Triton: R. B. Fuller’s Floating Tetrahedronal City

“The author’s city of the future consists of three triangular walls of 5000 living units apiece, the walls and base forming a tetrahedron; each unit faces the sky over a spacious terrace. The large cutaway drawing shows a huge public garden at the bottom of the interior of the superbuilding, which the sun pierces through broad openings at every 50th floor. Its transport system (in red) includes funicular as well as interior vertical and horizontal units. Though shown here on land, the city also can float. A drawing of the 200-story city superimposed on a photo of the outskirts of Tokyo vies for attention with Mount Fuji. The lowermost figure in the small cutaway drawing is at the back of the downstairs level of his duplex. Seven stories above him is a section of one of the three city centers that rim the structure. Here a transport system has a terminus at a community park, complete with lagoon, palms and shipping center in geodesic domes. Offices and maintenance facilities (in brown) line the transport tracks.”

—City of the Future by Buckminster Fuller in Playboy Magazine, January 1968.


In the 1960s, Japanese denizen, Matsutaro Shoriki (the father of professional baseball and nuclear power in Japan) commissioned a floating city from American architect, R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983). Fuller accepted and the project was dubbed Triton City and was to be a tetrahedronal, anchored floating, offshore residential structure, one fourth of a square mile, capable of housing 5000+ tenants that would be “resistant to tsunamis,” and “desalinate the very water that it would float in,” which would be located in Tokyo Bay. The city would be composed of hollow, box-sectioned, reinforced concrete which would provide buoyancy whilst the sheer size of the construct afforded it stability even in turbulent waters. The project was to be a proof of concept for a larger, pre-existing Fuller design dubbed Tetrahedron City, which was similar to Triton, save for its size (it was to be 200 stories tall and two miles from side to side) with a less jagged facade.

UF-fuller-triton.jpg
Triton City (1967). Richard Buckminster Fuller.
tumblr_oj07v9SjRL1qz6zbso1_1280.jpg
Tetrahedron City, project for Yomiuriland, Japan (1968). Richard Buckminster Fuller & Shoji Sadao.

Shoriki died in 1966 after commissioning Tetrahedron City, but the modular test initiative of the project, Triton, lived on through the interest of the United States Department of Urban Development. Both the United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships and Bureau of Yards and Docks gave the project the green light. After the navy’s approval of the design, the City of Baltimore petitioned to have Triton built in Chesapeake Bay, a move which would prove fruitless, as protracted beauracratic complications caused the project to stall which in turn eventually caused Fuller to give up on the project.

There are three principal kinds of conceptual design, those: fictive-for-fiction (not possible in principal — ie. a perpetual motion machine), practicable-for-prospective (possible in theory, untenable at present — ie. a dyson sphere) and practicable-for-practice (presently possible — i.e. a add-on to a contemporary house).

Triton City was the latter and it was for this reason the project remains unique, for despite its seeming grandiosity and fantasticality, it was, and still remains, a imminently feasible (albeit costly and materially intensive) design.

Only a model and book detailing Fuller’s plan for the floating, unpatented, residential area remain of the Triton project.

The fact that Triton was never built, does not, however, mean that Shoriki and Fuller’s work was futile, indeed, quite the opposite, as today it serves as a valuable source of inspiration for seastead designers the world over. Such structures hold considerable promise in their potential to banish for a considerable length of time, the hyperbolic cries of overpopulation. As the surface of Earth is roughly 71% (rounded up) water and only 29% land and the majority of the human population (as of this writing) is concentrated upon approximately but 10% of that total landmass, it is objectively false to claim that the planet, as such, is ‘overpopulated.’ Yet, regardless of population concerns, the overriding object of design should be a increase in habitability precisely because such a increase in his powers is also a increase in survivability. Man is durable as a largely land-locked species and shall thus witness his durability increase whence he is equally able to live upon and under the whole depth and breadth of the ocean-vast.


Sources

  1. Atelier Marko Brajovik. (2010) Buckminster Fuller — Triton Floating City. Bubuia: The Floating Institute; Floating Architecture Research Network.
  2. Matt Shaw. (2016) Review: Parrish Art Museum’s “Radical Seafaring” Catalogue (How Art & Architecture Hit The Water in the 1960s & Beyond). The Architects Newspaper.
  3. NBC News. This Floating City Concept Is One Way To Cope With Climate Change. KSBY-6.
  4. nunno Koglek à. (2013) Triton City – the First Utopian Seastead. Utopicus.
  5. R. Buckminster Fuller. (1982) Critical Path. St. Martin’s Press.
  6. R. Buckminster Fuller. (1968) City of the Future. Playboy Magazine (Vol. 15, No.1, January).
  7. Tom Metcalfe. (2017) World’s First Floating Village To Breath New Life Into Old Dream. NBC News.
  8. Trevor Blake. (2009) The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3). Synchronofile.

‘Smart Cities’ & Architectural Character

Smart city discourse is increasingly prevalent and increasingly influential, thus, a interrogation into the design philosophy undergirding the concept (and its spin-offs) can prove instructive.

IOT For All defines smart cities (also referred to as intelligent cities or digital cities) as “hubs that route IoT-produced data through public-private partnerships to solve real problems.” Put another way, a smart/intelligent/digital city is a urban human settlement that integrates IoT¹ into its pre-existing infrastructure (of roads, streetlights, etc) so as to increase asset stability (security, maintenance) and general efficiency (of energy, traffic movement, etc).

Thus, what principally distinguishes a smart city from a legacy city, is the amount of information acquisition and processing apparatuses it contains.

To say that these new arrangements are ‘smart’ then, is rather like declaring that sticking more eyes onto a fish makes it smarter — its true, insofar as intelligence is reduced to route data acquisition (which is a rather one-dimensional reconfiguration which neglects a number of obvious aspects of intelligence).

