Bleda

Photographer Elsa Bleda has recently completed her project Fragments (Nightscapes - Johannesburg) - a series of images exploring the South African city by night. It’s a project she began in 2014 and as she puts it herself, it is:

"the result of many years, cold nights, constant explorations, revisits, conversations with a complicated and mysterious city that has many layers.”

It’s a powerful and moving body of work.

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The layers of the city depicted in these nocturnes are entwined, meshed, folded and collapsed to represent a city in repose. For the most part people remain out of shot, behind curtains and down alleys, but this is no ghost city, life is indicated by the presence of washing lines, satellite dishes, lit rooms. Life lies in the gaps and holes between structures. Manipulation add a neon glow to give an artificial, ethereal quality to windows and walls, painted with light. The city is illuminated, but for who?

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Krutikov 2

In the first post about Georgii Krutikov's City of the Future project of 1928, we looked at his proposal for a floating city, freed from gravity, a paraboloid 'gleaming thimble’ soaring up into the air. But for all of Krutikov’s interest in mobile architecture, the city was essentially static, suspended above a manufacturing and industrial zone on the surface of the earth.

But if the new forms of the city were floating, connection between the aerial parts was facilitated by flying ‘cabins’, capable of travelling from the dwelling units of the residential blocks to other units within the same city; to the ground; or to other floating cities.

Kruitkov cabin

The teardrop design prefigured Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car, though without wings it would have been totally unstable. Like the rest of the flying city proposal, there is no indication of how the car flies – how it moves, what powers it, or how it is controlled other than a slender joystick. As a pure utopian vision, Krutikov had little time for details or practicalities.

Kruitkov cabin

The flying cabins of Krutikov's floating city are also redolent of the gyrocopters of Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City, first presented in 1932, but which pre-occupied him for the rest of his life. They also perform a similar role, connecting the disparate elements of a disurbanist city.

Broadacre City

From Floating City to Skycar City

The Dutch practice MVRDV spent some time pre-occupied by the urban possibilities or flying vehicles, and in 2007 published the book Skycar City, based on a design studio conducted with students at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning. In it, not only are typologies of flying cars explored, but also how a city might be reconfigured based on the spatial freedoms and velocities that the skycars offer.

Skycar City

Further investigations consider parking typologies, city typologies, and inter-city connections. MVRDV, in much of their research projects have taken trends and pushed them as far as then can, as design provocations, and Skycar City is no exception.

“liberated from the confines of the groundplane, the advantages and potentials of a sky-based circulation infrastructure transforms the notion of commuting and moving throughout the city. This paradigm shift also utterly revamps the way in which our cities evolve and grow."

MVRDV’s programmatic approach to design leads them to create 4 archetypes of Skycar City: The Tower City, The Swiss Cheese City, The Coral City and The Garden City, based on a hypothetical city of 5 million inhabitants. Each type has a different approach for the relationship between ‘program’ and ‘pathway’, i.e. built form and network connections, taken to its logical conclusion.

Skycar City

It’s a fascinating book, much more interesting for its urban speculations than its Skkycar designs, MVRDV, like Krutikov and FLW before them, understand that personalised aeronautical vehicles, have the ability to transform society and space.

The term skycar was first coined by the Canadian engineer Paul Moller, who has spent the last 50 years developing a personal VTOL vehicle, with limited success. The latest model, the M400, which can seat 4 people, has so far demonstrated a tethered hovering rather than free flight. Moller's designs are based around 2 or 4 prop engines, housed in a rotating nacelle that can be directed vertically for VTOL and horizontally for conventional flight. Meanwhile, advances in drone technology have developed to a point where they are able to transport a person, with models such as the Ehang 184 working and in use, albeit with a limited range and loading capacity.

Moller Skycar

Ehang 184

As with conventional cars, an abundance of personal vehicles creates issues of parking whenever drivers wish to become pedestrians. Skycar City imagines new typologies for parking structures and even 3-dimensional variations of the drive-in entertainment complex. While Krutikov imagines how the ‘cabins’ detach from the floating habitation units to fly down to earth, there is no consideration of how parking is managed once down on the surface.

Sky-high rush-hour

MVRDV’s explorations of a Skycar City do no consider the notion of anything other than the personal ownership of the skycar: there is no consideration of shared ownership or a ubiquitous taxi service such as Uber. Neither does it consider anything other than spatial separation of home, work and leisure places, with the Skycar as the connecting transport. In Skycar City we will all still commute, pushing our traffic jams and rush hour skywards.

Are the days of owner-drivers over? Uber, Lyft, ride-sharing services such as BlaBlaCar and Via, and self-driving cars might not only enable new modes of personal transportation and shared transport, but could have huge impacts on urban design and transport infrastructure. Flying cars might be another step further. Indeed, Uber themselves are already looking beyond wheeled vehicles to flying cars, having recently hired a NASA engineer to head Uber Elevate, while Google are investing in startups to develop VTOL cars.

There is no doubt that skycars could refigure entirely the layout and infrastructure of the modern city. Making city blocks themselves float, as Kruitikov imagined, might take a few more technological leaps. But his vision might yet take flight.

Krutikov

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 look 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.

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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.

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

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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

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

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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.

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