soviet Architecture, Constructivism lived on in the Soviet space programme. Here a different archetype emerged, the Tower and the Cylinder. The symbiosis of the the cylinder and the tower born at Narkomtiazhprom is reborn in the form of the space rocket and the launch pad.

The formal tension between the structurally expressive tower and the sleek cylinder is one that mirrors a space rocket and its launch tower. The tower provides a support structure for the cylinder, the cylinder provides functional meaning for the tower.


This similarity is most striking in the launch tower and craft of the N1 rocket - the Soviet answer to the Saturn V, and designed to carry cosmonauts to the moon. The cross-laticing which separates each of the main rocket stages of the N1 is remarkably similar to that at the base of the Narkomtiazhprom.


From the brilliant Russian Space Web site, Anatoly Zak describes the launch tower of the N1:

"The final design of the N1 launch pad, featured a special base ring with the outer diameter of 12 meters and internal diameter of nine meters, carrying 24 footholds on which rocket would rest before the liftoff. A giant pit would descent five stories below the launch pad, in order to absorb raging flame from the rocket's 30 engines. The exhaust then would erupt to the surface via three exit channels radiating away from the pad at the angle of 120 degrees from each other. The underground space between three exhaust channels was filled with service galleries, containing countless support equipment. Special metal pillars held the base ring over the exhaust pit. On the launch pad, the 105-meter N1 rocket was flanked by a cyclopean service tower, standing 145 meters tall. Nearby lightning towers reached 185 meters above the ground. Shortly before the launch, the tower would be rotated away from the rocket on a special circular rail with the outer diameter of 60 meters. The interfaces between the tower and a rocket were designed to accommodate their movements relative to each other. Tremendous pressure of wind at the altitude of 79 meters above the ground could shift the rocket and the tower as much one meter from each other. The wheels of the tower were designed to withstand 200 tons of vertical pressure and 40 tons of sideway pressure."

A visual history of the future

Published at the end of September 2014, a new report, A Visual History of the Future, commissioned by the British government, offers a remarkable overview of alternative future visions for cities.

Plug In City

There are some bizarre omissions, Wright’s Broadacre City perhaps being the most glaring. Likewise, with Okhitovich’s Red City of The Planet of Communism nowhere to be seen, there is little discussion on the idea of a disurbanised city, only of a dense urban metropolis. This seems short sighted. Only MARS 1942 plan for London and of course Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City offer any sort of urban/rural engagement.

Other important missing projects, off the top of my head, would be OMA’s Exodus proposal, nothing by Superstudio. In a section on floating cities there nothing on Krutikev, no Klucis. Khidekel, not even the more prosaic NASA visualisations that inspired Elysium. But perhaps here I’m nitpicking - a comprehensive volume of alternative city designs would be a major undertaking.

It is odd that some science-fiction cities are represented, Neo-Tokyo from Akira, the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, along with Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Neuromancer and MegaCity One are name checked. Such a light scratching of the surface of urban visions in film and literature adds little.

But as primer on the history of futuristic urban visions, it's a pretty good start.

Mariner 9

Mariner 9

Mariner 9

In its final few days at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, Mariner 9 is an installation by video artist Kelly Richardson that offers an eerie glimpse into the future of space exploration.

The installation consists of a panoramic video screen depicting the surface of Mars 200 years in the future, as viewed from the landing site of the hypothetical Mariner 9 mission to the Red Planet. The view is an unsettling one, the landscape littered with a myriad of crashed satellites, dead rovers and marooned landers, the detritus of over 2 centuries of space exploration of Mars.

Despite the sci-fi premise of scene presented, rendered using the same CGI software used by the film and game industries, it is largely devoid of action, with the odd blinking light, brief flickers of movement from a dying rover, and wisps of space dust floating across the Martian surface. Instead the piece becomes a contemplative mediation on the vicissitudes of space exploration, coupled with a sense of loss for past missions, with each new rover rendering its predecessor obsolete. There is also the powerful realisation that, although it is 140 million miles away, humans are already having an environmental impact on Mars

As with all great speculative fictions, it uses the future as a means of talking about the present. As a comment on the stalled space program, Mariner 9 could also be seen as a critique that, rather than manned missions and habitable bases, unmanned robotic landers may remain the limit of our exploration of Mars for centuries to come.