What smart cities have in common with every other type of city is their basic design, which means that they have all the same strengths and weaknesses (in relation to the welfare of their inhabitants) of a conventional city with the added trade-off of mismanagement of the new sensor apparatus (spying, data theft, inability to process data, etc) / swifter data processing via the new apparatus (swifter navigation, better energy utilization, de-incentivization of crime, etc).

What smart city discourse neglects is architectural character — the artistic dimensions of dense urban living; the symbols and structures through which collective desire is channeled and expressed from whose extollation communal ties are bound and reinforced. Architectural character is the continuity between the collective desire of the people and their realization and willful externalization of it, such that it forms the loci by which the people may understand themselves as such.

The reformulation of architectural discourse is a rather pressing issue, as the UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s total population will live in urban areas (their population projections have come under scrutiny by global demographers for being too inflationary, but even if this is the case, the number of future urban dwellers will certainly swell considerably within the century). As of this writing, urban regions possess the majority of the world’s wealth and account for roughly two-thirds of total global power consumption. Reducing energy consumption, bolstering energy production, utilization and distribution and easing congestion are all important goals, but in the pursuit of these goals, designers should not neglect the artistic and communal qualities which elevate and magnify the dreaming populace and, through explication, crystallize their rattling fervor in the melded folds of concrete and steel.


Notes

  • ¹The internet of things (IoT) is shorthand for the expansion of internet connectivity into mundane objects, allowing for the semi-automation of homes and businesses.

Sources

  1. Ann Bosche et al. (2018) To Grow The Internet Of Things, Improve Security. Forbes.
  2. Elizabeth Woyke. (2018) A Smarter Smart City. MIT Technology Review.
  3. Gene Wes Keat. (1910) From Call Building To Oakland City Hall In 5 Minutes. San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, Number 138, April 17.
  4. Guest Writer. (2019) What Makes a Smart City in 2019. IoT For All.
  5. James Brasuell. (2015) The Early History Of The ‘Smart Cities’ Movement — In 1974 Los Angeles. Planetizen.
  6. Mark Vallianatos. (2015) Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles. Boom California.
  7. Matt Novak. (2011) Zipping From San Francisco To Oakland In 5 Minutes. Smithsonian.

O.R.C.A.

The creature made a squealing sound that faintly reminded Korvus of a whale. He drew back from the reinforced glass case in which it resided and shot Elana a concerned expression. She chuckled and took a step towards the squirming mass of carbon, cilia slowly working up the side of the see-through cage, grasping towards the young woman.

“The ORCA might look intimating, but its really quite harmless.”

“ORCA?”

“Short for Oblong Ranging Cilia’d Alien. I’m not the one who comes up with the designations, mind you.”

The creature gave some pulsing clicks and jiggled like a mass of sentient jell-o.

“It also sounds like an orca, don’t you think?”

“Indeed. But… what is it?”

“We aren’t entirely sure. SecDef sweepers found it in a compound formerly rented by Eidos Kryos. Likely the by-product of one of his experiments.”

“Who?”

“You haven’t heard of him?”

“I don’t really keep up with the news.”

“Clearly. That building project of yours must be keeping you busy.”

“Yes. I’ve had considerable trouble acquiring the permits.”

“For the cave-house?”

Korvus sighed and shook his head slightly, “Cave-house… that makes it sound so primitive.”

“But it is a cave house.”

“It isn’t, though you can call it what you like. But to answer your question, yes. I couldn’t get permission from the Zoning Commission to build it. Toxic tailings from the mining operations. Whole area is poisonous, and worse, sodden. Needs to be cleaned up before they’ll let anyone down there, but no one is willing to put the time and resources into doing so.”

“No one but you.”

“I only have the time. Not the resources.”

They both turned suddenly around as the massive blob of jelly gave a low moan, its cilia spinning up and down its length with great agitation.

“Say, Elana… if this ‘ORCA’ is so harmless, why is it in a cage?”

“Its metabolism is extremely high; its nearly always hungry. No, don’t worry, like I said, its harmless — to us — it only eats inorganic material. I can’t figure out why. No one can. Not even Jensen. When the extraction team first encountered it they were startled and opened fire. Was completely unaffected, the bullets penetrated its outer membrane and then just sort of settled inside it. Within two hours they were beginning to disintegrate. Within a day the bullets were pulled deeper into its body and within two, they were gone. It ate everything, plates, forks, shoes, pillows, the lab equipment. Its mass grew considerably, but there was no by-product. Anyways, Jensen said we can’t have it eating up the lab, told me that the board were going to terminate it, said it wasn’t worth the trouble…”

“Poor fella.”

“Yeah. I wish there were something I could do.”

Korvus took a step forward and pressed his hand to the glass whereupon the creature raised itself up and gave a few clicks and shimmied.

“Perhaps there is.”

§

The mine cleaners were as astounded by the creature’s presence as the board was by its lack thereof. It sat in the tailing pool, now empty, wriggling its cilia up into the air, clicking and jiggling.

Korvus was contacted shortly thereafter; the project had been given the greenlight, construction on the underground residential area could begin at once.

