MegaCity Concepts
MegaCity - 1974
These buildings are “replacement Cities” by Jane Jacob's [link] definition [rbtfBook].
They impose a small footprint upon the landscape and allow population density and open, natural, evolving animal-populated habitats.
The idea of this 1974 concept is to minimize the impact on the landscape while creating for the inhabitants a circumstance that allowed them to live IN Nature. All you have to do is go down the vertical transportation and step outside. On the raised platform, there are gardens, parks and recreation facilities. These are commingled and can be on more than on level. Below this human focused landscape is parking, mass transportation access and infrastructure. Beyond this raised platform is “natural” landscape. Most likely, this will be in rings ranging from more “domestic” and progressing to pure “wilderness.” There will also be numerous parks and landscape areas in the upper regions of the superstructure. In fact it will be encrusted with living matter. It is critical not to interpret these sketches, and the mega-city concept, as one would “read” a drawing of a building as we know know it. These forms are massive - they are VOLUMES - and are to be understood to be superstructures with imbedded infrastructure that creates a series of external facing and internal facing multistory spaces that can be “developed” as a city word normally grow and change over time. The superstructure is just human-made “land.”
Beach MegaCity - 1973
Mega cities can be built in ecologically sensitive areas - which are often the most beautiful and subsequently ruined by improper development and over use. The concrete base connecting these three structures were conceived to balance each other by turning static vertical loads and dynamic wind loads into tension (counteracted by post tensioning) by the parabola forms that connected them. In the “cup” created in the center of these structures, organized human activity would take place. Parking is below. On the outside of these parabola forms, landscaping is introduced. Other than this, the beach with its natural, shifting beach-building processes is left in a natural state. Access is kept to a level that the beach can self-repair and sustain. This way a substantial population can enjoy the amenity while not destroying it. Projects like these can be spaced some distance apart while matching the population density of the “peanut butter spread” strategy of traditional beach development which is destructive to the host environment and vulnerable to destruction by common weather occurrences which are misnamed as “tragedies” with equally misidentified “victims.” Of course, this requires an entirely new approach to real estate development and zoning [link].
Structures like these can be manufactured and built to withstand flooding and hurricane force winds. It is always interesting to me that my car can drive through rain and winds that would destroy my conventional built house and that we routinely fly airplanes through storms that routinely destroy cities. One wonders that sometime someone might start wondering about this.
Helix MegaCity - 1976
Helix MegaCity - 2012
These cities can be built of super modules. The helix form shown here is composed of three modules, linked together into super-modules with an assembly rule that can be applied in a right hand or left hand mode. This offers a beautiful “dna” helix form creating a high variety of exterior exposures to view, wind, sun and multiple different “interior atrium” volumes. The horizontal and vertical intersections create a great number of different kinds of spaces. Complexity generated from simplicity. This kind of structure can be built of prefabricated units of several scales of recursion - “super bricks” for fast site assembly.
What cannot be shown with drawings and models of this scale is the landscaping and zoning algorithms. The model that people hold in their head is that of the massive monolithic concrete apartment building with long halls of artificial light. This is a poor model. Think of the super-structure as Armature [link] and Infrastructure [link] and think of this - as a whole [link] - as a human built mountains where humans, animals and plants can live on and within [link]. The open space default rule will be much like was employed in the Boulder Affordable housing design [link].
note: the links provided above do not give literal examples; you have to generalize from them and be aware that the same ideas are being illustrated at different size/scale recursion levels and in different contexts.
Paolo Soleri’s Arcologies [link] illustrate these potentials brilliantly. The design of his that I most want to see executed is Hexahedron, an Arcology for 100,000. It is one of his earliest designs and one that is eminently build-able.
Go to Thesis Criticism
Paolo Soleri Hexahedron
Wilderness MegaCity - 1976
Wilderness megacity is designed to be built in extreemly remote areas. It is accessible only by walking of my mono-rail. the scale can be appreciated when you realize that the “stalagmite” structures hanging down from the bowl-like form are, themselves, 20 to 30 story buildings. It is also important to realize that you will never see the structure as it is drawn. Its entire skin is a metabolic strategy that changes from reflecting to translucent to transparent to open based on a complex “breathing” strategy that is “controlled” by both users and an algorithm for optimum heating and cooling.
The cities themselves can have a focus and draw an affinity population to them around a variety of principles: scientific, political, religious, economic, recreational, lifestyle, goods production, “experiences” and so on. This is how cities in the past were developed. Today, they just seem to grow with no rhyme or reason - most modern cities lack focus, they have no theme. They are simply the consequence of population expansion and economic exploitation with some planning and better development thrown in now and then. This is not how the great cities of the past were created. With the exception of a few core city areas, the US citizen has to go to Europe to discover what a city really can be.
Negative impacts on the Earth must be minimized at the building site, as well as, to the larger landscape that surrounds the development. The amount of open “natural” landscape in relationship to the scale and scope of the building - and the impact of its use - must be “scaled ” as is appropriate, by the capability of the landscape to sustain itself and the project.
I first started thinking about the issue of urban sprawl and land coverage by Human construction (if it can be called that) in 1956 with my San Francisco Apartment Building project [link]. At that time, I was concerned how the Bay Area had been developed since I first experienced it 10 years before. What has happened since the mid 50s, I will not comment on here.
Wilderness Mega City was conceived as a “health” retreat center of those displaced by rapid change or disasters - or simply for those who want to recuperate and “retool.” The “practitioners” of these services - from health to learning - would live in the City as residents. Guests would come and pay a daily rate to live there for some period of time with some surcharges for specific professional help. The population ratios would be about one third providing general living support services, one third specialize health and learning services and one third guests. These numbers work out quite well. The typical capital represented by a successful professional’s home, office and infrastructure contribution in a typical city multiplied by the number of working professional in this health center will capitalize this project. Cities are capital intensive; they are best built over time. This is true for mega-cities, however, they can be less capital intensive per capita given that an artifact of this sort can be far more economical and efficient than traditional development strategies. It is important that they still be “built” as a traditional city is built: evolving over time. The difference is that the Armature-Infrastructure-Structure is designed to accommodate this growth and evolution and that a predetermined density is known from the beginning. This “density” equation pertains to the ratio of city to open landscape, to the various zones within the mega-structure, to public space and individual spaces and the layout of individual working and living units. Far more density per acre yet far more individual space and amenity can be achieved in the mega-city than with traditional schemas. This is the consequence of employing VOLUMN. All the Pattern Language values that Alexander [rdtfBook] has identified can be achieved in the mega-city - it is a matter of design and following the principles of The Timeless Way of Building.
All of the economic principles that can be designed-in on the Domicile [link] scale work even better (to a point) with these Mega City concepts.
