Need help with city design project!


Hey, I'm in need for visualization help and I'm wondering if there are anyone who'll get inspired enough to come to my aide?

I've written a piece here about alternative ways of designing ultra compact cities, but I need more graphics for it. I've tried making some on my own but they're a bit limited so far :)

Why don't you have a look and contact me if you can help?


Apr 21, 12 2:59 pm

How about images of Hong Kong?

Apr 21, 12 8:07 pm




Apr 21, 12 9:50 pm

the smithsons did a lot of that stuff way back when.  why not use that.  or steal some pics from the "big dig" (google it if you don't know what i'm talking about).  all the hits from the 50's and 60's probably would be good start as well.  mies, hilbersheimer, archizoom, metabolists, etc etc.  not as new urbanist-y as your approach but same basic idea...

Apr 22, 12 4:05 am

Yes, good ideas, but it's not quite what I'm looking for.

I'm not very fond of the ideas of 50s and 60s city planning, and what I need is something that shows what can be done to create a city landscape where all roads are put underground, the ground level is laid out like an Renaissance Italian city with narrow streets and neat piazzas, with skyscrapers around.

I will look for more imagery of Hong Kong though, I lived there and I've become quite inspired by HK and have been thinking about what it'd be like without all the traffic.

And the picture above, with the maltese-cross skyscrapers isn't anywhere as compact as what I'm thinking of - I'm thinking about taking Hong Kong and doubling the population density and creating a really pleasant place to live.

Apr 25, 12 10:07 am

Recent China projects are probably your best bet. Most of them are built on mega-blocks, and circulation is designed to get the cars underground as soon as you enter the site, with the interior circulation all pedestrian-dedicated. You'll find that the buildings don't get as close together as you think, because the structural systems still have to allow for the cars to circulate underneath, plus the scale of the buildings is so large that it makes the interior spaces really unpleasant if the masses get too close together.

As a practical matter, the sort of urban design strategy you describe is far too expensive and inconvenient to apply to an entire city. It just doesn't make any sense. You'd need to have population densities (100,000 per acre or more) on the order of 4 times Mumbai to justify something like that.

Apr 25, 12 2:48 pm

where designed is the space between buildings. this is one way to design high density urbanism.

Void Composition technique can be aplied either for buildings ensemble, or for solitary buildings. The goal is to administrate efficiently every square meter of an urban area, or a plot

Apr 28, 12 5:37 am

gwharton, why do you think it's too expensive to put the road network underground? 
I find it hard to believe it'd be too expensive even for small scale, 2-3 story housing with picket fences, and definitely not for a dense urban area with 40 story blocks. Remember I'm proposing to build the entire township in one go, not to retrofit the roads into an existing settlement. 

May 2, 12 5:13 pm

Dirt work gets exponentially more expensive the deeper you go, and then you have to fill in the hole with a lot of structure. That structure's also going to be pretty expensive, especially when you start piling dirt and stuff on top of it to get the growies back. The excavation cost for the current undergrounding of the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle, for instance, is a million dollars PER INCH of depth. A six-level deep parking garage is twice as expensive as a five-level deep garage of the same plan area. Holes are expensive. Filling them back up with useful stuff even more so.

It also creates an extremely brittle system that cannot easily accommodate change over time. That's a major flaw with all integrated infrastructure systems. They rely on deep structure that can't easily or cheaply be changed in response to fluctuating use patterns. This problem is compounded when you pile a bunch of other structures on top of the deep structure.

You could just take a regular city plan and lid over the road network as an extensible grid (moving your "ground" level up a story or two). That would solve the digging expense problem, but you'd still have the structural expense of putting on the lid (still non-trivial), and you don't really gain much by doing all that. All it does is double the circulation space at a big cost and little benefit, while locking in the development pattern to an expensive system.