Notes On Mobile-Platform-Cities

NOTES ON MOBILE PLATFORM CITIES

Defining MPCs

Such a structure [an Arcology1] would take the place of the natural landscape inasmuch as it would constitute the new topography to be dealt with. This man-made topography would differ from the natural topography in the following ways: It would not be a one-surface configuration but a multilevel one. It would be conceived in such a way as to be the carrier of all the elements that make the physical life of the city possible—places and inlets for people, freight, water, power, climate, telephone; places and outlets for people, freight, waste, mail, products, and so forth. It would be a large-dimensioned sheltering device, fractioning three-dimensional space in large and small subspaces, making its own weather and its own cityscape. It would be the major vessel for massive flow of people and things within and toward the outside of the city. It would be the organizing pattern and anchorage for private and public institutions of the city. It would be the focal structure for the complex and ever-changing life of the city. It would be the unmistakable expression of man the maker and the creator. It would be diverse and singular in all of its realizations. Arcology would be surrounded by an uncluttered, open landscape.” — Paolo Soleri, 1969; Arcology: The City In The Image of Man, p. 13.

The need for a new definition of human settlement is apparent now more than ever before in human history. — Logan Bier, 2014; Post-Arcological Human Scale Emergence, p.1.

What do cruise-liners, space-stations and aircraft-carriers have in common?

They are all moving cities.

In contradistinction to the traditional view of a city as a static settlement, we posit the city of the future – whether oriented towards land, air, sea or space – should be designed for maximal mobility to the extent the aforementioned capabilities do not sufficiently impede central functions of the total system (food production and distribution, water collection, filtration, distribution, storage, power generation and dissemination, general comfort of the denizens, etc). To this end we posit the mobile-platform-city. Briefly, a mobile-platform-city will be a city built into a moving apparatus that will be self-contained and self-sustaining. We take as our starting point, the modular structure of the human brain and the crew capacity of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. The brain, not just the human brain, but all brains, are remarkable due the amount of information that is contained within such small, sometimes tiny, folds of flesh. Just as the neuron is the building block of the brain, personal container units, each individuals “house” within the total structure, should be the building blocks of the mobile-platform-city. Given the space needed for just one comfortable human habitat, the size of the total structure will need to be fairly expansive, around the size (or slightly smaller than) a US super carrier, the two largest of which are the Nimitz-class (second largest) and the Gerald Ford-class (largest). Though Nimitz-class aircraft carrier are slightly smaller than Gerald R. Ford-class ships in terms of total size, the crew-carrying capacity of the Nimitz-class (5000+) is presently unmatched by any vessel. Thus, it is easy to image a construct of like size which could be designed for civilian contentment rather than military engagement. However, unlike a aircraft carrier, a mobile-platform-city need not be constrained to only open waters and could instead be fashioned for air, sea or land or some combination thereof. The massive amount of energy which would be required for perpetual flight render any sky-base of aircraft carrier size implausible (at present), however a rolling land-to-sea mobile base of aircraft carrier size is highly practicable.

Benefits of mobile-platform-cities (MPCs) over static settlements (S-Ss) are manifold; chief benefits include terrain adaptability (instead of piecemeal evacuation in the event of a natural disaster, one may simply move the whole MPC), task-bundling (resource shipment lines can be significantly reduced via utilization of the MPC as part of a previously external2 supply chain). Offensive and defensive capabilities of MPCs would also offer several marked benefits over traditional settlements, given that a MPC could operate as a offensive unit itself and offer tactical flexibility in deployment of on-board defensive units (such as air-crafts, tanks, submersibles, troops, etc.). Given the immense spatial demands of even a relatively small MPCs3, evasion of military assault, however, is the principal benefit over S-Ss, as MPC mobility will likely be relatively slow in comparison to state-of-the-art land, sea and air transport, simply due to size. Another significant benefit is the obviation of crippling sanctions by fording international waters, thus circumnavigating territorial sovereignty and the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries. America’s rise to power, much like the British Empire before them, was due in large part to mastery of the seas, thus, it is pertinent to muse upon the tactical advantages of a free-roaming civilization which could potentially establish itself as the world’s premier overseas trade-arbiter.

Remarks on likely lines of opposition

A likely line of opposition towards the very idea of MPCs is that they sound fantastical. The whole history of technological innovation, however, is filled with precisely this kind of uncreative, grim impossibilism. it is important to remember that cities already are mobile, simply not in spatial terms. Rather, modern cities are digitally mobile, with every human being therein incessantly “teleporting” all over the world through the web which itself is fostered by the infrastructure of the city itself. Thus, though the physical infrastructure of the modern city is (generally) static4, the information infrastructure is in ever increasing flux. All major urban areas in the world today (2018) are interconnected through wireless networks, and various other lines of near-instant communication. The total mobilization of the city itself is thus a reasonable continuation of the data revolution wherein the physical components catch-up to the ever-growing digital domain of which they are a indispensable part.

Potential feasibility, types, designs and functions

Jeff Stein, in a 2012 TEDxMission talk entitled The City, 2.0 noted, “No Eco-thinking can ignore density. Crowding, the maker of life.” Stein was invoking the concept of CDM (Complexity, Miniaturization, Duration), remarking upon its often overlooked importance in architectural, specifically urban, design.

Utilization of CDM will be indispensable to the construction of any feasible MPC. As previously mentioned, MPCs already exist (simply not in name) thus, there should be no argument as to the feasibility of MPCs themselves, but rather, the feasibility of certain types of MPCs.

Sources and reference materials for further reading

  1. Arcology: Comments Corpus, Logan Ray Bier (2009-2017).

  2. Nanoarchitecture: A New Species of Architecture, John Johansen, Princeton Architectural Press (2002).

  3. P. Soleri, 1969, Arcology: The City In The Image of Man

  4. Indian Navy seeks EMALS system for second Vikrant-class aircraft carrier, Naval Technology, (May 29, 2013).

  5. On The Prospects Of Inverse Arcology, K. E., Logos (May 5, 2018).

  6. Ready For The 21st Century, All Hands (Magazine of the US Navy).

  7. Time For Mapping, Cartographic Temporalities, Alex Gekker et al. Manchester University Press (2018).

  8. Tekever AR5 Life Ray Evolution Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), Naval Technology.

  9. Vikrant Class, Naval Technology.

1Arcology is a portmanteau of architecture and ecology. See, Soleri, Paolo (1973), The Bridge Between Matter & Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit.

