“Paper supports it all”. This popular quote is attributed to Charles V in a context that has nothing to do with the current one, but given that all urban planning projects are built on a blank page, it proves to be ideal when talking about architecture.
We are surrounded by megalomaniacal works that intend in one way or another to go down in history, even as part of the index of a malpractice manual. It seems that the fact of transcending would have been an end in itself. Perhaps linked to a biological condition, we live prisoners of the search for immortality that, far from sprouting from a spring, looks more like a sculpture of a fountain in the middle of a roundabout.
As everything supports paper, the owners of the means of production decided to redouble their rational character to find new and bizarre solutions for things that already worked. Without meeting reality or a specific need, they intoxicate us with their own knowledge, ignoring that practice makes perfect and we have documented practices for thousands of years. Just as natural selection does with species, techniques are refined and any attempt to circumvent this process is doomed to failure.
Ancient civilizations and urbanism
In remote times, civilizations settled in places conducive to the development of the most daily activities, where the advantages of orography and climate made survival more accessible. In an attempt to give impetus to our origin, we managed to blur the connection between the environment and the ecosystem; raising portions of land in the sea, drilling the deserts, containing the oceans and inhabiting ice sheets.
This is nothing new. Historic landmarks, such as the city of Venice, are now the delight of strangers and curious people who want to exchange cars for gondolas, before we talk about the new Atlantis. Far from establishing jurisprudence, marketing tourists with Nikon necklaces has led to the flowering of desert roses: showcase cities where the avant-garde of the absurd is promoted.
Dubai, a “futuristic” city
The first was Dubai, an oil-stained money laundering tutorial. A failed experiment that devoured itself. A place that was already inhospitable, has now become the setting for dystopian films from 2049. A city where tons of garbage leave daily in water trucks as a procession due to the lack of an adequate sanitation system.
This, when the access roads to the city are not under the dunes that try to recover what was theirs. Looking at the sea is no longer encouraging. In it lie moribund portions of earth that look like a coffee casing dissolved in the little water there was. Maintained with assisted breathing, an example survives today of how the aspirations of a few lead to the condemnation of a few more.
Those who do pay, and petrodollars know how to do this well. There were so many who decided that this would not be the last science fiction adventure. Disguised as a social experiment whose objective was none other than to wash the face of 22 billion dollars from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates, it was decided to build Masdar. Located between Abu Dhabi International Airport and its urban center, it appears to be more of a shop window than a functional city.
A city without pollution
The purpose was based on the creation of a new city, free of polluting emissions in its construction and implantation. This time we ignore the funding sources that sink this Noah’s ark towards sustainability, even before putting it afloat. In this case, under the guise of globalization and progress, under the command of the English architect Norman Foster; laid the theoretical foundations of what urban planning should be: attending to the general and the particular. Without leaving the slightest redoubt to spontaneity and free from the need to respect someone or something; for the barren land does not defend itself, and “no one” can complain.
So much so that, as there were no victims and social security seems to be a zero-sum game, they decided to make life difficult for the people who began to build on the sand in conditions of pseudo-slavery. Far, of course, from the European cities that, once again, were in charge of who had to do what.
The reality of this settlement, which is not a city, is that today, 15 years after its beginning, only 15% of what was initially designed is still standing. The few tourists who come to see what might have been find none of the extras of the promotional videos, living at the forefront of technology in a whirlwind of multiculturalism. They also won’t see futuristic transportation or zero emissions. Not even nature and wildlife are intertwined with the daily lives of university students and traders. Not because they don’t know how to coexist, simply because they don’t exist.
In its place, the only residential building built there houses the luckiest workers. Maybe that’s why there is no public transport either. Of the hundred stops that were initially proposed, there are two, more to say that they are in it than because of their real function. Like his autonomous electric capsules, which are so autonomous that they decided to stop working and remain in a display case forever. Neither stores, nor anything in short that resembles what was once designed. As happened with Brasília, playing at imagining the future can lead to its destruction. The cars that Nostradamus of the 20th century saw fly; they’ll be gone before you even lift the wheels off the ground.
Neom a madness of futuristic urbanism
The last grace is called Neom. This time, an experience from its neighbors in Saudi Arabia, who seem envious of the attention that Qatar or the Emirates have been receiving from their western counterparts. A kind of international crowdfunding —estimated at one billion euros— that proposes to be sold based on renders and quackery as an efficient solution, a paradigm for the architecture of the future. And nothing else. And nothing more illogical.
In fairness, there is some logic to your order. Proof of this are the 170 km of straight lines that make up its “morphology” and which seem to draw the line between sanity and megalomania. It looks like someone took too seriously that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, forgetting that it’s easier to just bring them closer together. The same person who talks about a zero-emissions city being financed by fossil fuels. The same one that bets on having the most efficient transport in the world to connect anything to anywhere. Those who subsidize the homes of their future citizens are those who show a lack of confidence in their own project. In short, someone who designed a city from a palace that will not live to suffer.
In the absence of tangible results, this new project seems doomed to be one more shipwreck that the sand will return to its place. It’s amusing to think that future civilizations will discover vestiges of what we’re doing and that, in a way, will serve as validation of their progress. Assuming, of course, that if these humans of tomorrow exist, it is because we have decided to radically turn our egocentric anthropocentrism around and understand that we are not better than nothing.
Is it more important to transcend than to progress?
The numbers don’t lie. They are the result of operations insensitive to interpretation. It is irrelevant to agree with them. To disagree is to show our ignorance. With each thing we build, we redefine our trajectory and it seems to collide with the function that nature has prepared.
As long as it is more important to transcend than to progress, we will be waiting for the next occurrence. We will realize the consequences once we explore the assumptions we have stored for years in the form of scientific documents, unpunished complaints and messages of relief in puppet peaks. Looking up, chasing the meteorite that will end what we know, not realizing that the real enemy dawns in our home.