Chronicle | To urban hyper-density?

Difficult to define precisely what will be the nature of our living environment for tomorrow because our time, like that of the late 19th century, brings together all paradoxical situations. Will the very high urban density, predictable, be compatible with human activity and the balance of the planet? Prospective chronicle of Jean Magerand.

Article published in the architect's Mail (16-03-2011):

We Westerners, hardly taste a comfort finally quite new, procured for some decades by some form of abundance (of transport, food, space…) and freedom (of movement, of choice…), that new objectives of restriction or even renunciation we are suddenly–and more and more firmly–assigned. We are evolving in our relationships with each other, to the family, to the daily life, to the real, to the present, to the territory, to the power, to the decision-making and yet, we live in the same dwellings, the same cities, the same landscapes as there are fifty Years. These distortions are both a source of uneasiness and of revolutions that only demand to express themselves. Now, as at the end of the 19th century, new technologies are in the middle of development. They tend to occupy such a place that it is difficult to solve the contradictions that affect our modes and frameworks of life, apart from these technological inputs. Today, international trade has never been so active, the raw material, the materials and the products circulate in millions of tonnes. The most modest citizen of the rich countries can go to the other side of the world in a few hours. Agricultural production has exploded. The habitat is technically in focus and hyper-comfortable in all seasons, when all modern facilities are installed. The food is permanent, diversified, organic if necessary. The modes of transport are complementary and serve the entire surface of the planet. Computer networks are multiplying and allow real-time communications with the whole world. Yet, due to over-industrialisation and our collective lack of foresight, despite our advanced techniques, the spectre of scarcity hovers over our contemporary societies, rich and poor countries alike. The dominant thought based on exponential and uninterrupted development has suddenly fallen flag since the first oil shock. The car gradually cedes its position of technique queen within the culture, the domesticity and the family. The city is gradually weaned from individual traffic even though it often continues to be drawn for automobiles. People are more mobile, more adaptable. A new mindset has invaded the common culture. Against all odds, the time is for preservation, soft extensions, rehabilitation, recycling. At the same time, lifestyles are evolving and modernizing. Recomposed families, homosexual parents, PACS, roommates, ' Internet couples ', multi-generational habitats, etc. Reflect new openness. Life experiences widen. However, the concept of habitat, in the broad sense, is not questioned, except at the margin. The impact of new techniques on the societal is no longer only in the speeches of the futurists, it became tangible by settling life-size in the real society. Tunisia and Egypt have become the laboratories of this wave of instant hyper-Organization, carrying a new mode of revolution. The young people, armed with the Internet, have shown that ancestral mechanisms have irrevocably mutated, questioning a certain idea of societal and social organization. The notion of collective has thus taken a blow of old. These new attitudes, at the same time, confront each other and come in synergy with the new context of energy shortage and/or saturation of greenhouse gases which seem to be increasingly unstoppable. It is quite likely that we will, in the coming two or three decades, witness a revolution in the notion of living and an explosion of urban experimentation aimed at reconciling greater demands on the quality of Life and new environmental data that are ever more restrictive. Following the utopias of a nomadic man, the economy of farmland and the fight against the waste of unnecessary displacement will probably deliver to the demons of urban density very soon. The latter will certainly become, in the relatively near future, very high density. In this context, we will have to address the problem of urban and architectural hyper-functionality, since it is likely that new problems linked to a very high concentration of users are to be solved. The difficulty will be amplified by an inter-territorial mobility of goods which will need to be revisited downward, lack of fuel obliges. We will have to deal with the accumulation and resolution, in increasingly restricted spaces, of a very large number of material, functional, technical, sociological, anthropological, biological and environmental problems. The multiplication of systemic constraints in confined spaces, confronted with the ever-increasing demands of the contemporary citizen, would demand in the short term the manufacture of objects with very high complexity and very high reliability. The giant Airbus are perhaps, from the standpoint of their conception, their development and their manufacture, the simplistic and mono-functional archetypes of these complex, multi and hyper-functional objects that we will collectively have to draw, Develop and make usable and above all livable. The performance of the ' collaborativité ', necessary to manufacture the giant Airbus, will probably be further improved in order to be able to develop ' habitable entities ' on a territorial scale. The invention of our new natural, agricultural, urban and built environments will require new methods and analytical tools and ' projétuels '. New ways of projecting, building, landscaping, managing, recycles will have to be considered. Home automation, robotics and computer science are obviously on the lookout to thrive in this new, high-complexity environment. The high versatility of the places, their optimized ' usability ', their ' hyper-transformability ', the high production and recycling performance will probably be very greedy in terms of new techniques and methods. These are the latter that will make the very high urban density more humane and which can make more compatible human activity and balances of the planet. Faced with this universe of abstraction and technique, which may seem appalling to some, we will have more than ever need common sense and, from our point of view, designers of all orders still have beautiful days ahead of them to make assumptions ' Projétuelles ' About our cities, our architectures and our future landscapes… To your computers, there is not a minute to lose!

John Magerand