2Meaning, external to a static settlement, ie. Foreign factory (1) > Cargo ships (2) > Sss (3), whereas with a MPC, steps 2 and 3 can be bundled together, saving a tremendous amount of time and resources and generally reducing population stress through labor reduction.

3Akron, Ohio, in 2017 had a population of 703,505. USS Gerald R. Ford, the largest aircraft carrier in the world – as of 2018 – can harbor 4,550 crew members (ship, air-wing and staff).

4There are some exceptions to stasis in modern cities, such as moving bridges, etc.

The Citta Nuova and the Architecture of War

“Let us overturn monuments, pavements, arcades and flights of steps; let us sink the streets and squares; let us raise the level of the city.”

-Antonio Sant’Elia,  Futurist Manifesto of Architecture.


“I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.”

-Lebbeus Woods, War and Architecture.


Whilst the name of Antonio Sant’Elia is not widely known, anyone who has ever seen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), or Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982) has beheld the striking power of his legacy as his imposing and gargantuan, yet highly plausible, architectural drawings inspired the architecturally dense worlds of both films. Elia’s most well known works all come from his Citta Nuova (New City) series which the American experimental architect Lebbeus Woods described as, “perhaps, the most famous and influential [drawings] of the early 20th century.”

se-2b
Antonio Sant’Elia, Air and train station with funicular cableways on three road levels from La Città Nuova, 1914.

Lebbeus Woods is well positioned to critique and build upon the works of Sant’Elia, as he, more than nearly any other contemporary artist, embraced and carried forth the brilliant flame of Futurism which Marinetti first kindled in Italy in 1909 with his incendiary manifesto and which Sant’Elia further crystallized with his astounding architectural drawings and conceptual writings which brim to overflowing with the steel of mind and the light of purpose. Whilst, like most modern men, Woods certainly was not nearly so sanguine about the prospects of war as the Futurists (who glorified it as the hygiene of the world), he certainly understood its nature well, having dedicated many works to the torturous Siege of Sarajevo – the single longest concentrated attack on a capital city in modern history – which Woods witnessed first-hand. In 2011, Woods wrote of the conflict:

For anyone who saw the burning twin towers in Sarajevo, in the summer of 1992, which were attacked by terrorists bent on undermining the morale of the people of that cosmopolitan city, the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, nine years later, with the same goals in mind, came as no great surprise. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War had produced a new type of global struggle based not on vast armies clashing in the field, but on small-scale insurgencies attacking the centers of their enemies’ power, disrupting them, and thereby undermining their self-confidence and ability to dominate others. This new type of warfare was called terrorism. Its main weapon is creating fear in the enemy, both government and ordinary citizens, leading not to armistices, treaties, and other official instruments of reconciliation between legally recognized states, but to de facto victories, in which the insurgents hope to win economic or political concessions that strengthen them in their own domain or globally, in the sense that they are ever more feared and hence ever more powerful and influential.

One significant new feature of this new type of conflict is that opposing sides are not drawn along socio-political lines—one communist and one capitalist—as in the Cold War rivalry between two superpowers, but rather along religious ones. This is a throwback to the Middle Ages, and not Modern at all, except in terms of weaponry and techniques of command and control. The conflict now is primarily between Christians and Muslims. The attack on Sarajevo was carried out by a Christian insurgency against a Muslim majority. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York was carried out by a Muslim insurgency against a Christian majority. Both had the goal of degrading a way of life. Both attacks were attacks on the idea of the city itself.”

Woods’ sensitivity to the times, the city and to the cultural zeitgeists which shape it, is a attribution which he closely shared with Sant’Elia who in his Futurist Manifesto of Architecture, wrote:

“No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

These architectonic prostitutions are welcomed in Italy, and rapacious alien ineptitude is passed off as talented invention and as extremely up-to-date architecture. Young Italian architects (those who borrow originality from clandestine and compulsive devouring of art journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a hilarious salad of little ogival columns, seventeenth-century foliation, Gothic pointed arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo scrolls, fifteenth-century cherubs, swollen caryatids, take the place of style in all seriousness, and presumptuously put on monumental airs. The kaleidoscopic appearance and reappearance of forms, the multiplying of machinery, the daily increasing needs imposed by the speed of communications, by the concentration of population, by hygiene, and by a hundred other phenomena of modern life, never cause these self-styled renovators of architecture a moment’s perplexity or hesitation. They persevere obstinately with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino plus gleanings from any published scrap of information on German architecture that happens to be at hand. Using these, they continue to stamp the image of imbecility on our cities, our cities which should be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves.”

How sharp and true do his words ring today! And, likely, well shall they ring unto the future. Both Sant’Elia and Woods share in their ruminations on architecture a delicate sensitivity to time and place, to the nature of the city and its shaping by the forces of a hundred thousand different traditions all vying for dominion (and nearly all ignorant or uncaring about meeting the needs of the evolution of human civilization). Sant’Elia, like all of his Futurist brethern, rejected these traditions as a supreme giving-in to decrepitude and decay, and instead opts to turn The City into a majestic symbolic representation of a “projection of ourselves as we are.” Reification of the present without delay! Woods doesn’t entirely agree (nor entirely disagree) as he writes in his piece War and Architecture,

“In going over what I wrote about this work [on Sarajevo] at the time—in 1993—I find it inadequate in its explanation of what inspired the designs, drawings, and models and what I hoped to achieve by making them. No wonder, I say in hindsight, that they were accused of “aestheticizing violence,” and merely being exploitative of a tragic human condition. I failed to put the work in the broader human context that it needed to be understood as proposals for architecture serving rational and needed purposes. I hope to correct—to the extent I can here—this failure.”

