This project proposes to reopen a conversation that was seemingly dismissed in the early 1970’s: that of the megastructure as a radical form of urbanism catalyzed by mobility and transportation, and its implications for Sydney in light of a number of recent urban proposals.
In June 2013 the Sydney Morning Herald unveiled the Aspire Sydney consortium’s plans for a massive urban reconfigurement of Sydney (Swap you: Chinese skyscrapers for a Sydney motorway, SMH, June 30). The seemingly outlandish $100 bn proposal involved building the M4 East motorway in exchange for the rights to develop a large tract of land along the rail corridor from Central to Strathfield. The project, including the construction of up to 150 residential and commercial skyscrapers, would be realised by using prefabricated components manufactured in China and constructed largely by a Chinese labour workforce. It would involve prefabricated ‘infrastructure tubes’ and multi-storey building components, building a ‘superpit’ structure to support the new towers, and a close integration of transport systems with the functions of the city. Here then was a megastructure in our own backyard, a ‘building at the scale of a city’ with many of the defining characteristics (extendability, flexibility, prefabrication) of the utopic vision of the 60’s. And yet this was a typology that had effectively been consigned to the scrapheap of history when Reyner Banham famously labelled the megastructure the “dinosaur of the Modern movement”. I found the idea that Banham may have been premature in his dismissal of the urban potential of the megastructure to be a fascinating one.
It seems to me that we live at a time when the issue that megastructure had pre-empted, that of radical population growth and urban expansion and the transport infrastructures needed to support it, is at the forefront of architectural debate in Sydney today. The city needs 80,000 new apartments but is faced with a chronic lack of space to build them, not to mention the various infrastructural requirements that would accompany them. Recent proposals like the Aspire consortium’s are looking to use Sydney’s brownfield sites to build high density multi-programmatic developments integrally linked with the transport networks around them.
And yet despite the fact that the megastructure seems both a relevant and buildable proposition, it is still generally scorned as either science fiction or the product of a bygone era. It is this duality that I find intriguing, the idea that an investigation into megastructure in the 21st Century might act both as a cautionary tale and a typology that Sydney can learn from as it enters a period of intense growth.
ASPIRE SYDNEY, ASPIRE CONSORTIUM, SYDNEY 2013
In June 2013 the Sydney Morning Heraldunveiled the Aspire Sydney consortium’s plans for a massive urban reconfigurement of Sydney (Swap you: Chinese skyscrapers for a Sydney motorway, SMH, June 30). The seemingly outlandish $100 bn proposal involved building the M4 East motorway in exchange for the rights to develop a large tract of land along the rail corridor from Central to Strathfield. The project, including the construction of up to 150 residential and commercial skyscrapers, would be realised by using prefabricated components manufactured in China and constructed largely by a Chinese labour workforce. It would involve prefabricated ‘infrastructure tubes’ and multi-storey building components, building a ‘superpit’ structure to support the new towers, and a close integration of transport systems with the functions of the city. Here then was a megastructure in our own backyard, a ‘building at the scale of a city’ with many of the defining characteristics (extendability, flexibility, prefabrication) of the utopic vision of the 60’s.
A PLAN FOR TOKYO, KENZO TANGE, 1960
The ideals of the Metabolist Manifesto were perhaps best exhibited and advocated by Kenzo Tange in his 1960 Plan for Tokyo. In 1958 the Tokyo Regional Plan was released which proposed a series of satellite cities and general decentralization as the solution to Tokyo’s rapid population boom (rising from 3.5 million in 1945 to 10 million in 1960). Tange argued that the movement that the automobile introduced into urban life had changed peoples’ perception of space, and that this required a new spatial order for the city in the form of the megastructure, not simply a continuation of the radial zoning status quo. He proposed a linear megastructure based on a ‘fixed’ open network of highways and subways around which a ‘transient’ program would acrete as the needs of the population dictated.
CUMBERNAULD TOWN CENTRE, GEOFFREY COPCUTT, CUMBERNAULD, UK, 1957
An enigmatic example of the use of megastructure to catalyse a new town in Scotland. The complex contains ‘starter kit’ of administrative offices, residences and shops, integrated with the roadways that penetrate and encircle it. It was and is reliant on the mobilizing power of the automobile as the structure itself was initiated on tabula rasa agricultural land. The idea of extension was key but never realized.
AUTOBAHNUBERBAUUNG SCHLANGENBADER STRASSE, GEORGE HEINRICHS, BERLIN, 1982
The Autobahnuberbauung is a massive housing and commercial block showing a rare built example of the terrassenhauser structure which was the mainstay of Tange’s Tokyo Bay proposal. It was conceived in 1958 in Berlin’s post-war revivalist phase as a means of tapping into the mobilizing potential of the German autobahn network, a portion of which it bridges.
EURALILLE COMPLEX, OMA AND OTHERS, LILLE, 1988
Envisioned as the new crossroads of Europe and taking advantage of the business and social opportunities made available by the new high speed rail links through Europe, the complex was masterplanned by Rem Koolhaas of OMA. It consists of a series of buildings and programs plugged into massive rail infrastructure, including Koolhaas’ ‘Pyranesian Space’ which provided a public arena deliberately exposed to the infrastructures around it. The project has interesting links with the Metabolists whom Koolhaas has posited as a major inﬂuence.
SAKAIDE ARTIFICIAL GROUND, MASATA OTAKA, 1986
Although none of the Tokyo Bay plan was ever realized, the driving principle of artificial ground can be seen at Masato Otaka’s Sakaide Artificial Ground development completed in 1986 (having begun in 1968). In 1963 an Artificial Land Sub-Committee was set up and tasked with establishing an artificial datum over overcrowded and geotechnically unstable areas, an area of research that continued well into the 1980s as the Japanese government searched desperately for answers to overpopulation. Their primary focus was Otaka’s scheme to build over a seismically unstable slum area in Sakaide using a fixed concrete slab and beam platform raised between 6 and 9m off the ground. The scheme would house itinerant salt workers in a series of prefabricated concrete housing structures on the slab, with the area underneath occupied by offices, shops, parking and a network of pedestrian alleys.
BJARKE INGELS GROUP COPENHAGEN OFFICES, COPENHAGEN, 2011
BIG remain perhaps the foremost proponent of the megastructure in the modern age. Their Loop City rail network proposal for Copenhagen and Malmo reﬂects a modern change in utopian ideals along more sustainable lines, especially in Copenhagen which has experienced a backlash against the radial ‘Finger Plan’ of the 1950s. The project reveals the power of transportation-based megastructure to attain social aspirations of ‘openness’ and connectivity.
KYOTO STATION COMPLEX, HIROSHE HARA, 1997
The Kyoto Station Complex flirts with the megastructural possibilities of the Shinkansen high speed rail network in Japan. A combination of shinkansen, pedestrian walkways, and carparking connect with a single steel monolith containing government/civic function, shops and accommodation. A gigantic internal public space facilitates the open social agenda of Kurokawa’s homo movens. Highly controversial given the historic scale of Kyoto around it.
VANKE CENTRE, STEVEN HOLL ARCHITECTS, SHENZHEN, CHINA, 2010
The Vanke Centre is an interesting modern day look at megastructural tendencies re-emerging in Asia. It is a ‘Horizontal skyscraper’ consisting of commercial and residential zones suspended off the ground via a system of massive steel columns, connected by an interlinked network of escalators and moving walkways.It sees the realization of the Metabolist concept of ‘artificial ground’ with the ground plane left for public parkland and meeting places.