Month: December 2014

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The City of the Future, Sustainable and Poetic

This article was published in YO!Mag ad co-written with Richie Bernardo //

Luc Schuiten is a visionary architect who received his training from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. Passionately concerned with the future of the planet, he is most known for his conceptual illustrations of an imagined vegetal city where invention harmonises with nature. In his studio in Brussels, we met to ask him about his vision of the city’s future and the role young people can play in realising his urban utopia.

What is your vision for the future of the city?

When I imagine the future, it’s a fiction in which I try to make sense that we are not in a dream, but a possible world that has not yet been realised. I only try to show things that are scientifically possible though, and thus are in a near or faraway future.

The world I imagine could be more than the one the political discourse preconises, based on the hypothesis of an exponential and never-ending growth on a planet with limited resources.

The hypothetical city on which I work with others is [one] that could endure through time without destroying the environment. I work primarily with living organic raw materials because they have the faculty of reproducing without stressing the system. On the contrary, they enrich it. The future city should be formed by multiple ecosystems that coexist to create an enjoyable, poetic, aesthetic and generous environment that is capable of offering to everyone what they need.

Is your hypothesis therefore against development?

On the contrary, it is a concept of development of a new practice that calls on new competences, knowledge and technologies. My vision of the future city requires specific technology projected at the future. We need to reflect on all those materials that are indefinitely renewable.

For example, living trees or bamboo — structures that grow quite fast — are solid, absorb COs and develop with water and sun. If we close those structures with some sort of bio-glass that resembles the same material in the wings of a dragonfly or the cocoon of insects, it’s something totally biological and made with resources available in nature.

A spider web is three times more resistant than our steels. Why do we have to search our subsoil relentlessly for raw materials whose exploitation would also have a detrimental impact to us?

So do you think there is a right to the city?

At the moment, citizens have a very reduced right to the city, and such right is much more in the hands of those who have the financial powers [and] the developers, politicians who have stronger decision-making power. Those current systems constitute a spiral, which is to make money with money. This is totally immoral, unsustainable and risks making the system implode. The rich become richer, the poor poorer. We are in a vicious circle. Wouldn’t it be time that virtuous circles were put in place?

The city is an entity that is difficult to imagine being managed by the entire population in a simple manner. It’s easier to start with the neighbourhood where everyone could take over some responsibility and be in charge of some need. This is a very interesting decision-making level that could be part of a nested system that can form a unity of values by getting the various neighbours cooperating together. Each of those different entities should delegate a person who would manage all the different neighbourhoods, i.e. the city.

What is the role of young people in building this future city?

Of course everyone has a role to play, but young people are key players. The fact that nowadays they have so little decision-making power shows clearly the failure of the current system. Young people are more prone to avoid bitter compromises and are more solution-oriented, which could help to advance more quickly towards a more interesting system.

An example of the creativity of young people is witnessed in political movements that are shaking or changing behaviours around the world. The concept of biomimicry has been more rapidly understood by young people because with less prejudice and more open to new ideas such as the biomimicry movement that is behind my concept of the future of the city.