Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Instant Cities

A city like Memphis, which was first incorporated in 1826, has gradually grown its skyline. Its first skyscraper, the Porter Building, was 10 stories high and was built in 1895. And with the prospect of new buildings such as One Beale, Memphis is still growing its skyline. But slowly.

But other, newer cities in the world — the Dubais, the Shenzhens — have come into being rather rapidly. Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a fishing village. Now it has a population of eight million and, instead of radiating out from one central core downtown, Shenzhen is linear, with multiple city centers.

The NYT magazine, as part of its Architecture Issue, has a story about instant cities, those that have sprung up in a blink, spurring construction and leaving architects wondering how to incorporate a city's identity or context when the city is essentially a blank slate.

Or, perhaps, a slate of cranes and construction sites.

From the story: "The notion of finding 'authenticity' in a sprawling metropolitan area that is barely 30 years old also seems absurd. How do you breathe life into a project at such a scale? How do you instill the fine-grained texture of a healthy community into one that rose overnight?"

Projects in these cities sound like they could be a dream for architects — no limitations! — that could easily turn into a nightmare — no limitations!

But what they lack in context, these cities seem to make up for in density. (As always, I'm a sucker for an audio slide show and there is one about Shenzhen.)

On the flip side of the topic, Business Week also has a related story about the battle for the best skyline, saying that New York and London don't have the construction dollars — or space, presumably — to keep up with cities in Asia, Russia, and the Persian Gulf.

From BW: "Economically booming megacities — such as Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai — where extravagant skyscrapers are shooting up all over, mean that cities like New York are beginning to look old and outdated, despite attempts to modernize. In Europe, the eastern part is beginning to look more modern than the western part. Cities like Istanbul and Moscow are more dynamic than London, Paris or Milan."

So I guess we're back to that age-old question ... Does size matter?

And do we give points for personality?

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