ARTICLES | Defying boundaries at the verge of utopia

Defying Capacities and Tectonic Boundaries

At the beginning of the third millennium, the world is denser than ever before. It’s inhabited by an escalating number of people — who consume more, who need more space, and more comfort. Such a world seeks space, for extra production, water, energy production, oxygen, ecological compensation, safety, and buffers owing to the increased possibilities for disasters. The response to the production of these desires is seemingly positioned everywhere.

Going beyond the traditional centres and spreading to the spaces between cities, in landscapes, and in places that are cheap and vulnerable. The ‘sprawl’ has shaped an endless “skin” of human occupation around the world. It is one endless domain of ‘colonization and urbanization’.

Within this century, it is said that 70 to 80 percent of the world’s population will live in concentrated urban centres. As technology renders the field workers redundant and as population increases, more and more people will migrate away from their rural settlements to the urban centres, demanding housing, feeding, higher standards of living and thereby increasing pollution and placing greater demands on the world’s already depleted natural resources. [1]

Sao Paulo, Brasil // Population density: 7,500 people per square kilometer

There is no greater or more serious problem confronting the world, and more specially the industrialized, urbanized countries today, than that of how best to deal with the so-called population explosion in a way that will enable people to live in a humane, civilized fashion free from the burdens of modern urban life, where they can both work and play in an equal beneficial environment.[2] This need is no less one of the basic requirements of society today than at any other time in the world’s history, but meeting it becomes more difficult. While the problem of planning for the urban community is one with regional aspects, there are astonishingly close similarities between the tasks confronting the major cities in the various parts of the world today, in spite of superficially varying local conditions. A matter that receives less attention in connection with this absorption of agricultural land and open space is the question of amenity. Town and cities, particularly in the United States, in Britain, and in many parts of Europe, are now beginning to link up in continuous conurbations. Quite apart from the psychological effect of mile after mile of unbroken urban development and building, the destruction of trees, plant life, and grass close to city areas is bound to influence climate, increase air pollution, and in time obstruct solar energy and probably diminish rainfall.

SimCity // Cities of Tomorrow: Transportation

The development of physical transport networks (car, train, and plane) and telematic networks mean that any point on the planet – city and country – is suitable for living and working. Motorways crisscross territory modified by men using agriculture or border natural spaces that are now the green areas of inhabited territory. These motorways are the avenues of a new city that has no limits.

This is a moment of historical transformation characterized by the bipolar opposition between techno-economic globalization and socio-cultural identity. Regions seem to play a key role in the spatial transformations of this opposition. When economic differences and climate changes localize and intensify migrations even more by forcing harsher zones to be used and colonized. The question now is: How to continue to accommodate these desires under forthcoming spatial, economic, political and technical conditions? When, where and how should we innovate? What is the Capacity and Tectonic Boundary of the existing city, and what is its aptitude in accepting its needs and extending its possibilities? What is its ability in serving all demands while incorporating all desires; increasing its current mass, as well as in the currently underused spaces?

In opposition to the reckless sprawl why not looking at the existing urban centre and the possibility to sustain further growth?

Lets consider the centre as the focal point of a city, and ways to re-vitalized and re-energized with further development allowing social interaction, more opportunities for work and leisure, and most importantly, how to contribute for a more sustainable environment. In other words, let’s consider the capacity and the tectonic boundaries of the existing city centre.


How do we imagine the city of a near future? This is without any doubt one of the most difficult questions that architects, designers, and urban planners need to find an answer in a time where more than half of the world’s population lives in urban settlements. We have arrived at an era where the exponential growth of population, along with the shortage of natural resources, and the destruction of the natural environment, endangers the balance of an entire planet.