Woods is here throwing up a, “I would never aestheticize violence!” as if that were somehow criminal. We should hastily remark that aestheticizing violence is just as laudable (and potentially deplorable) as aestheticizing any other domain of significant human activity. Nevertheless, Woods, in a slightly less politicized context, writes of war:

Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.” I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.” I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor you can know mine. Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.”

Such vivacity, why Marinetti or Sant’Elia could well have written those words themselves and should surely laud them were they able! One sees here the convergence most starkley between Sant’Elia and Woods, the city is new because the city, to be a proper and well fitted city must always be new. Perfection is anathema for perfection is stagnation and stagnation is death. Thus they war with time and space itself, eternally, in, as Aaron Traywick once said, “The Endless Game.”

On The Prospects of Inverse Arcology

The object is eternal, only the subject dies.

Introduction

Who is this brain-dead worm, this mad cadaver, this “modern” American architect? Not nearly modern enough, his works swim amidst a phantasmal tide and lags behind decades, or, if he or she wishes to showcase their cultural acumen, centuries! How little has changed since the times of Sant’Elia and how right he was! All around America one spies these ugly conglomerations of brick and fake wood, roman columns affixed to cement facades, as if in afterthought. Ugly, insipid and wasteful; it is the latter which leads so oft to the former eventualities. Those materials which have been hitherto plied to fashion those many layers of superfluous paneling, column-fitting and ostentatious, gaudy nonsense on our buildings could have been aggregated to create whole new living spaces and the pathways to them! Fear not, we shall dispatch of these cretins in goodly time.

However, it is never enough to merely criticize; a solely negatory enterprise invariably consumes itself at the last. Instead we will pair our rebarbative salvos with a proposal, not just for a new style or aesthetic of American architecture, but an all-encompassing vector for societal construction. Be not uncertain, this task is of no small import, but rather, one of the greatest possible magnitude. The total world population is projected to increase markedly by 2050, whilst the concentrations of individuals living in urban areas are projected to continue intensifying. As of 2010, over 50 percent of the world population lived in urban areas. According to United Nations, China’s population is projected to reach 900 million by 2030, India, approximately 700 million and the USA, just under 300 million1. One then spies numerous problems arises, ranging from resource scarcity from over-consumption to hyper-compression and traffic congestion. To effectively meet this challenge new societal models will be required. One of the most interesting of these new ideas was laid out by the Italian architect, Paolo Soleri, in his 1969 book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. Soleri lays out the foundations of Arcology2 as both a new type of societal structure and a new way of thinking about man’s relationship to the world. He wrote:

“Such a structure [an Arcology] would take the place of the natural landscape inasmuch as it would constitute the new topography to be dealt with. This man-made topography would differ from the natural topography in the following ways: It would not be a one-surface configuration but a multilevel one. It would be conceived in such a way as to be the carrier of all the elements that make the physical life of the city possible—places and inlets for people, freight, water, power, climate, telephone; places and outlets for people, freight, waste, mail, products, and so forth. It would be a large-dimensioned sheltering device, fractioning three-dimensional space in large and small subspaces, making its own weather and its own cityscape. It would be the major vessel for massive flow of people and things within and toward the outside of the city. It would be the organizing pattern and anchorage for private and public institutions of the city. It would be the focal structure for the complex and ever-changing life of the city. It would be the unmistakable expression of man the maker and the creator. It would be diverse and singular in all of its realizations. Arcology would be surrounded by an uncluttered, open landscape (Soleri, 1969, p. 13).”

To construct his soaring vision, Soleri borrows from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega-Point hypothesis3. Due this influence, Soleri conceives of arcologies as places, not just of new-found frugality, protection and efficacy, but also of spiritual improvement. Soleri further sketches out the details of his new habitational paradigm by way of CDM (Complexity, Miniaturization, Duration), three guidelines which all arcologies must obey to be commensurate with the rhythms of human life. Soleri takes the issue of energy consumption seriously and posits that arcologies, to be properly constituted, must be energy-cities, that is system-structures which, in their entirety, work to produce, capture, store and utilize energy. Additionally, Soleri tackles the issue of density, the synthesis of CDM, that is, miniaturization within a complex system over a period of time; as Jeff Stein noted, “No Eco-thinking can ignore density. Crowding, the maker of life.”4

Some concrete examples of arcologies which Soleri sketched (though these were, obviously, never built) included, Novanoah II (1969), a massive construct which could comfortably occupy 2,400,000 inhabitants upon the open oceans, and, Stonebow (1977), a gargantuan arch designed to be situated over canyon topographies, as well as, Arcbeam Variation (1977), a giant multi-layered bridge-like structure designed to be situated between two cliffs or mountains. Whilst a cursory viewing of his conceptual sketches and reading of his theories might lead one to believe he is some sort of jelly-minded Utopian, he is nothing of the sort. During a 2008 interview between Soleri and The Guardian reporter, Steve Rose, the journalist inquires as to the feasibility of creating a “utopia” without money to which the architect responded, Utopia is a pretty stupid notion.”5

It strikes me as rather odd that Mr. Rose would make such a inquiry given that he conducted his interview in the Arcosanti, a arcological city designed as a alternative to the traditional American urban sprawl by none other than Soleri himself! Now, it bears noting, that the Arcosanti even now, as of this writing in 2018, is not yet completed, but the fact that it exists at all, attests to the immediate practicability of, at least some, his designs.

