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Thesis student imagines self-transporting cities based on 20th century tech


November 14, 2013

Manuel Dominguez' Very Large Structure (Image CC BY-SA Manuel Dominguez)

Manuel Dominguez' Very Large Structure (Image CC BY-SA Manuel Dominguez)

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Of all the questions one might like to ask Manuel Domínguez about his architecture thesis project, why he called it Very Large Structure is probably low on the list. Domínguez' concept depicts compactly planned cities atop vast mobile structures, capable of crawling to new locations as the needs or desires of the populace dictate. The idea clearly recalls Ron Herron's Walking City essay for Archigram in 1964, and though Domínguez cites that as an inspiration, he says it's just one among many. Real-world technology seems to have been the main influence.

Clearly, clearly, VLS is a highly improbable scheme. Yet Domínguez asserts that it is feasible because of its basis in established technology, though to that he candidly adds that he's "not sure if it's desirable."

Looking at the illustrations, some of those influences are easy to spot; others less so. Domínguez points out that much of it has been available since the 1960s: "open-air mining machinery, shipyard installations, logistic and management in super-ports and super vessels, big scale infrastructures and transport, space technology, [and] eco-villages..." as well as robotics. To that list he adds less tangible influences: "political anomalies, self-generated architecture and urbanism, ludic architecture and engineering..."

But Domínguez has obviously drawn from contemporary culture, and speaks of an attraction to "science fiction [...] utopical and dystopical architecture, urbanism, cinema, literature, [and] manga." Science fiction and cinema perhaps stand out most from the list, especially judging by the Death Star in the background of one of the visualizations. The giant caterpillar tracks of VLS recall vast vehicles such as NASA's crawler-transporters and Bagger 293, but also the fictional sandcrawler of the original Star Wars. Perhaps VLS borrows from 20th Century Fox almost as much as it does 20th century tech. (Herron's city (PDF) was supposed to literally walk, by the way, being a city on articulated legs).

That this is such a bold speculative design is partly borne out of Domínguez' frustrations with the theses of architecture finals, which he describes as "an exercise of nonsense [...] because it's so directed and closed that at the end everybody does almost the same exercise." Instead, Domínguez chose a "self-concious" project, "one that could fit all the obsessions I've been accumulating since I was I child." Job done, I think.

Sources: Manuel Dominguez, Zuloark

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Sounds like Inverted World by Christopher Priest. Of course, try to find it in a bookstore...

But then, try to find a bookstore.


Yes let's ruin the planet even more... It's not a good idea...

The one without an education

they had something looking very similar to this is the ridiculous disney movie john carter. only it had massive pylon looking legs upon which it crawled along . legs look way cooler than these tank belts. also , if one of the legs malfunctions you can lift it to fix it while the whole city is moving without having to stop for maintance. if one of the tank tracks malfunctions, this entire moving city will then need to stop most likely.

the bigger an object is, the more energy it will require to go from rest to motion. the initial inertial energy requirements are so large with a device like this, that once it's moving , it needs to stay moving until it stops as planned. an unplanned stop could spell disaster if the city operates on a limited energy budget and an uncertain supply of energy from external sources.

how about this. look at the russian nuclear power electricity generating barges that were designed and built only recently for the purpose of powering up and bring online offshore oil platforms.

that barge is towed by a boat . if that boat had wheels, legs, paddles, or a propeller that was electrically motored, ( like a modern diesel train is ) than if that boat were capable of hoisting upon itself and cradling a 300 megawatt barge and operated on that much energy. then you're looking at a nuclear powered amphibious moving city. with a few hundred people on it. and an operational range anywhere on planet earth that won't overheat or over-chill it.

oil platforms are 'moved' . but for comparison.

550,000 deadweight tons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Guillaumat_(supertanker)

on land you have the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawler-transporter carrying far less than any ship, which floats its cargo. and uses no more than 10 megawatts at peak operational loads.

300 megawatt nuclear reactor should be sufficient to power a city in motion ( especially if you shut off all nonessential city systems while in motion )

you'll probably want to go with legs. yea, legs. the real issue is how to design legs to operate properly in coastal mud and sand.


Is it really that far-fetched? Nomadic humans could pack up and move their entire village to follow natural resources. Sheep-herding, horse-herding, buffalo-chasing, etc.

A natural resource apocalypse is coming just as surely as mankind can produce offspring faster than the earth can replenish those resources. This concept could very well be a variation of one of history's repeating themes - a future Earth crawling with roving bands of Tech-nomads.

Another of history's repeating themes is that we discover how to solve future problems through failure to achieve current ambitions. Much of the ideas involved in creating one of these tech-nomadic cities comes from ideas inspired by the challenges of space-colonization.

Enlightened Wookie

He rebelled against "Do something useful."


integrate it with a 100% sustainable effort and I think it would be quite a project.

