Phantom Urbanism

“We think out of the box so you don’t have to live in one.”
          – Limitless billboard, Dubai, UAE.

Once cities were designed to accommodate the masses; today the masses have to be seduced.

During the past forty years, like all sectors of the economy, urban planning has become free enterprise: a perpetually speculative activity, which must give shape to developments even if it remains uncertain if those developments will ever happen, or attract the people for whom they were planned.

In the context of a globalized, highly volatile real estate market, urbanism tends to descend into a form of wishful thinking, in which the traditional order of things often gets reversed: advertising slogans take the place of calculation; the sale of land precedes the planning of infrastructure; renderings precede plans; the image precedes the substance. For every engineer, there are a hundred salesmen.

The studio will examine the flipside: large urban plans that were built but never used, a new type of ghost town where desertion precedes inhabitation. If the traditional notion of a ghost town is that of a once lived-in settlement abandoned over time, the new ghost town is abandoned before it is even populated. The new ghost town embodies the ultimate real estate prediction gone bad.

China, Africa, Europe, and even the US: ghost towns now exist on every continent, the apparent fallout of a world urbanizing at a staggering pace. One could view them as accidents, which occur in the margins, the inevitable byproducts of an otherwise carefully calculated risk. But perhaps they are more… perhaps these towns also constitute compelling reasons for reflection in the face of a seemingly unbreakable consensus that the city is our one and only common future.

The studio will conduct research into the phenomenon globally. A limited number of cases will be selected for further study, including the reasons for their failure. During the studio’s design phase, students will be asked to come up with a vision as to what meaningful future can be conceived for each case.

The studio includes a field trip to Nova Cidade de Kilamba (Kilamba New City), Angola.