Branding the boroughs 2

hex london

In Felix Barber and Ralph Hyde's superb book London as it might have been, we can read of a Victorian plan to change the structure of the London boroughs, part of a plan to prevent overcharging by cab drivers.

London as it might be

"In the middle of the 19th Century a slightly fanatical Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries published a scheme for an hexagonal London".

".. John Leighton suggested that the old borough boundaries should be altered to conform to a honeycomb pattern. Within a five-mile radius of the General Post Office all the sprawling, differently sized boroughs were to become hexagonal-shaped areas, 2-miles across. There were 19 altogether with the City in the centre of the honeycomb. Each hexagonal borough would be identified by a letter, and the letter as well as a number would be painted or cut out of tin-plate to be visible day and night on lamp-posts at every street corner."

It's an inspired idea, and one that can also serve as the starting point for the Rebranding of the Boroughs.

John Leighton's hexagonal map only extended about 6 miles from the centre of London, but it's a relatively process to extend more concentric rings of hexes, turning the Great Wen into a setting for a boardgame, Settlers of Catan or Squad Leader re-imagined upon London.

hex london hex london

With a clear demarcation between boroughs, it becomes much easier to define transition from one border to another. Unlike the Japanese municipal flags, whose forms are symbolic images and katakana, for London a more typographic treatment was chosen. Inspired by HAL in 2001, each borough is given a 3-letter code for a consistent visual identity.

hex london hex london

Now the jumble of logos and graphical devices can be replaced with a consistent, uniform identity system. The only change is to rename the borough of Haringey as Highgate to avoid the clash with Harrow.

Within each borough, each individual hex can also be given it's own identity, further reinforcing the idea of London as a series of villages. And you could zoom in, each larger 2 mile hex could be divided into a grid of smaller hexes.

hex london


City of signs 9


Well covered by the blogerati, (such as here, here and here) but worth investigating further, Logorama is a short film by H5 that has been doing the recent round of film festivals including onedotzero, In the animation all characters, objects and buildings are represented by logos, the city of signs in the most literal way possible.

Logorama_02 Logorama_03

The film takes the concept that we are immersed in a saturated advertising landscape to its logical conclusion, the city becomes a brandscape of overlapping marks and symbols. The ubiquity of these logos as part of a collective visual consciousness has overtaken their role as badges denoting a product's provenance.


A trailer can be watched here.


The past bleeds into the future

Leningrad - St. Petersburg

In a similar realm to the virtual bleeding into the real (still the most popular post on this blog), these amazing images of St. Petersburg show the past bleeding into the future. Images of modern day St. Petersburg are meticulously matched to wartime images of the city during the Siege of Leningrad.

Instead of a slippage between two spaces. these photos show a timeslip, the exact same location caught at two moments in time. A wormhole opens, we cannot help but fall into it.

Ghosts of the past enter the present.

Leningrad merges with St. Petersburg.

Leningrad - St. Petersburg Leningrad - St. Petersburg Leningrad - St. Petersburg Leningrad - St. Petersburg


Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

I've been spending time over the last month getting to grips with Petra Kempf's remarkable publication You are the City.

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

Subtitled "Observation, organization, and transformation of urban settings", the main element of this publication are 22 sheets of clear acetate, onto which are printed different conceptual layers and frameworks of a city. It's based on a earlier project called Met(r)onymy 1, from 2001.

In 'You are the City', the 22 diagram drawings are split into four operational categories: Cosmological Ground; Leglisative Agencies; Currents, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections.

By combining different sheets, and adding layers, a huge range of different compositions can be created - a handmade decon version of SimCity. It invites the user to make new urban connections and realities, as different spatial arrangements and possibilities reveal themselves. In these digital days it's quite refreshing to play with something so low-tech and tactile. The slick sophistication of digital interfaces often make it easier to gloss over them, here the simple act of shuffling clear plastic sheets and seeing the resultant overlays makes for a contemplative pleasure.

