VERTICAL CITY: MEGASTRUCTURE AND PUBLIC SPACE
By IGNACIO MONTALDO
The planet’s surface is limited and an important consequence of the search for sustainable urban development has been a revival due to the interest in the compact city, which suggests a new look at the notion of megastructure.
Although at present we are very clear that urban problems are interdisciplinary, we can ask ourselves how to rethink the city and the processes that occur in it, as well as the way in which these should be conceived and designed from our own discipline.
From this perspective, it makes sense to revisit some of the urban proposals, utopian or not, that were developed during the first half of the 20th century. This review does not want to project a nostalgic look at failed utopias, but to highlight the role of architecture in the physical construction of the city.
COMPACT CITY, DENSITY AND GLOBALIZATION.
The planet area is limited; we cannot continue considering that the cities keep on growing endlessly, since there is a contemporary consent about the fact that they must be compact and delimited. An important consequence in the search for a sustainable urban development has been a renaissance in the interest on the compact city.
In the text “The Compact City Debate: a global perspective” Rod Burgess states the need to increase the population densities of constructed residential areas; intensify the urban economic, social and cultural activities and manage the urban size, shape and structure and the settlement systems in favor of the environmental, social and global sustainability benefits derived from the concentration of urban functions. The relationship among crowding, densification and landscape must be revised in relation to the way our cities are growing, re-thinking new forms of reinforcing the land use that can overcome the core-periphery polarization.
As mentioned by Crispin Tickell in the introduction of the book by Richard Rogers “Ciudades para un pequeño planeta” (Cities for a small planet): “The equitable city –and mainly compact- is plural and inclusive, diverse and coherent concurrently...” . In general we agree that a good city, in the words of Rogers, “a dense and polycentric city, a city of overlapped activities, an ecologic city, that encourages the contact; equitable, open and, mostly, a beautiful city, where the art and the architecture and the landscape stir and satisfy the human spirit.” The question is how we can reach these ideals within the contemporary global economic context that is the cause of a fragmented city. Graham y Marvin  define the “Splintering Urbanism” as a spatial transformation process that is the product of the crisis of the Fordist-Keynesian production model, where there is no longer a unitary space, but instead the infrastructures, both physical and digital, join and connect urban fragments to different global scales, where the places linking themselves are the relevant in terms of capital movement and those not linking, remain sidelined of the process. What does the State role should be in the context of the public-private relation referred to as the equitable access to the infrastructures, mainly in developing countries with a high social fragmentation?
THINKING THE CITY FROM WITHIN THE OWN DISCIPLINE
Even though nowadays it is absolutely clear that the urban problems are cross-disciplinary, we can wonder how to re-think the city and the processes that occur within itself, the same as the way they must be conceived and designed from our own discipline. How are we able to cross over, from the discipline, a contemplative condition of the urban phenomena in order to once again have new physical proposals for the city that can solve the contemporary issues, those that include our current and future lifestyles, in the context of the ecological fragility, the new communication technology, the globalization and the new ways of production and work? What is the architecture role in this environment?
From this viewpoint there is sense in re-visiting some of the urban proposals, be them utopian or not, that were developed during the first half of the 20th. century. This revision does not intend to project a nostalgic look on the failed utopias, but instead to highlight the role of the architecture in the physical construction of the city, not from a solitary heroic look, but finding our purposeful role, side by side with economists, sociologists, geographers and ecologists in the development and construction of the future habitat.
Reyner Banham, in his book “Megaestructuras”, describes them from Le Corbusier Project for Fort l´Empereur, in his 1931 Argel plan. “A famous drawing of the project shows, in an accelerated curve perspective, the massive and impressive substructure in an elevated super-highway, built as if it were a giant reinforced-concrete bookshop, on whose shelves the inhabitants have built two-floored houses, not necessarily in le style Corbu, but according to their own preferences”… 
Image 001. Le Corbusier. Fort l´Empereur. Argel Plan. 1931.
