'In the center of Fedora, that gray stone metropolis, stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms of the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it an ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.'So writes Italo Calvino in his 1972 book 'Invisible Cities', which imagines descriptions of various cities as related by Marco Polo to the aging emperor Kublai Khan. As mentioned in its wikipedia page,
The book, because of its approach to the imaginative potentialities of cities, has been used by architects and artists to visualize how cities can be, their secret folds, where the human imagination is not necessarily limited by the laws of physics or the limitations of modern urban theory. It offers an alternative approach to thinking about cities, how they are formed and how they function.In his story about Fedora, Marco Polo tells Khan that in his large Empire there must be a place for both Fedoras - big and small ones, as they are both real cities as well as assumptions, as a big one represents what is accepted as necessary and a small one what is imagined as possible. The difference between what might have been and what actually exists is a common dichotomy in architecture and urban design. And like other architects, Paul Rudolph had a number of proposed buildings which continue to exist only on paper.
With the dramatic drop in real estate over the last years, much has been written about New York City's construction boom and later bust. The New York Times wrote 'Ghost Buildings of 1929' about proposed buildings that were abruptly halted after the stock market crash and later Great Depression. More recently, Curbed featured 'The Missing Skyline' about a number of planned developments that were,
'starchitectural masterpieces, neighborhood-creators (or neighborhood-destroyers, depending on who you talk to), or, well, just freaking huge buildings that were totally-definitely just last year.'With so much planned and so much lost - and other shoes still waiting to drop - is it no surprise when technology steps in to organize a collective 'what if'?
'The building with the globes is now Fedora's museum: every inhabitant visits it, chooses the city that corresponds to his desires, contemplates it, imagining his reflection in the Medusa pond that would have collected waters of the canal (if it had not been dried up), the view from the high canopied box along the avenue reserved for elephants (now banished from the city, the fun of sliding down the spiral, twisting minaret (which never found a pedestal from which to rise).' -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
UrbanOmnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York, has been following an iphone application called 'Phantom City' which was created to,
"transform the city into a living museum of speculative proposals for the city of New York."In addition to downloading the iphone application, you can visit the project's website to see more information and even add projects for consideration. The advantage of having the iphone application, besides being able to see a project as you stand in the very spot it was to have occupied, is the ability to rate it:
A rating function allows one to vote on each proposal, and to see how others have voted: Was Paul Rudolph’s Lower Manhattan Expressway project utopian or dystopian? Beauty or beast? Yawn or yell? You decide. Then roam elsewhere and discover another city that could have been.So far, the application and site only identifies Paul Rudolph's 1967-1972 proposal for the Lower Manhattan Expressway sponsored by the Ford Foundation. What's missing are his 1970 plans for 725 units of public housing, the 1967 Fox Hill Development in Staten Island, his 1970 plans for 10 apartment towers in Kew Gardens and the enormous 1967 proposal for the Graphic Arts Center.
As technology continues to advance allowing the imagined to meet the real in realtime, we can foresee the day when handheld devices would really become the glass globes that Calvino's imagined Fedora residents use to inhabit the city of their desire.
'On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room for both the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.' -Italo Calvino, Invisible CitiesCalvino must be pleased.
To read more about the iphone application:
New York Times - 'An iPhone App to Tour the City That Never Was'
Flavorwire - 'iPhone App for Architecture Geeks'