Reviewer: Abdullah Seçgin, M.A. student in the history department of Istanbul Şehir University.
Paul Dobraszczyk, Future Cities: Architecture and the Imagination. London, Reaktion Books, 2019, 272 pp., ISBN-13 978-1-78914-064-4.
In his book, Future Cities: Architecture and the Imagination, Paul Dobraszczyk takes the reader to a journey of the imagined future. He uses many illustrations in order to depict this imagined future which has both utopian and dystopian nature depending on its qualities.
In the introduction, the author emphasizes the importance of imagination for the construction of future cities. In addition to its contribution on the urban plan of future cities, he thinks that there is a strong relationship between the imagined world of the past and the architectural style of today. He supports his argument in reference to literature, cinema and even video games. In this respect, he draws attention to the architectural imagery of ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) which is considered as reminiscent of today’s Beijing. On the other hand, Dobraszczyk perceives the imaginary future of the literal works as alternative plans for growing neoliberalism and capitalism. He shares his concerns on neoliberal urban plans in the different chapters of the book.
Before starting the first part, the author gives a brief summary of each part of the book. The first part covers the drowned, floating and flying city projections whereas the second focuses on vertical cities, especially the skyscrapers. As for the third, it seems to have a different approach on the possible future cities. It is about the usage of the urban ruins in the construction of new kinds of buildings.
In the first part, Dobraszczyk mentions on rising sea levels which is one of the expected results of climate change. He strengthens the argument with the statements of several official panels and scientific discourses such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Stern Review of 2014. Then, he gives a list of books concerning the issue such as ‘New York 2140’ which depicts a dystopic Manhattan succumbed rising seas and ‘The Drowned World’ which foresees a drowned London. Aside from books, he also refers to some contemporary movies such as ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. Those who live in these ‘cities surrounded by water’ are forced to live in isolated higher structures. The concept of street seems to be disappeared except of so-called waterways. The transportation is only available by boats and sky-bridges between skyscrapers or higher buildings. On the other hand, the garbage, with no place to keep, constitutes a serious problem for these cities. However, the author assumes that they are capable of adapting the new situation with a significant reshaping in urban plans as above mentioned. In addition to these succumbed cities, Dobraszczyk shows some other cities which come up with temporary solutions to rising sea levels such as Netherlands, relatively the most famous example. Other than Netherlands, he also takes some novels like ‘The Windup Girl’ and ‘The Sea and Summer’ as examples of fortified cities with water sets against rising seas. Whereas the former is concerned with Bangkok, the latter is on future Melbourne. Apart from that, the author mentions floating small cities and underwater habitats as other alternatives of expected apocalyptic future such as Ocean City of Alanna Howe and Alexander Hespe which portrays floating platforms similar to jellyfish in terms of its shape. However, the author prefers the project of the architect Wolf Hilbertz and the artist Newton Fallis to the previous work. Since their project ‘Autopia Ampere’ provides a marine city growing out of the sea by using it as source material, Dobraszczyk sees it more suitable and adaptable to the future.
In the second part, the author starts describing vertical cities with his critics on their isolated nature. He thinks that a skyscraper spoils the interconnectedness of people with each other by providing a vertical structure and reducing the public space with its narrow and long nature. Although some examples of the skyscrapers offer horizontal elements in their vertical structure such as Marina Bay Sand Hotel in Singapore, they are meant for elites and rich class which is, for the author, a direct reflection of what capitalistic politics lead to in a society. On the other hand, Dobraszczyk does not like the architectural design of so-called green skyscrapers such as ‘Bosco Verticale’ (Vertical Forest) in Milan which consists of trees and bushes from the bottom to the top. A similar project is currently in progress in Nanjing (China). Although the architect of ‘Bosco Verticale’ claims that this kind of structure are useful and environmentally friendly by providing oxygen, the author sees them as a waste of time and energy because of their cost to nature. He calls this kind of plan as ‘greenwashing’. Instead of this style, he approves the proposal of Stefan Shaw and John Dent which is called BioCity. With its contribution to nature by cultivating algaes, the structure of BioCity project differs from previous works. However, comparing to BioCity, ‘depthscrapers’ may be considered as unique and distinguished with its ‘inverted’ architectural design. Even though there is no ‘depthscraper’ today, its illustration can still be found in the magazine ‘Everyday Science and Mechanics’ (1931). There are also some projects which reflect the ‘underground skyscraper’ models. Dobraszczyk seems to be positive regarding to the structure of ‘depthscrapers’ as long as it complies with nature.
The last part of the book deals with the implementation of the current materials in the construction of new buildings rather than using newly produced elements. The author shows how the ruin can be used (and was used) in different structures. Since he perceives many threats to urban life and predicts possible catastrophic damages arising from wars and climate change, Dobraszczyk considers the ruin as a part of our life and a memory of the past. Therefore, he attains an important role to the ruin in future cities. Moreover, he gives the current examples of ruin-based buildings such as Coventry Cathedral and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. On the other hand, some architects salvage the ruins and integrate them to new structures they are planning to build. One of the most iconic examples is Sanctum made by Theaster Gates. The building consists of the ruins of Bristol’s Temple Church and currently, it is used for hosting cultural programs and activities.
Interestingly, Dobraszczyk does not end his book with a specific chapter for a conclusion or an epilogue. However, he shares his concluding remarks with two paragraphs which resemble his words on the power of imagination for future cities in the introduction. To sum up, ‘Future Cities’ achieves to attract the reader’s attention with its enjoyable illustrations and descriptions.