March 18, 2008 One of the key challenges in urban architecture over the next 50 years will be figuring out how to squeeze vast numbers of additional people into urban areas that are already extremely crowded. London, for example, will somehow have to deal with a projected 100,000 extra inhabitants every year until 2016. The current plan of building new "commuter towns" on the city's outskirts causes a raft of problems - but architecture think tanks are working on ambitious solutions that go vertical instead of horizontal in search of space. Could 100,000 people be comfortably housed in a single structure? Could one building realistically be a whole new town, with schools, parks, public squares and hospitals?
In terms of population density, London is one of the least crowded major cities in the world - five times fewer people per square kilometre than Paris, for example, and 8 times fewer than Cairo. But the fact remains that the city's population is growing at a rapid rate, and horizontal expansion into the surrounding areas is eating up increasingly important agricultural land, as well as intensifying all the transport issues that come with urban sprawl.
Popular Architecture would propose a radically different solution - one that would generate homes for a year's worth of new arrivals, while maintaining London's old-world streetscape at ground level and eliminating greenbelt expansion.
The proposal is to go upwards, with vertical towers of unprecedented size, each representing an entire new town by the time it's completed. Each tower would be 1500 metres high, its top floors nudging the cloud layer. Each would house 100,000 people in total, but beyond mere accommodation, each tower would function as an entire town unit, with its own schools, hospitals, parks and gardens, sports facilities, business areas, political representatives and community spaces.
The vertical village towers are conceived as hollow tubes, with large holes to allow light and air through the entire construction. Occasional floor discs spread throughout the height of the building will give inhabitants large central areas in the middle of the tube to use as gathering spaces. Such a density of population could help lower the individual energy requirements of each inhabitant, reducing the ecological impact of the population as a whole.
While the building itself is unlikely ever to be seriously considered for construction - imagine the number of elevators it would need, and the practicalities of moving produce, furniture and other equipment between the floors, let alone the safety implications of open areas at such heights and with such wind exposure - the concept can serve as a conversation-starter for urban planners looking to face the challenges of the current and coming centuries.