As mankind attempts to grapple with its own impact upon the planet, and ever more of us pour into already-bulging cities, these metastasising megalopolises could clearly use some bold rethinking. But Paul Dobraszczyk, teaching fellow at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, says the discussion is too much about ‘mitigation rather than adaptation’, and, per Freud, that we must first accept the problem, and then work through it.
Excoriating the edifice complex of the modern world’s ‘landmark’ cities, and rejecting ‘greening’, ‘zero waste’ and other solutions as little more than sticking plasters, he bemoans the ‘poverty of the contemporary imagination’ in helping us ‘incubate radical responses’ to impending (if not already-present) problems such as climate change, waste disposal, and social division. He then leads us on a tour of novels and eco-artworks, speculative architectural drawings and computer games, from the 19th century to the early 21st (JG Ballard features heavily, as does a lot of talk about ‘poetics’, ‘sign’ and suchlike), exhorting us that this is how our embattled world should think about the ‘cities of the future’ – be they submerged, floating or flying; up or down; ruined or recycled – as a scientific, liveable reality, not just artistic fantasy: ‘to ground these imaginary cities in architectural practice’, either through use of adaptive biological materials, ‘dynamic coexistence’, or repurposing of our waste products.
Future Cities is at its best when actually doing this – acting as a survey of imaginative architectures and particularly those in literature, which point to how we might all live in these environments. Where it is less convincing, alas, is as a manifesto, making increasingly broad claims about the group consciousness, society and politics. Dobraszczyk’s views are far from neutral, from his (unquestioned) identification of ‘neoliberal capitalism’ as the source of all our problems to arguing for ‘new social and economic modes of production’. And if the mad, rich, architectural ‘utopias’ of, say, Dubai are obviously no way forward, it soon becomes evident that Dobraszczyk’s preferred solutions tend to revolve around algae, mind-meld, and ‘organic’ – that is uncontrolled – growth.
While there are certainly valid question to be raised about who is entitled to design and create cities, and for whose benefit, his enthusiasm for what are in essence shanty towns seems quite ridiculous. And stepping away from the literally safe spaces of books and artists’ explorations to urge that city-scaled architecture be transformed into a ‘user’-built and -designed enterprise – ‘in the hands of the many’ – smacks of the sort of ivory-tower thinking afforded only to those who’ll never live in the resulting slums.
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