And, finally, the major conceptual flaw inherent to the approach you're looking at is this: cars do not functionally exist independently of pedestrians. All cars are driven by pedestrians and have pedestrian passengers. The two go together and mode shift constantly. You can't fully separate the cars and pedestrians because the pedestrians need to get to the cars and vice versa. If you put all the cars in the basement, a lot of the pedestrians will be down there too. At which point, the parking garage becomes your primary entry experience. This problem is also why the vast majority of "pedestrian malls," where city streets have been closed off to car traffic and left solely for pedestrians, tend to fail. There's a classic example of that in Eugene, Oregon, which cordoned off a commercial street for peds only, saw the area start to die off, has since re-opened it to car traffic, and seen it come back to life. If you completely separate the cars and people, it will be at the cost of project viability and vitality. Even shopping malls, where the cars are separate from the mall itself, but must be close and easily accessible, are built with this principle in mind.

May 2, 12 5:38 pm

gwharton this "The excavation cost for the current undergrounding of the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle, for instance, is a million dollars PER INCH of depth." seems like amazing......


May 2, 12 8:03 pm

gwharton, The idea was to not dig the roads down, only some infrastructure such as subways.

Building a "lid" over the roads should be quite simple and not very expensive.
The surrounding buildings must be equipped with basement storeys to enable the "ground floor" to match with the outside "ground floor". These additional basements can be utilized for parking, storage, shopping or manufacturing, and shouldn't be any more expensive than regular floors and have equal value. After all, most new tall buildings in dense areas are equipped with a number of floors dedicated to parking.

Regarding people switching between being pedestrians and driving - of course there must be easy to hop off a car or a bus and walk up to the surface. Also, for people driving or taking the bus the main entrance to the buildings will be through the garage entrance - but why is that a problem? It is common to build buildings with parking garages already, and then you enter through the garage. In this case you will exit the building you are in, walk to the area where your car is or your bus leaves from and then go downstairs to catch the bus or fetch the car. (Don't think like an american who has to use the car to cross a 50m car park to the next shop :). Destinations will be so close that a lot of journeys will be made by foot in its entirety - this is quite common in a city like Milano or Oslo).

Accommodating change over time will be an issue.
However, it already is an issue in a compact city such as New York. Dismantling a skyscraper will be a lot of hard work. The system must be designed such that individual buildings can be torn down. However, the primary way of upgrading the city will have to be keeping the concrete shell of a building and refurbishing it, not tearing down the entire structure. There are plenty of cities in which a large neighbourhoods consist of buildings older than 100 years with no plans whatsoever to remove the buildings.

May 10, 12 9:23 am

I'm not trying to tell you that the idea is inherently bad. Rather, three things:

1) It's a fairly obvious idea, and elements of it have been tried before with mostly poor results. Familiarize yourself with the failures and successes. There are far fewer of the latter than the former, but there are some. In particular, you should take a close look at cold-climate models like Calgary +15 and Minneapolis Skyway. These seem to work...sort of...kind of. Major mixed-use shopping center design should be a major mine of information for your background study on this, since those types of projects are abstracted urban microcosms. As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous examples of projects with a more localized version of this approach in China. Most of them are awful, but a few of them work reasonably well. Why? What's the difference? You need to know, in detail, why the few examples where it has turned out well worked. Also, you're basically talking about a semi-modular, incremental arcology here. Have you studied Paolo Soleri? Where did he go wrong?

2) Make sure you found the effort on a set of goals and principles that are genuinely valuable and attractive to a large cross-section of people. "Cars Are Bad" isn't going to win a lot of broad support. Cars are here to stay, and most people generally like them. A lot. Similarly, people live in cities because of the benefits they offer and despite the negatives they entail. That's already a delicate balance. Don't tip it to the negative.

3) Implementation details and flexibility count for a lot with this sort of thing. Minor cost differences, aggregated over large projects, become huge impacts. Small errors, compounded over large, complex projects, are catastrophic. Urban environments are inherently evolutionary in form and development. Your approach needs to accommodate that, taking a catalytic and adaptive approach that can be planted in small seeds in an existing city to transform it by extension effects. Milano and Oslo are evolved networks, not integral designs. Avoid the temptation to go full retard like Corbusier or Koolhaas. The world doesn't need any more grand urban follies.