Cites should be dense. This is what makes them “hot” fun and productive. The fact that they are crowded, dirty and almost impossible to get around in, most of the time, and have obliterated the landscape (that originally attracted) is not intrinsic to the density - it is the result of the wrong conceptual frame and poor design. This is the natural consequence of the process by which we make them - and employ them - or overuse them to be exact.
The mega-city concept does not challenge nor replace the role of the traditional city. There is still an important place for this artifact in our history, culture and economy. It is just that the traditional city schema can be pushed only so far in terms of horizontal growth. It is a scale issue. In fact, the patterns of the Medieval city still make some of the finest city habitats on the planet. Add modern technology, limit the use of the car, provide well designed mass transportation and rejuvenate the landscape that once was there in Medieval times (the crowding came later), and the “core” city comes to life as we have seen with numerous examples where this has been done in Europe. Mumford has a point on this subject [link]. There is a reason that Frank Lloyd Wright’s year in Italy circa 1910-11 had such a profound impact on his work that followed (a point often overlooked in the “scandal” of it all).
In turn, Mega-Structures do not have to loose human scale and overwhelm all sensitivity to the natural setting - again, bad design rules the day (of our existing sprawling, undisciplined “mega-cities” and with many of the apartment buildings on steroids masquerading as mega-city proposals). The construction process, itself, does not have to destroy the site. These is no sense to what we do and it is not economical [link].
A warning is in order. Any kind of city can impose tremendous negative consequences on the landscape, indigenous peoples, animals and , ultimately, on the planet itself [rbtfBook]. Today, we have no way to deal with these consequences because our organizational structures exist on one level but are creating negative conditions on a “higher” level at which no governance structure exists. A traditional approach to “government” at this global level would be a disaster beyond measure. Not putting a process in place, however, will ultimately destroy the diversity of life on a scale that is almost incomprehensible - and unforgivable. A better approach is required [link].
Xanadu - 2000
The Xanadu project [link], predates these Mega city concepts - in architectural concept - but was not put on paper until 2000 [link]. It is on a somewhat smaller scale than the others (Wilderness Mega City is nearly three times taller and much greater in volume) but employs the same kind of design strategy. The range of population that can be appropriately served using these architectural strategies and configurations is somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000 (and even much more) in a single structure. It should be remembered that downtown Manhattan is several million people in a single structure.
With these concepts certain principles predominate: Small foot print surrounded by minimally obstructed, “natural” landscape. Vertical and horizontal transportation schemes that promote fast access. A three dimensional view point rather that the “flatland” architecture of today (we do not build multi-story buildings, we build one story building stacked on top of one another). A wide variety of architectural space types accomplished with a relatively simple and modular geometry. “Mass” automated transportation to the Mega city for larger structures; self-contained parking for the smaller ones - minimal use of landscape for transportation in either case. Maximum use of off site prefabrication to minimize on site disruption. Mixed use. A greatly enhanced ability to design and manage the nuances of different kinds of human interactions and their attendant support mechanisms.
A Mega city is a scaling up of what MG Taylor has been doing with NavCenters and knOwhere Stores and Disney Corporation has been doing with Theme Parks: Designing, building and operating integrated environments that are finely tuned to support specific human processes. Traditional cities do not allow this degree of refinement.
Most of what is negative about traditional cities can be eliminated: crowding, too much resource dedicated to transportation, the unnecessary impact of weather, the covering of the Earth and crowding out of other species, pollution, and a schema that allows and encourages endless growth.
Much of what is wonderful about traditional cities can be kept: neighborhoods and open spaces, organic development, individualized building, urban interaction, population diversity, unique character and expression on the meta level of the city itself.
Most people, of course, think a Mega city is a large apartment building scaled up. This certainly does not have to be the case. The typical apartment building cannot be justified as a human habitat let alone thinking it can be scaled. A Mega structure can have orders of magnitude more variety and actual space per individual than traditional solutions because they make use of three-dimensional space - they are not “flat.”
This layout makes full use of “ribbon streets” (each a zone) and NODE organization (each a hub of several zones crossing, creating an urban “hot spot” and connecting vertically to others [link].
The Armature [link] of the Mega city is it’s basic structure and service components. All the rest of the structure can be built over time, replaced, changed, evolved individualized.
Many feel that Mega cities (as a concept) are inhuman in their size. This is a non issue. Is a village of 5,000 inhuman per se? What about a city of 20,000? Or, 100,000? These are considered small, today. The issues is not the size, it is scale - and design. In fact we build Mega Cities today, they are just poorly designed. The important scale issue is that of human scale. One reason that traditional cities try to spread out is only horizontal space is considered as “space.” One reason that large buildings seem crowded is because they are designed that way for reasons of false economy. Imagine the cost of roads and spread out utilities and what kinds of amenity even a fraction of this wasted money could bring to a Mega structure if properly employed. More individual space and access, in less overall space, is possible in a Mega structure for the same reason MG Taylor/AI can get more knowledge workers in less space [link] with more individual work space and sense of space. It is in the configuration schema.
The ideas intrinsic to the megacity concept are highly applicable, as noted, on recursion levels smaller and larger. DOMICILE is an example of a multi-family scale co-housing project that employs many of the same design strategies and economic principles. Xanadu is larger and far more diverse than Domicile yet still an order of magnitude smaller that a true megacity. Most of my megacity concepts have been on the modest scale of the size range mostly because my focus has been on concepts that may be build-able in the near term (if you can call 50 years, near term); I have Charted a series of projects from house size, EcoSphere - each an order of magnitude greater than its predecessor - to Domicile, Crystal Cave, Xanadu, megacities to space colonies. The idea being that the lessons in structure, mechanics, fabrication processes, building, financing; and, social structures, governance and economics learned on one recursion level will promote the effort for the next. This is the notion of systematic R&D and prototyping to accomplish an otherwise too complex future goal. Megacities cannot be done from nothing to mature state all at once, yet, they do not evolve out of the traditional city. A strategy is required if you are serious about doing it.
In time, we will be “forced” [link] to do mega-cities. The questions are: will be be ready? Will we do it well or poorly? Will the mega-city of the future be the already over extended traditional city [link]? This is the result we will have if we approach this issue by “not thinking about it.”
November 2010
A city of 100 thousand is proposed for Siberia, designed by Russian architects Ab Elise, to be build 1,804 below ground in an abandoned mine with a glass roof. A good use - assuming health issues can be dealt with - of a consequence of the industrial era. A good response to the Siberian climate.
Good Magazine reports: “ ...if it's actually built, it could serve as an object lesson in designing cities for the future's potentially volatile climate.”
I find this project encouraging. The design looks to be conceived well, it deals with a scar in the ground and makes a great deal of ecological sense. The primary design issue that there may be risk of ignoring is that of the cultural and governance aspects. the time has come for mega cities however the issues of ecology that Soleri raised long ago and the the social-economic issues that I raised in the 70s have not been addressed by a progression of “doubling” projects as I have proposed starting with Domicile scale projects.
click on graphis and logo for more information

