Today, over 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to a July 2014 report from the United Nations.
Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the twenty-first century. This increasing urbanization leads to higher density and consequently taller buildings in cities around the world. Every year a greater number of people will be working, living, or spending their free time in a skyscraper, or even in a vertical city, which is comprised of structures that combines these numerous functions. This fascinating evolution in building and living inspired Rotterdam based exhibition designer Harry Hoek to create the installation Vertical Cities. This exhibition enables us to look at both the past and the future efforts, by architects from around the world, to build towards the clouds.
The exhibition Vertical Cities brings together over two hundred models, made of wood, paper, metal, and plastic, at a scale of 1:1000 meters of the tallest and most spectacular skyscrapers, built and unbuilt. It provides an overview of skyscrapers from the 1920s to futuristic vertical megastructures that never left the drawing table (yet), but are nonetheless exceedingly interesting.
The exhibition also provides historical perspective giving insight into the zeitgeist of each period in that every few years, architects feel they have finally discovered the perfect structure to fit people’s needs. The test of time shows which ideas are lasting. Technical perspective gives appreciation on the ever-increasing ingenuity of architects and engineers. Could Shimizu’s Pyramid City one day become a reality? Could the Green Float design lead to true food self-sufficiency? The exhibition also provides perspective on the competition, in general, to create the tallest building, the highest sphere, or the fastest moving elevator. Could this competition, which is still going strong, morph into one for the most sustainable city or the happiest inhabitants?
A key example is Cloud Nine, by Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), the renowned twentieth century inventor and visionary, who dedicated his life to making the world work for all humanity. Fuller operated as a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts.” In 1960, Matsutaro Shoriki, a wealthy Japanese businessman, invited Fuller to design a floating city in the Bay of Tokyo to accommodate the growing population. Fuller’s concept was the Spherical Tensegrity Atmospheric Research Station (STARS), known as Cloud Nine, which would not float on water but rather hover in the air. Geodesic spheres become stronger as they increase in size. With the increase in volume, the ratio of the weight of the structure to the mass of the enclosed air significantly decreases. At a diameter of a mile, the geodesic sphere is comparable to a giant balloon. Fuller calculated that if the air temperature in such a sphere is only one degree higher than the ambient temperature, such a balloon should easily be able to support mini cities with thousands of people.
Just imagining what it would be like to live in Fuller’s micro-world raises questions about the scales at which we experience our buildings, cities, and environments and further asks: Would you want to live in such a vertical city? How would lifestyles change, let alone boundaries? How might political structures change or perhaps differ among spheres? Challenging, visionary questions providing inspiration not only to architects, but to engineers, sociologists, urban planners, and ecologists as well, hopefully leading joint research and further cooperation. Vertical Cities shows us that with innovation, adventurism, and a bit of courage, when it comes to creating high-rise structures, the sky’s the limit!
—Marjoleine Molenaar and Harry Hoek
M&H Traveling Exhibitions Team:
Harry Hoek, M&H Traveling Exhibitions
Marjoleine Molenaar, M&H Traveling Exhibitions
Yale Architecture Gallery:
Andrew Benner (M.Arch ‘03), Director of Exhibitions
Alison Walsh, Exhibitions Coordinator
Harry Hoek, Marjoleine Molenaar, Ryan Cyr, Jaime Kriksciun, Charlie Taylor
Nina Rappaport, Publications Director
David Reinfurt, O-R-G inc., Designer
Vertical Cities was organized as a traveling exhibition by M&H Traveling Exhibitions of Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The school’s exhibition program is supported in part by the James Wilder Green Dean’s Resource Fund, the Kibel Foundation Fund, the Nitkin Family Dean’s Discretionary Fund in Architecture, the Pickard Chilton Dean’s Resource Fund, the Paul Rudolph Publication Fund, the Robert A.M. Stern Fund, the Rutherford Trowbridge Memorial Fund, the Fred Koetter Exhibitions Fund, and the School of Architecture Exhibitions Fund.