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

Accompanying these diagrams is a slim pamphlet of accompanying essays, brief user guidelines, and notes on each of the diagram layers (referred to as index cards). Kempf herself calls these diagrams an 'adaptable framing device' with which to decode current and developing urban conditions:

"It provides a tool to observe, organise and outline the dynamic structure of cities in a non-hierarchical manner. Thus the urban construct can be studied and revealed in multiple ways, without assuming a specific order. Although we will never fully comprehend the entire complexity of a city in one moment, we can understand the urban construct through the interaction of its parts. This set is comprised of twenty-two transparent index cards that can be either viewed one at a time or in various overlaid combinations. By isolating and superimposing individual components, new perceptions and viewpoints will emerge. There are as many interpretations of cities as there are people."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

It reminds me strongly of a book called Ubiquitous Urbanism, the publication of a studio project a Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation led by Zaha Hadid, which follows a similar approach of layering highly abstract functional layers into a rich, dense Suprematist construction.

Ubiquitous Urbanism

Layering is preferred to the traditional town-planning conceit of zoning to create a greater intensity of urban experience. These mapping exercises are first applied to a number of American cities to test their fit, before the final application as a theoretical project for Tokyo.

Ubiquitous Urbanism - Tokyo proposal

This is what Queen Zaha has to say in her introduction:

"My proposal to the studio was to pursue again what has been the undercurrent of my preoccupations over the years and, I claim, has been until recently the central ambition of twentieth century architecture: the synthesis of architecture and urban planning as a three-dimensional as well as social art and science. ... A new approach to integrating architectural intervention had to be posited in the face of the seeming exhaustion of large-scale planning and against the postmodernist and deconstructivist onslaught ."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

In You are the City there is a similar attempt to try and work across the schism between architecture and urbanism, using the diagrams and their levels of abstraction as means to see things in a different way. Catherine Ingham, in one of the accompanying essays, Cities of Substance, Cities of No Substance, puts it thus:

"The diagram is one of of the only mechanisms by which conventional thinking about cities can be located and dislodged. The diagram is where conventions, givens, are wrestled with ... Kempf uses abstraction, aggregation and overlay to subvert the conventional urban plan."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

You are the City is a powerful antidote to most city-planning exercises, a conscious attempt to free up rigid spatial thinking and start thinking about networks and connections instead.

Petra Kempf can help us move from the notion of ubiquitous urbanism to that of the continuous city.


James Howard Kunstler is an entertaining speaker, but at heart he is a New Urbanist, who probably sees himself as a spiritual heir to Jane Jacobs.

New Urbanism is a pervasive aberration, a seductive myth, a creeping kudzu, and must be resisted at all costs.

Victory City Stories

Victory City

"Investors wanted", reads the link on the website for Victory City.

For over 70 years, the brilliantly named Orville Simpson II has been dreaming of the utopian community of Victory City. Starting with a childhood vision in 1936, and with no formal architectural or town planning training, Orville has been creating blueprints, drawings and residents manuals for his revolutionary, prototype community since 1960, He plans to build the first one just outside Dayton, Ohio, but is having problems finding the $100 million of private investment he feels he needs to create a development corporation.

Orville Simpson II

Each Victory City is a megastructure, up to 102 storeys high, housing up to 332,000 residents in 7 conjoined modules, each holding 47,500, with associated living quarters, workplaces, recreation facilities, and transportation. Outlying farms supply food to support the city. The central concept of Victory City is that by keeping all of these functions in a unified structure, and with radical changes in living patterns that VC dictates, great efficiencies can be made in transportation, energy and waste. Over 30 years of drawing, done on the card table office desk, Orville ("the name means golden city", he declares) has planned, drafted and described in great detail exactly how Victory City will look, and work, should he find the millions of dollars required to build it, and enough people to fill it. As other pioneering urbanists such as Paolo Soleri has discovered at Arcosanti, the road to radical urbanism is a long and fraught one.

