Vertical Cities

April 8, 2008

The 700-story Tyrell Complex in Blade Runner’s depiction of 2019 Los AngelesThe urban environment depicted in the cult classic film Blade Runner (intended to represent Los Angeles in the year 2019) has received its share of scholarly attention… and no wonder. Scenes in which flying cars zip through a maze of city “streets,” riding thousands of feet above ground level, are among the movie’s most captivating. And while the film is dystopian, depicting a distressingly dense and inhumane cityscape, it may nevertheless be prophetic: current explorations in neighborhood development are more Blade Runner than they are The Andy Griffith Show.

According to the USGBC website, the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system (currently in its pilot phase) “integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national system for neighborhood design.” Because of the emphasis on utilizing existing infrastructure, the rating system can be interpreted as encouraging developers to build up, not out. As Terry Miller, a consultant and manager at Portland’s Green Building Services, said in his article “Redefining Neighborhoods” for Sustainable Land Development Today, “it offers a framework of predominantly performance-based criteria by which to create and recognize the quality of new communities.”

The first LEED-ND certified project in the country, earning a Silver rating, was a single building: The Eliot Tower in Portland, Oregon. This 18 story, mixed-use building incorporates retail on its ground floor, and has 228 residential units above. A plaza on the north side of the building provides outdoor space for residents as well as the public. The Eliot Tower is one of 60 projects selected to be in the USGBC’s focus group, according to Miller’s article. Feedback from the focus group will be used to form the final version of LEED-ND. Andrea Thompson, a project coordinator for Green Building Services, told Becky Brun in an interview for Sustainable Industries, “I think this is a project that has raised a lot of questions because it is a single building,” and added that USGBC might include a minimum building requirement in the next version of LEED-ND.

Science fiction writers have not been the only people to envision vertical megastructures as the cities of the future. Renderings of Paolo Soleri’s conceptual Hyper Building are posted at MEGAblog. (Soleri, who spent time at both of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin locations, developed the concept of Arcology, a melding of architecture and ecology.) Architects in Europe have also begun to actively pursue the development of vertical cities. (See World Architecture News’ report on De Rotterdam in The Netherlands.) Indications are, the time has come to determine whether the concept of the vertical city is valid for this stage in history, or whether it is best left in the realm of fantasy.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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