Thus far we have established three points of import: Firstly, we have established what arcologies are, secondly, we have established that arcologies are required for the future development of technologically advanced peoples due to urban concentration, and, thirdly, we have established arcologies are, at least in some of their variations, immediately viable. However, the uniqueness of particular nations, countries and empires bears factoring into this tripartie equation; one cannot merely say, ecologies should be built, or, ecologies need to be built, and simply leave it at that. We must tackle the specific kinds of ecologies which should be built and, additionally, address, precisely why and how they should be built. Soleri’s Arcosanti, for instance, was created specifically for Americans as a reaction to the cloistering penchants of modern urban architecture. Hence, Soleri, like all good architects, took both the question of topography and identity into consideration; the topography of the land, the identity of the people who will prospectively occupy the structure and, finally, the identity of the prospective architecture itself to ensure that it is commensurate with those who will there taken up residence.

For our purposes we shall narrow our focus upon prospective Arcological methods for the United States.

On The Prospect of Inverse Arcologies

Arcologies, as formulated by Soleri, are generally conceived of as towering megastructures; but let us consider a different formulation, a inverse arcology, one which goes downward instead of up. To build down means to traverse one of two domains: The earth and the waters.

Chthonic Arcology

Modern architecture already entails a good deal of chthonic burrowing, such as: subways, basements, bunkers, mausoleums, mine-shafts and vaults. To go further and build a habitable domicile is not just practicable, but already a reality. For instance, in Festus, Missouri, a 15,000-square foot home was built inside of a sandstone cavern, dubbed, the Cave House. The structure blends seamlessly into the cave walls for both aesthetic appeal and pragmatic effect as geothermal design wholly eliminates the need for additional heating and cooling modules such as air conditioning units or electric or gas heaters. The case of Cave House, though not a arcology, is promising given that there is nothing which prohibits those same techniques and materials being utilized towards subterranean city development other than a willingness to take the plunge. Once such a process becomes mainlined then the additional mind-power required to begin fleshing out possible arcological models for underground self-sufficiency (such as thermal capture, deep gardens and watershed exploitation).

Then there is the fantastical underground city known as the Shanghai Tunnels or Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon, used in the 1850s to the 1940s for the imprisonment and transportation of captured laborers – slaves – to be utilized by unscrupulous seamen in their travels to the Orient (a practiced colloquially referred to as Shanghaiing). Women who were captured were, according to legend, typically sold as prostitutes for the enjoyment of libidinous seamen. Though the dense and winding passageways beneath Portland’s Chinatown (also known as ‘Old Town’ or ‘Central Downtown Portland’) were utilized for rather unsavoury ends, the infrastructure was (or rather, still is) highly sophisticated and even housed various subterranean living quarters, primarily prison cells used to hold the various men and women who were dragged down into the labyrinth. Again, the Portland Underground is not a arcology but given that it shows the answer to the question, “Are modern underground cities feasible?” is an obvious, “Yes,” the question then becomes, “Where then to build and how?” Let us turn our attention to abandoned mines as a prospective domain of conquest.

There are approximately 500,000 unoperational mines in the United States of America, according to Abandoned Mines.gov, a website managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some place this number higher, given the difficult of mapping hazardous topography and the fact that some mines are so old that documentation concerning them is all but impossible to find. Governmental statistics from 2014 show 46,000 abandoned mines on public property. Given the fact that so much funding and man-power is already being directed towards modulated these empty husks of former productivity, it stands as imminently reasonable to propose that we go all in on these myriad projects and transmogrify them wholly. Instead of dark and echoing pits, into which, the hapless wayfarer might be plunged, arcological mapping might produce a luminous and bustling cultural hub, or transportation terminus. The Department of the Interior has projected that the Environmental Protection Agency’s empty mine clean-up plan would require approximately 72 billion dollars (2.4 billion dollars from tax payers), and that is only for hard rock mines, meaning, those mines which separate minerals from metals, and does not cover any other mine variants. One might fashion a new and more efficacious plan which lowers the total cost for equipment, manpower, transportation and tailing clean-up and put those saved funds into renovating vibrant living spaces within what would be, even after EPA interference, hollowed out caverns. This plan would be especially useful for those mines which are slated for re-opening as some portion of the arcological space would be able to function for them as a home-away-from-home during their labors and, in time, may even birth whole new cities which would continuously expand themselves as their inhabitants drilled further and further into the earth, chasing the precious metals and minerals therein.

Abyssal Arcology

Let us dispense with any silly notions about the impossibility of underwater cities and let us also cast off our fears of the inherent dangers there implied. Japan’s Shimizu Corporation announced, in 2014, plans for a underwater city designed to accommodate 5000 people. The project, entitled, Ocean Spiral, was given the green light in 2015 and consisted of blueprints which proposed a series of massive interlinked orbs, 1600 feet in diameter, with exceedingly long screw-like extensions which would burrow into the seabed where they would connect with various modules that would be utilized as outposts for resource collection, such as mining. The spiral surrounding the floating spheres of project Ocean Spiral would serve a additional function other than connecting to the seafloor, namely, energy collection. Given the scarcity of power options so deep underneath the ocean, the theorists behind the project realized that the structure would require a built in power-source, thus, the spiral would capture thermal energy from the ocean generated from the difference between the cooler lower seawater and the warmer shallows and then use that captured energy to power steam-turbines within the spiral, a process referred to as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Shimizu Corp also believes it is feasible to utilize microorganisms that live upon the seabed to harvest energy by using them to convert carbon dioxide into methane. The question of sustenance is easily answered given the bounty of the sea, though to ensure a goodly supply, fish and crustacean farms and underwater gardens would be built into and around the structures and water would be desalinated via a reverse osmosis membrane from the ocean. Each sphere within the spiral would be able to move up and down at-will and operate like spacious slow-moving submarines with the uppermost sphere acting as the principal residential area.