Victory City

Victory City

In order to facilitate such a huge megastructure, Simpson has also envisaged a number of novel technical solutions, such as the Circl-Serv cafeteria system that promises to "feed 16,333 people in only 3½ hours." Rather than buy and prepare their own food, Simpson has decreed that all VC citizens will eat in giant skylit cafeterias. Scaling this up to feed 300,000 people results in a series of 9-storey mega food courts with a crazed series of Ferris wheel and Circl-Serv delivery system.

Victory City

Likewise, he goes into great depths determining how the lift systems will work, with a series of Extra-Large Elevators designed to carry 50 people at a time. Still, one can't help but think that a VC resident will spend a lot of time waiting for lifts or standing in them.

Victory City

While Simpson II has thought in minute detail about the intricacies of mass catering and vertical transportation, he is less clear about the bigger picture, How will Victory Cities, with their radical social model, and built form, deal with the rest of the world. Would outsiders be allowed in, and would VC citizens be allowed out? In keeping everything together in a city-state mega-block, citizens' relationship with the outside world is fractured, except for the sanitised exterior landscape - a hexagonal arrangement of lakes, forests, farms, hills, mines and oil wells around a Separate Facilities mega-plex holding an eclectic mix of functions including an airport, a race track, car dealerships and chicken farms.

Victory City

Victory City

Simpson has effectively designed a landlocked prison ship as a pioneering urban community.

The first thing that betrays Simpson's ideas are the crudeness of his drawings, The insane felt-tip colouring-in and wobbly lettering leaves you in no doubt that these are child-like drawings of someone with a child-like simplistic view of society. A millionaire, and he can't afford a stencil and some Letratone? Intense sectional drawings of immense fire-escape structures show the obsession with circulation and procession.

By contrast, the apartments are generally small and pokey - none seem to have windows. On occasions, he has recruited architectural students and artists to create more polished or atmospheric renderings. Inevitably for such a long undertaking, progress on Victory City seems to have had periods of intense activity followed by long fallow periods.

As with most utopian socialists, new building forms are intended to bring new societies, and fix perceived problems with existing society. At Victory City, these manifest themselves in a number of extreme social control measures. Thus in Victory City residents will carry no money. Apartments will be ready furnished. While caged birds and goldfish are allowed, cats and dogs are not - instead larger animals must be kept in a Pet Park.

Simpson's Orwellian vision continues with more residential guidelines:

"Another possibility will be to install a Muzak-type system in each apartment so residents could listen to a central source of music, news and other programs whenever they wanted. All of these programs could be turned off by Victory City between 10-11 PM, and the volume turned down between 9-10 PM in order to enable people to sleep better at night. Separate loudspeakers could be used for emergency announcements, which should be regulated by Victory City, independent of the tenants' control."

It's not hard to see flaws in Simpsons utopian vision. He sees no apparent conflict between the draconian social control he covets, its all-powerful state apparatus, and a market economy. There is almost no space given over to commercial usage - retail or business. The city-state holds a monopoly on everything from catering, home furnishings and postal. There will be no taxes, apparently. Crime and social disorder have not been considered, other than a vague panopticon surveillance.

It's easy to dismiss Simpson as a nutjob in a polyester suit with a nose like WC Fields, but is there really any difference between Victory City and say Broadacre City, other than that they are much better drawn, the social engineering not so boldly stated? While Simpson might be more forceful in his desire to model the citizens of Victory City to his values, all utopian socialists inevitably wish to builld society in their own image. And you have to admire the dedication and hubris of a man who has spent over 50 years dreaming and designing his own personal utopia.

Perhaps Victory City has more in common with Gilles Trehain's Urville than La Ville Radieuse.

Victory City

There is so much great stuff to discover about Victory City, that I can only urge you to visit the website and explore for yourself. As the man says himself: "Victory City is riddled with logic — riddled and impregnated with it. Total logic."