This megastructure consists of an urban highly-density construction that is composed by two substantial parts; on the one side, a stiff and systematic support structure, and on the other side, the light constructions, more ephemeral or less durable. On the drawing center, a house can be seen with elements of the domestic Arabian architecture. The perspective is very expressive in the way to understand the project not as a building, but as an urban infrastructure that is recreating the land and the public and private space of the traditional city in a vertical mode. By 1922 Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeaneret had projected the buildings Villa “as a new building formula for a big city. Each apartment is a small house with a garden, situated at no matter how high over the pavement…”  Proposing that the Nature place is not the level zero in contact with the natural field but one that can be reproduced technically in an undefined way to the sky.
Le Corbusier refers to them as hanging gardens, where he mentions with particular importance the presence of “Trees and flowers surrounding the yard, in the street and in the hanging gardens..”
Image 002. Le Corbusier. Villa Buildings. Pierre Jeaneret. 1922.
Image 003. Le Corbusier. Villa Buildings. Pierre Jeaneret. 1922.
The project City Block (1927-1935) by Wladimiro Acosta is just five years later than the plan Project for a three-million-inhabitant city by Le Corbusier made in 1922. Acosta, works on a proposal of a modern city from the traditional Buenos Aires block. The ground floor is designed for shops and the accesses to the apartments and the offices that overlap in section, offering to divide the city in two areas: a lower one for work, and a higher for dwellings. “The man who works in the lower body lives in the higher”. The project does not work with the program zoning in horizontal plane but in vertical cut, zero level is not free, instead it is occupied by shops which offer activities and “life” to the ground floor. Gardens and green spaces add to the built mass creating in the proper building spaces of leisure and entertainment. The circulation level is shared in the ground floor with the motor vehicles and pedestrians.
Image 004. Wladimiro Acosta. City Block. Buenos Aires. 1927-1935.
The street is one of the most antique urban infrastructures or megastructures of the cities. “In some occasions, further than near, the cities and the buildings were born from the same unitary project and were built simultaneously. This was all architecture. In the Circus of Bath the streets were subordinate to the building in order to set up a unique architectonic space. The public and the private are merged in a such a way that the same tree line, fenced in the center of the emptiness so defined, hold both its condition of public green and private garden.”, Mangada says.
“At a certain time in the history of the city construction there is a separation between the project and the street construction (infrastructure) and that corresponding to the building (architecture). Conceptual and administrative breakdown that leads to the emergence of the urban planner and the architect.”
Image 005. John Wood, the Old. The Circus Bath.1754 -1768.
We can consider the traditional street as the big megastructure of the city which in the horizontal plane of the territory, is connected to the squares and all the buildings that people need to develop life in society.
Fumihiko Maki, defines the megastructure “as a great structure in which all the city functions or part of them are contained. It is possible due to today’s technology. In a sense, it is the component made by man, of the landscape. It is like the great hill on which the Italian cities were built.”. Besides he defines that it is inherent to the concept of megastructure the idea of many different functions beneficially concentrated in a place. In the same text Maki proposes to understand the megastructures as a public investment, “the substantial public investment can be done in infrastructures (the skeleton of megastructures) in order to guide and encourage public structures around them. This strategy can be taken further, towards a new three-dimensional use of land, where public agencies keep the possession and maintenance for both circulatory systems, vertical and horizontal”.
THE INDEFINITE REPETITION OF THE VIRGIN SOIL.
“At the time of the stairs, all the floors above the second one were considered inappropriate for commercial uses; and above the fifth floor, uninhabitable. In Manhattan, from the 1870 decade the lift has been the great emancipating element of all the horizontal surfaces situated above the ground floor….