In a interview with The Guardian in 2014, Shimizu Corp’s spokesman, Hideo Imamura stated, “This is a real goal, not a pipe dream. The Astro Boy cartoon character had a mobile phone long before they were actually invented – in the same way, the technology and knowhow we need for this project will become available.”6

Thus, we see that not only are inverse arcologies possible, they are already being designed (Ocean Spiral, for instance, is speculated to be built and prepped for human habitation sometime around 2030).

1United Nations, World Prospects, 2007 revision.

2Arcology is a portmanteau of “architecture” and “ecology.” See, Soleri, Paolo (1973), The Bridge Between Matter & Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit.

3The Omega-Point is the belief that all things in existence are destined to move towards the creation of a superintelligence born out of the evolutionary process. Chardin’s theory is similar to the heat death hypothesis proffered by many physicists and cosmologists, differing in that he believed that the process would operate beyond the strictures of entropy. The idea might best be summarized via Kurzweil, “Evolution moves inexorably toward our conception of God, albeit never reaching this ideal.”

4Jeff Stein, The City 2.0, TEDxMission, Nov. 9th, 2012.

5Steve Rose, The Man Who Saw The Future, (The Guardian, 2008).

6Katharine J. Tobal, Japan Releases Plans For Futuristic Underwater Cities By 2030, Nov. 25, 2014.

The Futurist Manifesto of Architecture

The speculative techno-poetic document provided below was written in 1914 by the Futurist architect and draftsman, Antonio Sant’Elia [anˈtɔnjo santeˈlia]. I have here reproduced Sant’Elia’s manifesto in it’s entirety for the prospective edification of my readership.

se-2b
‘Air and Train Station with Funiculars,’ by A. Sant’Elia (1914). One of 6 drawings included with the manifesto’s original manuscript.

No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

These architectonic prostitutions are welcomed in Italy, and rapacious alien ineptitude is passed off as talented invention and as extremely up-to-date architecture. Young Italian architects (those who borrow originality from clandestine and compulsive devouring of art journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a hilarious salad of little ogival columns, seventeenth-century foliation, Gothic pointed arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo scrolls, fifteenth-century cherubs, swollen caryatids, take the place of style in all seriousness, and presumptuously put on monumental airs. The kaleidoscopic appearance and reappearance of forms, the multiplying of machinery, the daily increasing needs imposed by the speed of communications, by the concentration of population, by hygiene, and by a hundred other phenomena of modern life, never cause these self-styled renovators of architecture a moment’s perplexity or hesitation. They persevere obstinately with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino plus gleanings from any published scrap of information on German architecture that happens to be at hand. Using these, they continue to stamp the image of imbecility on our cities, our cities which should be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves.

And so this expressive and synthetic art has become in their hands a vacuous stylistic exercise, a jumble of ill-mixed formulae to disguise a run-of-the-mill traditionalist box of bricks and stone as a modern building. As if we who are accumulators and generators of movement, with all our added mechanical limbs, with all the noise and speed of our life, could live in streets built for the needs of men four, five or six centuries ago.

This is the supreme imbecility of modern architecture, perpetuated by the venal complicity of the academies, the internment camps of the intelligentsia, where the young are forced into the onanistic recopying of classical models instead of throwing their minds open in the search for new frontiers and in the solution of the new and pressing problem: the Futurist house and city. The house and the city that are ours both spiritually and materially, in which our tumult can rage without seeming a grotesque anachronism.

The problem posed in Futurist architecture is not one of linear rearrangement. It is not a question of finding new moldings and frames for windows and doors, of replacing columns, pilasters and corbels with caryatids, flies and frogs. Neither has it anything to do with leaving a façade in bare brick, or plastering it, or facing it with stone or in determining formal differences between the new building and the old one. It is a question of tending the healthy growth of the Futurist house, of constructing it with all the resources of technology and science, satisfying magisterially all the demands of our habits and our spirit, trampling down all that is grotesque and antithetical (tradition, style, aesthetics, proportion), determining new forms, new lines, a new harmony of profiles and volumes, an architecture whose reason for existence can be found solely in the unique conditions of modern life, and in its correspondence with the aesthetic values of our sensibilities. This architecture cannot be subjected to any law of historical continuity. It must be new, just as our state of mind is new.

The art of construction has been able to evolve with time, and to pass from one style to another, while maintaining unaltered the general characteristics of architecture, because in the course of history changes of fashion are frequent and are determined by the alternations of religious conviction and political disposition. But profound changes in the state of the environment are extremely rare, changes that unhinge and renew, such as the discovery of natural laws, the perfecting of mechanical means, the rational and scientific use of material. In modern life the process of stylistic development in architecture has been brought to a halt. Architecture now makes a break with tradition. It must perforce make a fresh start.

Calculations based on the resistance of materials, on the use of reinforced concrete and steel, exclude “architecture” in the classical and traditional sense. Modern constructional materials and scientific concepts are absolutely incompatible with the disciplines of historical styles, and are the principal cause of the grotesque appearance of “fashionable” buildings in which attempts are made to employ the lightness, the superb grace of the steel beam, the delicacy of reinforced concrete, in order to obtain the heavy curve of the arch and the bulkiness of marble.

The utter antithesis between the modern world and the old is determined by all those things that formerly did not exist. Our lives have been enriched by elements the possibility of whose existence the ancients did not even suspect. Men have identified material contingencies, and revealed spiritual attitudes, whose repercussions are felt in a thousand ways. Principal among these is the formation of a new ideal of beauty that is still obscure and embryonic, but whose fascination is already felt even by the masses. We have lost our predilection for the monumental, the heavy, the static, and we have enriched our sensibility with a taste for the light, the practical, the ephemeral and the swift. We no longer feel ourselves to be the men of the cathedrals, the palaces and the podiums. We are the men of the great hotels, the railway stations, the immense streets, colossal ports, covered markets, luminous arcades, straight roads and beneficial demolitions.

