Cosmic, Machine And Organic Cities


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A discussion of the Cosmic, Machine and Organic city forms and what those say about their inhabitants and developers.

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Cosmic, Machine And Organic Cities

  1. 1. Presentation for Ignite Boise 2 July 16, 2009 Martin Johncox, Alexander and Associates Twitter @mjohncox
  2. 2. Homo sapiens has existed for about 250,000 years, yet oldest cities are just 5,000 years old. Cities share permanence; specialization of skills among inhabitants; reliance on countryside; communal buildings; accumulation of resources. People have created three kinds of cities in history and their built form reflects their values: the Cosmic City, the Machine City and the Organic City Twitter @mjohncox
  3. 3. The most ancient cities were designed to express religious beliefs; this unity of purpose may give the Cosmic City great harmony and remarkable beauty. Cosmic Cities adapted to a low-energy environment and natural topography and were created with great effort.
  4. 4. COSMIC FORM: Important activities, such as administration and worship, typically at center. Streets and buildings arranged to express spiritual beliefs; walls and gates enforced hierarchy. Layout obeyed topography and used local materials, producing a striking sense of identity. Twitter @mjohncox
  5. 5. COSMIC VALUES: Projection of authority, enforcement of social hierarchy Authoritarian administration ; economic development and quality of life were not high priorities. Build elaborate structures to display power, obey gods. Twitter: @mjohncox
  6. 6. COSMIC TRANSPORTATION Limited to animals, human feet, carts and boats. Slow transportation required everything close together. Energy was scarce, coming only from humans, animals, gravity, passive solar and burning things Twitter: @mjohncox
  7. 7. COSMIC EXAMPLES In Old Beijing, designers arranged streets and buildings to improve the flow of chi, applying feng shui city-wide. The Mayans sited buildings in Chichen Itza to represent cosmic forces. After 4,000 years, Cosmic Cities ceased being the dominant urban form – but their influence persists in other ways. Twitter: @mjohncox
  8. 8. Starting around the Middle Ages, people began applying more advanced building and energy technology. The city was viewed as a kind machine to power and fabricate industrial civilization. Classic Machine Cities were at their apex until around 1950
  9. 9. MACHINE FORM Plentiful steel & power allowed people to subdue topography and serve efficiency and commerce. Large public works, skyscrapers and bridges. The rail station, port and commercial district became the new centers of importance – not the temple. Twitter: @mjohncox
  10. 10. MACHINE VALUES Efficiency in housing, administration, transpor- tation and commerce. Overcoming terrain, waterways and weather. Economic development supreme, even if it produces slums and pollution. Public areas matter and merit nice buildings and comfortable form; North End is good example. Twitter: @mjohncox
  11. 11. MACHINE TRANSPORTATION Very diverse: elevators, escalators, electric cars, cable cars, bicycles, boats, trains and aircraft. Developers imposed a mechanistic grid on the city to promote efficient transportation. Twitter: @mjohncox
  12. 12. MACHINE EXAMPLES Machine grid, cable car allow San Francisco to conquer very hilly terrain. Classic American small towns and neighborhoods. Machine Form is versatile, capable of producing places awful and wonderful, remains popular in much of the world. Twitter: @mjohncox
  13. 13. In the Organic Form, the city is viewed as a living creature, its inhabitants likened to cells and its “health” is paramount. To survive, the Organic City requires abundant energy, omnipresent machinery, the automobile and communications technology.
  14. 14. ORGANIC FORM The Organic City sprawls, reflecting the democratic living choices of its inhabitants. Hundreds of “land use zones” mark permissible areas for families, old people, apartment dwellers, shopping centers, offices and industry, resulting in social segregation. Twitter: @mjohncox
  15. 15. ORGANIC VALUES Privacy, convenience, safety and environmental protection. Satisfaction of residents. Leaders must balance quality of life with economic development. Elaborate bureaucracy looks after “health” of the city. Twitter: @mjohncox
  16. 16. ORGANIC TRANSPORTATION Automobile transportation is crucial (emphasis on convenience). Majority of energy, money and attention goes to using, maintaining , planning and expanding roads. The spatial demands automobiles consume the public realm; the Organic City has few public plazas. Twitter: @mjohncox
  17. 17. ORGANIC EXAMPLES Young American cities like Boise. Residents are reluctant to build grand places, instead investing their wealth in trans- portation, parks, public services and landscaping. Nature, much more than man-made structures, gives the Organic City its sense of place. Twitter: @mjohncox
  18. 18. ORGANIC ASPECTS Critics say Organic City is ugly, a chaos of parking lots, forbidding streets and cartoonish architecture. Most valued places are natural features and legacy Machine Form districts (downtowns). I argue the Organic City is the natural form of an affluent, democratic, individualistic society with abundant energy and advanced technology. Twitter: @mjohncox
  19. 19. The Cosmic and Machine forms created places of terrible misery and dramatic beauty. The Organic City is likely to have neither. The Cosmic City existed to serve God; the Machine City existed to serve society; the Organic City exists to serve the individual. Organic City residents feel there are higher priorities than efficiency – much like Cosmic residents. Facebook quiz: “What City Type Are You?” Twitter: @mjohncox
  20. 20. Martin Johncox is public relations director at Alexander and Associates, focusing on the development, energy, local government and small business sectors. He was a reporter and editorial writer at the Idaho Statesman for nearly 12 years, focusing on local government, urban planning, growth and development, where he read far too much for his own good. He would someday like to serve on a planning and zoning board. Sources for this presentation: Good City Form by Kevin Lynch The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander Close-Up: How to Read the American City by Grady Clay Edge City by Joel Kotkin Twitter: @mjohncox