Your critics are going to have lots of ammunition taken from the history of failure in utopian urban schemes much like what you describe. You need to meet that head-on with some realism and humility, and have answers for it if you want to convince them. For instance, don't just dismiss the criticism that lidding over a road network is expensive, redundant, and problematic. Know the costs, challenges, and issues, then quantify in detail why the benefits outweigh the costs and show specifically how you propose to avoid the known problems. That's an uphill battle, but if you really believe in the idea, that's what you need to do to sell it.

May 10, 12 1:24 pm

Building a "lid" over the roads should be quite simple and not very expensive.
The surrounding buildings must be equipped with basement storeys to enable the "ground floor" to match with the outside "ground floor". These additional basements can be utilized for parking, storage, shopping or manufacturing, and shouldn't be any more expensive than regular floors and have equal value. After all, most new tall buildings in dense areas are equipped with a number of floors dedicated to parking.


If you build any kind infrastructure to carry modes of transit, the biggest cost is going to be maintenance.  surface roads are by far the cheapest to build and maintain - Why not make cars the least logical mode of transit within the city?  if you make it easy for people to get around in cars, they're going to choose cars.


and your last sentence - downtown buildings have parking because they're required to by law.  Many developers would rather not provide parking - parking is very expensive to build, and it's viewed as a loss-leader - especially in places without access to good non-car transit infrastructure.  it takes away from their leasable square footage.

May 10, 12 1:59 pm

Here's a better idea for your transit infrastructure:


May 10, 12 2:09 pm

toasteroven, if you look at the prices for parking, or buying a parking lot, in most european cities I would be very surprised if this isn't very profitable to build. I'm also mostly hearing about initiatives to restrict the number of parking lots and not so much the opposite.

Regarding just making it difficult to use a car, this just adds costs (in time) in order to move around with a car. But sometimes cars are necessary - to make deliveries or to catch a meeting if you are late. This should happen as smoothly as possible. However, one does need to restrict the car usage to avoid congestation, and the way to do it is to use road pricing to make it expensive. Public transportation on the other hand should preferably be free outside of rush hours. (There is zero marginal cost of additional passengers on public transport, as long as the bus/train isn't full).

The thing is that we need roads and cars in a city. We should just design the city so that they don't take up the prime real estate. 

May 10, 12 2:25 pm

gwharton, I think we're mostly on wavelength :)

1) I'm living nearby a rather successful town/shopping center/road junction in Norway, where a good deal of roads have been put under ground. Putting more under ground would've been better, and that's what the city authorities in Oslo are planning to do - motorways will go into tunnels and the topside road converted to road + park. This works in Oslo since the Norwegian state is loaded and can afford it, but tunneling is a very expensive way to build.

2) I'm absolutely of the opinion that cars are here to stay and that city life is a good life. What I want to achieve is quite simple: something like Hong Kong but with the cars out of the way. 

3) Costs are important, but should be a manageable percentage increase of the total building cost of the city, since we are talking about a couple of floors added to a city with many. I am very well aware that the primary problem with building very close is the added cost of maintenance  & rigidity imposed (I've worked on upgrade projects of North Sea oil platforms, and this is hugely more expensive than upgrading similar land based factories due to the cramped space)
What I'm really exited about is the effect such a city would have on the overall economy though. Roads and better communications have a tremendous effect on people's ability to create value. More people closely together will make it easier for employees to find the ideal employer, for the firm to find ideal subcontractors or easily serve a large number of customers with specialized products. If for instance China were to build such  cities on a grand scale I believe this could give them a productivity never before seen in the world. And China is building large, fully planned cities from scratch already - not gradually evolving networks. They have every opportunity to build very differently than cities that have evolved from scratch. 

Finally, I'm using such discussions as this to fine tune my arguments on Ultra Compact City Concept :)

May 10, 12 2:51 pm

Does anyone know of any Chinese cities where this has been tried?

Feb 20, 19 3:35 pm

Wow, you've had 7 years to figure this shit out, 7 years!


Come on, don't be rude....

Feb 20, 19 7:25 pm

Sorry, I apologise. Maybe blue steel was stuck in Tibet...


try out 

My buddy swears by it.... people doing renderings for 20 bucks! 

Feb 20, 19 9:38 pm

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