We must invent and rebuild the Futurist city like an immense and tumultuous shipyard, agile, mobile and dynamic in every detail; and the Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine. The lifts must no longer be hidden away like tapeworms in the niches of stairwells; the stairwells themselves, rendered useless, must be abolished, and the lifts must scale the lengths of the façades like serpents of steel and glass. The house of concrete, glass and steel, stripped of paintings and sculpture, rich only in the innate beauty of its lines and relief, extraordinarily “ugly” in its mechanical simplicity, higher and wider according to need rather than the specifications of municipal laws. It must soar up on the brink of a tumultuous abyss: the street will no longer lie like a doormat at ground level, but will plunge many stories down into the earth, embracing the metropolitan traffic, and will be linked up for necessary interconnections by metal gangways and swift-moving pavements.

The decorative must be abolished. The problem of Futurist architecture must be resolved, not by continuing to pilfer from Chinese, Persian or Japanese photographs or fooling around with the rules of Vitruvius, but through flashes of genius and through scientific and technical expertise. Everything must be revolutionized. Roofs and underground spaces must be used; the importance of the façade must be diminished; issues of taste must be transplanted from the field of fussy moldings, finicky capitals and flimsy doorways to the broader concerns of bold groupings and masses, and large-scale disposition of planes. Let us make an end of monumental, funereal and commemorative architecture. Let us overturn monuments, pavements, arcades and flights of steps; let us sink the streets and squares; let us raise the level of the city.

I COMBAT AND DESPISE:

All the pseudo-architecture of the avant-garde, Austrian, Hungarian, German and American;

All classical architecture, solemn, hieratic, scenographic, decorative, monumental, pretty and pleasing;

The embalming, reconstruction and reproduction of ancient monuments and palaces;

Perpendicular and horizontal lines, cubical and pyramidal forms that are static, solemn, aggressive and absolutely excluded from our utterly new sensibility;

The use of massive, voluminous, durable, antiquated and costly materials.

AND PROCLAIM:

That Futurist architecture is the architecture of calculation, of audacious temerity and of simplicity; the architecture of reinforced concrete, of steel, glass, cardboard, textile fiber, and of all those substitutes for wood, stone and brick that enable us to obtain maximum elasticity and lightness;

That Futurist architecture is not because of this an arid combination of practicality and usefulness, but remains art, i.e. synthesis and expression;

That oblique and elliptic lines are dynamic, and by their very nature possess an emotive power a thousand times stronger than perpendiculars and horizontals, and that no integral, dynamic architecture can exist that does not include these;

That decoration as an element superimposed on architecture is absurd, and that the decorative value of Futurist architecture depends solely on the use and original arrangement of raw or bare or violently colored materials;

That, just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created, and of which architecture must be the most beautiful expression, the most complete synthesis, the most efficacious integration;

That architecture as the art of arranging forms according to pre-established criteria is finished;

That by the term architecture is meant the endeavor to harmonize the environment with Man with freedom and great audacity, that is to transform the world of things into a direct projection of the world of the spirit;

From an architecture conceived in this way no formal or linear habit can grow, since the fundamental characteristics of Futurist architecture will be its impermanence and transience. Things will endure less than us. Every generation must build its own city. This constant renewal of the architectonic environment will contribute to the victory of Futurism which has already been affirmed by words-in-freedom, plastic dynamism, music without quadrature and the art of noises, and for which we fight without respite against traditionalist cowardice.


se-4a
Another of the sketches included with the original manuscript.

Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Prt.4

 

Art as a directional model for human action.

All human endeavors bespeak of ourselves; such is the case with fiction, which gives form and function to the nebulous, scattered and fevered energy of the brain’s wild imaginings which roil up from from the instinctual chasm. 

-Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part. 3

In the 1996 book Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, a socially satirical, psychological thriller, a socially alienated, weak and emasculated corporate drone meets a bedazzling political radical. The two men strike up a bizarre friendship and eventually create a underground fight club where they are able to release their pent-up frustrations about the decline of masculinity and the vacuous wage-slavery that is their lives, by viciously beating each other until one contestant concedes defeat. The book was highly popular, so much so that three years after its publication, a film of the same name was created by David Fincher, with a screenplay by Jim Uhls; it is this iteration of the tale that most people are familiar with.

Fight Club was and still is extremely popular, as much for the acting and aesthetics as well as for the pointed and clever social commentary – it is especially popular amongst socialist radicals (which is rather ironic given that one of the principal points of the film is that radical insurrection is all very well and good until lives start being ruined and people start dying) which can be seen by the creation of the self-styled “Leftist Fight Club” for the express purpose of “Bashing the fash.” The “fash” that they are referring to are the illusory fascists that such Antifaesque organizations seem to see everywhere. The club’s only condition for entry: Don’t be a republican – for as everyone knows, all republicans are fascists.

You might here be wondering why I’m bothering to mention this seemingly trivial, though curious, affair. I mention the Palahniuk inspired Leftist Fight Club because it is the perfect modernistic example of life imitating art which is the single most powerful thing any piece of art can conceivably do. It is, I think crucial to highlight such cases when looking through the analytical lens of political outside-dissent. For those that wish to shift any power structure will need to pervade not just in the military, the media and the legislation-complex but also in the arts. That being said we will dive into a manifold sampling of those past and present instances where some work(s) have powerfully influenced the directionality of human action – Leftist Fight Club was just the tip of the iceberg.

[continued part 5]