International Workshop

Building in the Inevitable City of the Future
Nataly Gattegno (University of Virginia School of Architecture)
"Today, more and more cities are not only becoming dynamic, but continuously dynamic, so that they never stop changing and growing. For the first time in history, settlements are not only three dimensional but four dimensional, since they exist continuously within the fourth dimension of time." [C.Doxiadis, 1974]
As a science of human settlements, Ekistics offered a vehicle for analyzing and understanding urban landscapes as complex matrices of mutable and evolving networks of information. "Settlements are processes, systems in a continuous state of flux as they react to the myriad of influences."(i) This paper interrogates the use of the Ekistic methodology in the interpretation and design of our contemporary urban settlements. It explores issues of context, scale and technology in light of Constantinos Doxiadis' manifesto "Ecumenopolis: the Inevitable City of the Future" [1974] and considers the problems and potentials of contemporary building within the "City of the Future". While Ecumenopolis has been studied in a historical and theoretical context, my research approaches it from the specific viewpoint of a designer. The rhetoric of systems, nodes, networks and infrastructure has been employed by contemporary practitioners as a way of mitigating and comprehending our urban environment, yet has a number of striking parallels to Doxiadis' ideas. The paper explores the possibility that these similarities are not coincidental, but that their root lineage to Doxiadis and his collaborators [Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, among others] has not yet been fully articulated. Furthermore, the holistic and systematic procedure which the Ekistic project suggested has also been appropriated, though rarely followed through in contemporary practice with the fervor and interdisciplinary collaboration Doxiadis called for.

Ekistics advocated a procedure of continually changing variables and values, one that explored dynamic relationships between the five Ekistic elements [Nature, Anthropos, Society, Shells, Networks] at varying scales. "Ekistics, as a discipline concerned with metamorphic processes, required an analytical set of scales based on dynamic morphology - a classification scheme which would reflect the evolutionary nature of settlements and the natural stages of their growth."(ii) In the same way, current design discourse calls for a mutable, syncopated and evolving design process that establishes itself through negotiation. The city as an "organized system of life"(iii) results out of this process, behaving less as a compromised condition and more as the site for productive and synthetic cooperation. Within this dynamic framework, the role of the contemporary designer becomes one of negotiator and interpreter. Advanced information processing, through parametric design and scripting, becomes an essential tool and the extent to which one is able to collect, analyze, manipulate and design with this information becomes vital.

Global interconnectivity, speed, complexity theory and self-organization have made Doxiadis' ideas prescient. The synthetic and synergetic nature of Doxiadis' procedure for the design of the future city necessitates new tools and technologies that allow us to process and work with this excess of information. The architect, planner, geographer, historian, economist, anthropologist and media theoretician are once again needed to interpret the information - ultimately the designer becomes a negotiator, an interpreter of parameters: a catalyst and builder of the City of the Future.

(i)   C.Doxiadis, Ecumenopolis: The Inevitable City of the Future, W.W Norton & Company,
      New York,1974, p.7.
(ii)  Ibid, p.9.
(iii) Ibid, p.23.