Premium Top

Billboard Top

To top
Reflections

Dream Cities, haunted Cities

Charlie Clemoes
New York

Dream Cities are forever haunted by the ghosts of unrealised projects, as demonstrated by NeoMam’s recent rendering of an unrealised entry for the 1858 competition to design New York’s Central Park.

Rendering of an Alternative Central Park. (Credits: BudgetDirect)

Dream Cities are forever haunted by the ghosts of unrealised projects, as demonstrated by NeoMam’s recent rendering of an unrealised entry for the 1858 competition to design New York’s Central Park.

We tend not to see the built environment as a product of chance. But what eventually comes to fill a space could just as easily have been something completely different. Designs go through countless revisions. Brilliant proposals are rejected for arbitrary reasons. The endlessly minute modifications people make after a design is completed are subject to forces way outside the control of anyone involved in the initial development.

New York’s Central Park – dream cities

NeoMam’s recent rendering of an unrealised entry for the 1858 competition to design New York’s Central Park reminds us that even the most seemingly timeless and treasured parts of the urban landscape were the subject of decisions that could have easily gone an entirely different way. Designed by park engineer John J. Rink, the entry proposes having trees arranged in several symmetrical patterns, with a series of concentric circles located on the park’s northside standing out most prominently. Unlike the Central Park that we know now, which was designed by F. L. Olmsted and C. Vaux, Rink’s design is much neater and more manicured than the successful design and much more akin to the French jardin. Although Rink’s was the only unsuccessful proposal whose plans still survive today, there were 32 entries to the competition in total. That’s 32 variations of probably the most well-known park in the world.

Skyscrapper

Halfpage

Billboard

Skyscrapper

Halfpage

Looking at a Ghost

There’s something rather uncanny about the rendering of Rink’s design. It’s almost like looking at a ghost, haunting the park and the city we’re so familiar with.

Sticking with New York, at around the same period, two curious unrealised designs for public infrastructure also strike a ghostly tone. Dr Rufus Henry Gilbert’s 1880 design for a pneumatic elevated railway would have had passengers transported through a pair of “atmospheric tubes” suspended by a succession of gothic-style wrought iron arches. Thanks to the Wall Street Panic of 1873, the proposal didn’t leave the drawing board.

In general, pneumatic railways have failed to catch on, despite still being entertained to this day as a viable form of mass transit – something seen most recently in the ridicule that followed Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop”. Because of this long history of failure, Gilbert’s design has an odd quality of being both retro and futuristic, and therefore quite tragic and even unsettling, since it upsets our idea of historical time as something linear and inevitable.

Manhattan Nocturne – dream cities

The second design is Raymond Hood’s 1925 proposal to build a series of “apartment bridges” linking Manhattan Island with the mainland. Intended to ease congestion in the city and provide housing with spectacular waterfront views, the astonishing drawings he made for this plan are works of art in their own right. Recalling James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s nocturnes, Hood rendered the structure all in black, with the imposing apartment bridge dwarfing the cars it carries across the river and the boats beneath. It feels like we’re gazing upon a dream. Then again, that’s always what we’re doing when we look at a plan for something that doesn’t exist in reality.

As Darran Anderson points out in a 2015 article for Dezeen, these unrealised plans can prepare the ground for future projects, and these new projects can in turn lend legitimacy to the original failure. More than that, though, these unrealised plans give the lie to that all-too-common mantra of the market-driven urban economy “there is no alternative”. Instead, we see that the city contains within it an infinite array of alternate unrealised futures. Nothing that exists now was inevitable. Anything that went unrealised still exists as a latent potential, ready to be resurrected.

_

For the original Source of the Renderings click here.

Medium Rectangle

Halfpage

Urban Planning Studies
READ MORE
Carlo Scarpa Prize goes to Berlin in 2022
READ MORE
Kigali Innovation City Masterplan, Rwanda
READ MORE

Billboard

Billboard