Domicile One is a co-housing project designed to increase the standard of living of it’s occupants while radically cutting costs and ecological footprint. It is also a step in a series of “self-contained” environments with, if doubled each iteration, can provide real world experience with the many technical, biological and human systems necessary to the successful making of a mega-city.

The question is not if we can make designs like what is profiled here work well. Not doubt we can. The question is if we have the time to take the time to do it.

Robert Heinlein said “that when it is time to railroad, people will build railroads.” This is true and is certainly time to mega-city. The caution is that large scale projects, designed as a single piece and build all at once tend to fail. Cities that evolve increment by increment over a long period of time tend to be more human and full of amenity. They also tend to ultimately paint themselves into a corner. What we are dealing with here is the delicate balance between intent and spontaneity; between design and emergence. Learning how to do this well is one of the greatest challenges before Humanity at this moment of global transformation.
Return to INDEX
A Future by design or...
PatchWorks Architecture
Space Colonies - the L5 Inteview
EcoSphere Bungalow
Domicile One - CoHousing Alternative
Domicile One Design Development
Boulder Affordable Housing Project
Crystal Cave
Xanadu Project
Bootstrap Into Space 
Master Planning Process
Architectural Projects 1952 - 2004

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
February 21, 1999


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted February 21, 1999

revised December 11, 2004
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(note: this document is about 60% finished)

Copyright© 1973 1974, 1976, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2010, 2011, 1012 Matt Taylor

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