Evan Webb Stuart

Coastal dwellers may want to live on one of these in the near future.

Sea-level rising? Tsunami coming? - "roll-out".


Yep, Inverted World. I have the paperback. Bought it in a used bookstore in '98.

Windsor Wilder

... and what would they be walking over? Land already wasted by some other walking city?

Fairly Reasoner

Catamaran? Put it on water and cruise :)


I see this as leaning toward the distopian side, a cop out, cut and run style of living, leaving desert in it's wake. let's put our energy into finding out how to make stationary cities work in the long run.


This is the most cockamamy idea I have ever seen. Over whose highways, farmlands, ranchlands and infrastructure is this monstrosity going to crawl over anyway? Don't you want this sucker coming to your town? The moron that designed this has no concepts of the private ownership of land and the public paying for infrastructure over decades to improve the lot of society. He should get a real job. work and pay bills for a few years before he drops design diarrhea like that again.

Greg Riemer

The leg idea mentioned by zevulon also allows your planet to still have power lines, pipelines, unstructured roads, etc. I'd guess your citizens would vote on where (and whether) to go. Whatever is decided, someone is going to hate it. Maybe we can design architecture to allow the individual homeowner to go whither he desires.


I don't think that thing could crawl fast enough to get out of the way of any natural disaster that wasn't a long term forecast. Why invest so monstrously in crawling infrastructure that will be seldome used? Just make it so the individual buildings are portable if that's your concern. The NASA Saturn V crawler had a very specially prepared roadway paved with river rocks to distribute the load, a design improvised after the weight of the crawler had it sinking into conventional roadways.


I get it. This is an industrial design/engineering thesis design project, and he chose this subject through which he demonstrated his abilities to conceive and do the complex design and integration. The engineering is serious even though the concept is not In that respect, this is very cool.


About 10-12 years ago, I had a very vivid dream of a shuttle-crawler-type-launch-pad like machine, only 4 times the size of a football stadium. The front of the machine ground up everything in it's path, turning under everything & everybody, like a rototiller. While in the middle, tiers of millions of tree starts, saplings and specimens awaited replanting. Out the back of the machine, it replanted the Earth with forests and meadows. The machine was in a city like Los Angeles. Back and forth is traversed, like a reverse lawnmower, leaving a huge greenbelt behind it as made it's way across the concrete landscape. If only...


As others have said, a theme which recures in science fiction, notably Christopher Priest, but more recently Philip Reeve in the Mortal Engines series, where great mobile cities chase one another across a post apocalyptic landscape consuming each other for resources in a process called 'municipal darwinism'. Another novel series which uses this theme is Worldshaker by Richard Harland where great steam powered victorian era cities rumble across the world plundering resources as they go while a slave population toils in the vast infernal engine rooms waiting for the chance to rebel.

This might just be an excercise in ideas and possibilities but it is interesting to consider that the association of the idea of mobile cities most frequently occurs in fiction in association with a dystopian theme, basically this only happens when something has gone seriously wrong with the environment and/or society.

Christopher Lee

With all the fascinating real science and technology stories out there on any given day, thanks Gizmag, for once again giving 'Stupid, But Well Rendered' a platform for consideration and the semblance of legitimacy.


Another old sci-fi story (1960s?)where a family is kidnapped by robots and taken to a pocket universe entered through a ring of six stars. A thin layer of soil covered the inside of the bubble and a smaller sphere of stars provided light (think of living under a street light. There were canals, buildings, levitating boats, and moving islands (biomes) that moved across the landscape chewing up everything in front and leaving plantings at the rear. The buildings were occupied by descendants of the builders who were served by a slave species. John Carter of Mars was another one.


Howls moving castle


This designer saw the movie John Carter and thought it was a good idea. You like a city stay there. Don't use resources to move it. Small family sized vehicles are a good idea and the sooner the U.S. and other countries become independent from fossil fuels the better (cleaner healthier) our planet will be.


I wonder if one of his inspirations is "Strength of Stones" by Greg Bear. It's set in the future of a far off future of mobile cities that have thrown out their human inhabitants while the cities continue to periodically pack up and move to new locations.

Gregg Eshelman

I've read a lot of goofy NIMBY posts on this. I agree with Satweavers on this. Don't forget, this is an architecture thesis project, never meant to be built. It is thoughtfully and skillfully executed. When Mr. Dominguez turns his amazing, out of the box, talent to more feasible designs, we will be hearing a lot more from him.

Bruce Williams

Yeah sumthin' like the giant mobile transporter the Jawas used in the desert. Except that if this goes across state lines is it considered a giant RV or would the taxes and laws associated with a resident of that occupied state would apply to this contraption?


This assembly is like a Water World community on caterpillar tracks from the sci-fi movie. Calling Syd Mead to illustrate it!

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