Is the Future According to Urban Planners Utopic ?

Just as they have done throughout history, architects and urban planners are designing what they believe the city of the future should look like. Incidentally, it is entertaining to look back and see how the urban planners of the 1960s imagined the cities of the year 2000. Today’s reality is often more surprising than what they had anticipated back then! Some projects for the 21st century seem like utopias or science fiction, even fantasy, while others include aspects that are already being rolled out in cities around the world. Below are a few examples among hundreds of visions of the urban future1 .

An artist's impression of a spiral-shaped underwater city conceived by a Japanese construction firm.
The Ocean Spiral underwater city being designed by Japanese construction firm Shimizu would be capable of accommodating several thousand individuals and be energy and food self-sufficient. Photo Flickr-Shimizu Corporation. ©Shimizu Corporation

Paris in 2050?

Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut has presented Paris city council with a comprehensive project to transform the French capital into a “Smart City 2050”. His models center on two fundamental principles, namely increasing living space by adding several stories to existing buildings (even the most historic ones) and “repatriating” nature by bringing it back into the city. Trees would fill up all open spaces and grow along the facades of buildings to reduce the temperature and help lower greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions by 75%. Callebaut rejects claims that he is a utopian and has designed a tower in Taiwan that is in line with his vision and due to be opened in 2018. The Tao Zhu Yin Yuan Tower (also known as Agora Garden) is a 25-story double-helical high-rise apartment block with 10,000 square meters of foliage-covered balconies, a 1,500-square-meter pergola supporting solar panels and phyto-purification lagoons to recycle wastewater.

London’s Garden Bridge Project

Many architects dream of gaining extra space by taking advantage of the quays of ports and rivers in large cities. Inspired by the idea of renowned actress Joanna Lumley, Thomas Heatherwick, a designer, almost brought a remarkable project to fruition, namely a 367-meter-long garden bridge for pedestrians across the Thames in central London. However, budget overruns and bickering over who would cover the exorbitant cost of maintaining the vegetation sank the Garden Bridge project. See images.

Inhabiting the Sea: Ocean Spiral

Living at sea or on the ocean floor is a dream that humankind has entertained since the myth of Atlantis. For many years, Japanese construction firm Shimizu has been looking into the possibility of a “floating global city” that could accommodate up to 5,000 inhabitants. A sphere measuring 500 meters in diameter would be nine-tenths submerged in the ocean and capable of descending along a helical axis to a depth of 4,000 meters, thereby escaping storms at surface level like the Nautilus of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. The whole structure, named Ocean Spiral, would be capable of producing all the energy and food necessary, contain shops, accommodation, offices and research laboratories and act as a platform for extracting rare metals found at the ocean floor.

Depolluting Marine Farms

Vincent Callebaut is considering marine farms that cultivate green algae to break down plastics in the oceans. They would produce hydrogenThe simplest and lightest atom, the most abundant element in the universe. used by fleets of airships, which the architect believes will be a future method of air transportation.

Autonomous Islands

The Seasteading Institute, launched by two entrepreneurs in SiliconSilicon crystals come from silica, the main compound in quartz and sand. Silicon is a semi-conducting material. Valley, has the ambitious aim of creating fully autonomous floating islands capable of accommodating people from areas threatened by rising sea-levels due to global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... . The Institute is studying a project in French Polynesia for a 7,500-square-meter platform for 200 residents. Pollutants discharged into the sea would be collected by the floating city and recycled into biofuelA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel... . The project also has a “libertarian” dimension as these islands would escape the jurisdiction of national governments, thus heralding in a new organization of world geopolitics. See the project.

Conquering the Skies

Some architects give a dream-like dimension to their projects. Bulgarian-born Tsvetan Toshkov, who works in London, dreams of a “city in the sky” built above current metropolises. The project is proudly utopian, with the city shaped like a lotus flower, the symbol of life sung by Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa. Watch the video.

On-Demand Aerial Pods

Engineers at Nasa’s Ames Research Center have devised an individual transportation network. Pods suspended a few meters above the ground by magnetic levitation would travel around the city along a branched network at speeds of up to 100 kilometers an hour. From micro-stations, users would be able to call a pod via an application on their smartphone. Energy consumption and installation costs would be low. Watch the video.

Tests in Paris

On a more modest yet more practical level, a series of new transportation methods are being tested in Paris.

Seabubbles, for example, are electric hydrofoils designed to navigate the Seine. At speeds of greater than 10 kilometers an hour, they lift out of the water, thereby preventing the rocking motion typical of boats. As with the pods, users may reserve the seabubbles by an app on their smartphone. See the website.


The Paris transportation authorities are already testing small driverless buses in the city, for example between two nearby stations, in green spaces around the city and university campuses. See the experiment at the CEA Paris-Saclay facility (in French only).





(1) See in particular The Futura Sciences feature reports (in French only).