©2012-2015 dustycrosley

Recognizing the most vital problem of our time is the first step to investigate the future of our existing cities and the possible outset thinking of new ones. To begin, however, lets step into roughly 1850. The second half of the 19th century saw the work of Eugène Haussmann modernize Paris with its new circulation grid of wider streets and boulevards that connected monuments and plazas, whereas the beginning of the 20th century was a laboratory of experiments. Le Corbusier proposes the Radiant City as a generic city plan based on the influence that spatial quality has on a sociological level — establishing the appropriate space, ventilation, and illumination in accordance with our senses. Richard Neutra follows those principles in Rush City, while Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer are able to see their ideas materialized with the creation of Brasilia as the new capital for Brazil. From 1960 to 1980 other visionary architects proposed urban utopian visions rethinking the way we should live. Using pop culture imagery and technological advances to redefine the term city. Yona Friedman’s Ville spatiale and Constant’s New Babylon explore mega-structures in the air for mobile societies, while Superstudio’s Continuous Monument and Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus explore a post-capitalist environment. In the same line, the innovative work of the Japanese Metabolists also takes precedent. These, we may say, are the first enquires on high-density as a key determinant for the future of our cities.

One thing seems to be consistent, beyond social opportunity, the ‘dense city’ model can bring major ecological benefits. Firstly, dense cities can through internal planning be designed to increase energy efficiency, consume fewer resources, produce less pollution and avoid sprawling over the countryside. One must invest in the idea of the ‘compact city’, a city that is dense and socially diverse, where economic and social activities overlap and where communities are a focus on neighbourhoods.


Why Limitlessness? We could say that one of the most interesting things about humankind is that we do not seem to ever reach a state of happiness. We are always in search of more, to achieve beyond, to break existing or imposed limits, and to look further into the future. However, by the same token, we wish to defeat new boundaries we are bound to create new ones. Our unlimited fears, needs, and desires are depicted in the history of cities, as well as all the dreams, aspirations, and disillusions. Limitlessness, as a noun, regards to the state or quality of being infinite: boundlessness, immeasurableness, and unlimitedness. The idea of limitlessness as a state or quality of thinking when we look at the city of a near future should be in relation to a careful, unbounded and free of assumptions thinking process. To be concerned with testing ideas and new possibilities more than drawing fast conclusions of reaching for the ‘other extreme’.

Capacity [3] and Tectonic Boundary refer to the sum of two groups of equally important propositions that are set to examine potential growth: Capacity comprehends issues of quantity and diversity of space. Density emerges as a type of urban ecology whose characteristics are articulated by a city block or street structure. Usually restricted by land and air rights ownership, vertical development thrives on the extruded form of FAR, a system defined by the zoning ordinance of each city. The phenomenon of density is quite detached from the traditional interpretation of the city as an unbroken field, or an area whose parts add up to more than the whole; Intensity, defining the volume of use. Cities become livelier as their complexity increases. Not only the physical complexity of space but also by the social complexity of its population. Can we enforce densities that, in the end, would lead to a more productive space? Can local densification allow for local ‘peak-capacities’, for flexibility as for even further growth? As a positive side effect, the increase of intensity leads to more social encounters, urbanity, and possibilities for architecture; and Mixity portraying to the combination and diversity of functions.

On the other side of the spectrum, Tectonic Boundaries will assess the effectiveness of the urban structural system by examining its Continuity, Connectivity, and Polarity. It is the subject concerned with the directionality of flow and concentration of movement.

Each metric value can be used as a measure of analysis and design tool. The juxtaposition of them influences architecture to move into development of devices that can combine top-down, large-scale issues with bottom-up, individualized input: a combination of analyses with proposals. The design and program of all space of this architecture would be intermediate space — between, over, under, and juxtaposed with the existing. Questioning in what ways should architecture negotiate the existing limits, and how to propose something other than the use of architecture as a simple background.

Ville-spatiale-et-Centre-Pompidoula Yona Friedman

The goal is, and instead of densities being determined by zoning entitlements, to look for different growth patterns informed, as an example, by networks and lateral and diagonal extrusions. In this manner, it will be possible to study a large-scale densification and ways to make it feasible to develop as a vertical zoning of the city together with a pre-existing horizontal system. The city will then be read, literally, as a stack of networks, subjected to a compositional system of functions.


Article adapted from Limitlessness – Defying Capacities and Tectonic Boundaries by BG-Martin // A thesis submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Architecture in the Graduate Division of the University of California, Berkeley // Committee in charge: Professor Renee Chow, Chair, Professor Peter Bosselmann, and Professor James Holston // Spring 2010
Footnotes [1] Battle and McCarthy [2] Rolf Jensen, High Density Living [3] As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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