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Prepare to Vote for "City of the Future"

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Courtesy UrbanLab (top); Courtesy ARO (middle); Courtesy Eric Owen Moss (bottom).


This fall The History Channel pulled off a thought-provoking promotion by inviting an array of U.S. architects to make no small plans. Corresponding with the series Engineering an Empire, the network hosted three events in which architects competed against each other to propose a “city of the future.”

New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles served as case studies for the designers. A shortlist of competitors was given just one week to conjure up a vision of their subject city 100 years from now, and realize it in renderings, models, and explanatory text. The city challenges began in late October when 10 New York teams were selected for the marathon charette, which culminated in presentations at Grand central Terminal; the first-round exercises ended December 12 with the L.A. contest. Each of the three winners was awarded $10,000, and the trio is now up for a national honor that would double the purse.

Anxiety over global warming informed most of the New York entries, yielding several schemes for artificial archipelagoes. The winning entry from Architecture Research Office also presumed a need for radical coping mechanisms: In its luminescent model of a 22nd-century Big Soggy Apple, a new building type, called a “vane,” replaces the capacity lost from streets flooded by rising seas.

The platitude “Water, water, everywhere” inspired Chicago’s representative, if to very different ends. UrbanLab’s project, “Growing Water,” grapples with increasing demand for ever-dwindling supplies of fresh water. A series of “Eco-Boulevards” would treat waste and storm water using natural filters, such as micro-organisms and fish, ultimately closing the city’s water loop. The plan seems entirely possible but for some amazing feats of eminent domain, in part because the city counts several massive park and water-engineering projects as precedents.

While melting glaciers threaten to inundate Los Angeles, too, Eric Owen Moss Architects’ winning submission looked at the future through a social lens. Calling the city’s infrastructure racially and economically divisive, the firm’s namesake unveiled a plan to “build over, under, around, and through the freeways, rivers, power grids, and tracks, to use the existing rights of way as the foundations for new, innovative construction.”

National voting takes place online from January 2–February 2 at To aid Web surfers in gauging the three finalists against competition criteria, the site will include commentary from architect Daniel Libeskind, FAIA, the national juror. The victor will be announced in mid-February.

David Sokol