In the early years of 1880 decade, the lift finds the steel structure, capable of supporting the recently-discovered territories, with a structure that does not occupy space. Due to the mutual collaboration of both breakthroughs, any given lot can then multiply indefinitely so as to produce that spread of useful surface called skyscrapers”. Says Rem Koolhaas in his book “Delirious New York. A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan”, published in 1978, where an illustration appeared in “Life” magazine in 1909, and is presented, made by a cartoon artist. Koolhaas sees in this cartoon strip and calls it “1909 Theorem”, which describes the ideal functioning of a skyscraper, “A slender steel construction holds 84 horizontal planes, all of them with the original lot size. Each one of these artificial levels is considered as a virgin site, as if the others do not exist, in order to establish in it a strictly private sector around an only country house and its auxiliary units…. The use of each lot can never be known before the construction. The villas can be built and thrown down, other facilities can replace them, but this will not affect the framework”.
This way to understand the origin of multi-story construction as a system capable of multiplying the soil and the relations that are implied in terms of interior-exterior, artificial-natural, public-private, street-house, empty-full, is one of the concepts that interest for the development of a proposal which can address the contemporary problems of the city from the architecture and its physical design.
One view to understand the origin of the multi-story construction that makes us revise the relation between the building and the street and the public space and the relation of the interior use with the gardens and squares, that now will be able to organize the diverse programs from different points and heights within the inhabited structure. From this look a possibility opens to generate different exchange relations with the environment based on these spaces in different points of the structure.
This implies to understand the skyscraper and the multi-story construction not as buildings or architectonic objects that are located in the city but instead as a “System of urban growth”.
Image 006. Humorous Illustration appeared in Life Magazine in October, 1909. Published in the book “Delirious New York : A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan”. Rem Koolhaas. Ed. Oxford University Press. First edition 1978.
Being architects, we are obliged to project the city so as to reach the objectives shared that Rogers define as a city in balance with the environment, inclusive, equitable, open, beautiful, with an enhancement of the historical heritage, where the art and the landscaping foster and fulfill the human spirit.
How is it possible to project this interconnected and global city for eleven thousand million inhabitants?
In the long term, the increase of the population in the cities and the aim of a compact city must lead us to think organization forms which include the Z axis, and this does not mean larger buildings each time but to think of investments in circulation infrastructures that are able to involve the horizontal plane and the vertical as well, and the organization of the public space in different heights from which the zero level loses its monopoly.
All the utopian projects of the modern first-half 20th. century architects were seeking a way to put order to a reality that was still not as fragmented as it is in the contemporary times. Should we abandon the possibility to think the city as wholeness or instead should we think a city where this wholeness is much more complex, where the relation between the parts and the whole may contribute to the solution?
The street was one of the main infrastructures for the construction of the traditional city which was not separated from the way to think the buildings. How are we able to think new infrastructures that allow new forms of organization that do not strictly depend on the zero level? If the public space is another type of fundamental infrastructure for the operational support of the cities, as Rogers poses, we must project a form of public space that belongs to this era.
If the cities are overcrowded and we need more parks, meeting places, lanes for bicycles and squares so as to give support to the communities which make the cities inhabitable. Are we able to think of a vertical city where the vertical structure offers an alternative to the zero level of the street as a true and unique access reference?
This discussion becomes essential in the context of the city of Buenos Aires, where a new urban “morphological” code has recently been passed, based on a nostalgic ideal of nineteenth-century Paris-like city.
Image 007. Ignacio Montaldo, Arch. Buenos Aires. Urban Condensers. Vertical Urbanism for a Policentric City .CTBUH 2018 Middle East Conference. Dubai. 2018.
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The predictions of the United Nations consider that by the year 2100 the population could reach a total of 11,200 million.
 The FOT [for its acronym in Spanish, Factor of Total Occupation] removal, a device that allowed to control certain volume of air not built in the project within the whole volumetric, now lost, favoring the speculation due to the possibility to construct the whole, and the elimination of the base-plus-tower typology, passed in Buenos Aires in 1957. That permitted the grouping together of small lots, and so creating plots where, with the removal of party walls, it was possible to construct buildings with a base, so constructing the block with public activity on the ground floor and above it, higher buildings with free perimeter (“towers”). In this way, the advantage was to have a better sunlight exposure and ventilation for the interiors of the building, as well as richer and complex urban spaces for the city.