Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form

The concept of a city can be viewed as a constantly evolving system where both architects and users contribute to its design and redesign. While its framework may start with planners or designers, the character of the urban fabric is ultimately shaped by the societies and generations that inhabit it. The question of “city authorship” often arises in the context of masterplan design. Can architects and urban planners determine the extent to which a city will evolve through its initial design? The answer is no. User authorship then acknowledges that city planning should not be approached like building design, where designers attempt to predict every aspect of shape, pattern, behavior, and culture. Instead, it recognizes the role that people play in shaping the urban fabric through their personal taste in architecture, the development of neighborhood personality, and ongoing redesign that contributes to the story and spirit of a place. These factors should be considered in the initial design by engaging ideas related to future expansion, adaptable infrastructure, and empowering citizens to contribute to the city’s architecture, thus making the city design democratic. This article explores conceptual radical cities where designers embrace the ideas of user authorship and the constant evolution of ephemeral architecture.

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 2 of 13Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 3 of 13Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 4 of 13Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 5 of 13Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - More Images+ 8

The Plug-In City / Peter Cook, Archigram

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 2 of 13Plug-in City. Image © Peter Cook via Archigram Archives

As part of their graphical architectural explorations between 1960 and 1974, Archigram proposed the Plug-in City, a provocative hypothetical city that explores adaptable built forms and mega infrastructure housing. The city is designed with modular units of residential and public spaces that can be easily plugged into a constantly evolving megastructure that incorporates transportation and other essential services. The urban fabric of the Plug-in City showcases an aesthetic of incompleteness, with structural forms and movable giant cranes that users can operate to redefine their homes and thus, the built form of the city. In an interview about the work of Archigram, Peter Cook explains that “Plug-in city was a method to allow people to grow their dwelling with themselves.” He highlights that the city brought users into the process of prefabrication construction, allowing for a multiplicity of viable choices, making the art of construction interesting, and creating a continuously dynamic city.


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Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 9 of 13Plug-in City. Image © Peter Cook via Archigram Archives
Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 8 of 13Plug-in Offices. Image © Peter Cook via Archigram Archives

Road Town/ Edgar Chambless

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 3 of 13Roadtown proposed by Edgar Chambless in 1910. The concept envisioned an underground train line. Image © Roger Taft

“How do you design the operations of a city to work in a linear pattern?” This was one of the most radical urban planning questions asked by Edgar Chambless in 1910. The idea of a road town stemmed from the fact that railways redefined how people lived, and life was widely regenerated along them. Chambless’s proposal featured a cross-section of two-story domestic apartments on various grades of silent monorail transportation. Although the buildings were designed as permanent infrastructure, the city’s linear growth pattern would be based on user decisions of the monorail, from where it starts to where it is headed. Chambless believed the city would be hyperconnected to all locations of travel needed by its citizens, making it completely democratic, bringing everyone together, exterminating slums, and providing affordable living. As a utopian vision of a blend between architecture and infrastructure, its focus on users determining the city’s growth also serves as a template for exploring forms of user authorship in radical city proposals, such as the famous The Line proposal in Saudi Arabia, which explores a similar concept.

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 7 of 13The motorway building that Le Corbusier imagined for Rio de Janeiro. Image © Agenda Bafafá

Plug and Play Masterplan for Tokyo/ Kenzo Tange

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 11 of 13A Plan for Tokyo 1960. Image © Tange Associates

In response to the Tokyo Regional Plan of 1958, which proposed decentralizing the city to address its growing population, Tange’s plan built on the ideals of the “road town” concept, which believed that communication and mobility would inevitably shape the future of cities. He proposed a linear megastructure as a based framework comprising of a fixed network of subways and highways. In this framework, interlocking loops, designed to expand across the bay, the population will dictate and evolve the housing or public programs that the city needs. Tange’s approach was a symbolic exploration into the permanent or transient nature of cities. His vision was establishing a new spatial order of continuous expansion and transformation of flexible built-forms by citizens of the city fully engaging in the benefits of mobility in the 21st century. The plug-and-play city was aimed at uniting the city structure, transportation system, and urban architecture through open organization and the spontaneous mobility of contemporary society.

Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 6 of 13A Plan for Tokyo 1960. Image © Tange Associates

In the past, people walked along streets until they came to their destination and then simply disappeared into the door. With automobiles on the street, however, everything is different. It is necessary to divide pedestrians from vehicles and create highways and streets that are for the exclusive use of vehicles. Thanks to the automobile, there is a need for a new order in which a vehicle can move from a fast highway to a slower one and then come to a stop at the destination. — Kenzo Tange


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Ephemeral Cities: 3 Radical City Concepts That Propose for Users to Shape Their Built-Form - Image 13 of 13A Plan for Tokyo 1960. Image © Tange Associates

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