Cities Designed by Famous Architects

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An aerial view of the planned Masdar City. An aerial view of the planned Masdar City.

While most architects are remembered for a monumental structure or commission, many of the most prolific names in the field at one point or another set their sights on designing the entirety of a city. Often venturing abroad to see their aesthetic vision come to life across unfamiliar territory (and often, an unsuspecting populace), city planning posed the perfect opportunity to realize one’s architectural doctrine across unimaginable scales. Below, brush up on some of the biggest ventures into urban planning. Whether these plans failed or came to fruition, they ultimately function as crucial insights into the consequences of an outsider defining sense of place and space for a foreign audience for generations.

Manila, Philippines

Daniel Burnham, 1905

Another depiction of Burnham's master plan for Manila. Another depiction of Burnham's master plan for Manila.

Many cite Burnham’s Beaux-Arts plan for the city of Chicago as one of the architect’s defining legacies,

Kahn's monolithic designs dot the arid landscape.
Masdar City is expected to be completed in the year 2030.
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In Tehran, Design Principles of American Suburbia Unexpectedly Persist

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Dennis Keller Image courtesy of Flickr user Dennis Keller

Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen is perhaps best known for pioneering the design of the American mall typology. His visions for these spaces sought to incorporate various aspects of the city into a single enclosed or indoor space, with a particular focus on consumption and commercial activity. His sprawling designs functioned as the perfect complement to America’s burgeoning leisure-driven consumer culture as a booming economy and an increase in car travel reinforced the possibilities of this new postwar way of life. Perhaps lesser-known, however, is Gruen’s commission from the Iranian government to design an urban plan for the city of Tehran in the late 1960s.

Courtesy of Business Traveler. Milad Tower overlooks Tehran. Courtesy of Business Traveler. Milad Tower overlooks Tehran.

At first glance, Tehran appears as a sprawling haphazardly assembled megacity at the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. In fact, Gruen’s masterplan for the city, which was designed in tandem with

outhdale Center. Courtesy of Life Magazine photo archiv.
Courtesy of Habitat Unit. A bird's eye view of Gruen's master plan.
URBED's vision for contemporary Garden Cities
Courtesy of Habitat Unit. Gruen designated highly specified uses of space in his plan for Tehran.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Amin H.
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Can Future Cities be Timber Cities? Google’s Sidewalk Labs Asks the Experts

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Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA reenvisioned the Empire State Building in mass timber construction Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA reenvisioned the Empire State Building in mass timber construction

Steel and concrete facades have dominated contemporary cityscapes for generations, but as pressures from climate change pose new challenges for design and construction industries, some firms are turning to mass timber as the construction material of the future. But could it be used for structures as complex as skyscrapers? 

Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA's proposal for a mass timber building in Newark Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA's proposal for a mass timber building in Newark

In Sidewalk Labs' inaugural City of the Future biweekly podcast, which focuses on new ideas and innovations poised to transform city life, hosts Eric Jaffe and Vanessa Quirk investigate the potential of—and pushback against—an emerging mass timber industry.

At the turn of the century in the United States, when cities were booming and new construction changed city skylines daily, wood was a common building material. As fires plagued early cities, however, a shift towards

Courtesy of MGA
Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA's proposal for a mass timber building in Newarko
University of British Columbia's Brock Commons, designed by Acton Ostry Architects Inc.
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Reimagining Cities in the Face of Climate Change and Migration

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Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut proposes recycling ocean trash as building materials for his futuristic floating cities. Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut proposes recycling ocean trash as building materials for his futuristic floating cities.

Migration as a result of changing climate has already begun. And while this poses enormous challenges for governments - particularly at a global moment that seems indisposed towards immigration and immigrants - there is also the concern that heritage will inevitably be lost. In places like Scotland, rising sea levels have put ancient sites at risk; the same is the case in island nations in the Pacific. As mounting environmental risks become more inevitable day by day, cities around the world are turning to more resilient forms of architecture and urban planning to combat both short term shocks and longer term pressures as a means of ensuring their future.

The effects of global climate change are far-reaching and invasive to almost every aspect of human life. Research indicates that human health, economic

"CALTROPe"–modular mangrove forests may help reduce agricultural land loss due to rising sea levels and erosion.
The Floating Island Project proposed for French Polynesia never became a reality, but will floating cities be the future of urban living?. Image© Blue Frontiers, via The New York Times
Also by Vincent Callebaut's firm, the "Dragonfly" project proposes a vertical urban farm in the heart of New York City's Hudson River.
The fantastical "Noah's Ark" designed by Aleksandar Joksimovic and Jelena Nikolic envisions a series of interconnected, floating islands that can house species displaced by climate change.. ImageDesigned by Aleksandar Joksimovic, Jelena Nikolic; image via eVolo
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Architecture: the Unsung Hero of Your Favorite Film

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Columbus, IN. Columbus, IN.

How does the built environment--whether fictitious or entirely founded in reality--impact how we experience and process film? From lesser-known indies to blockbuster movies, the ways in which architecture and the built environment inform everything from scene and setting, to dialogue and character development has far-reaching effects on the audience’s cinematic experience. Below, a roundup of everything from recent releases to classic cinephile favorites uncovers the myriad ways in which film utilizes architecture as a means of achieving a more authentic and all-encompassing form of storytelling.

An unrecognizable Los Angeles skyline in "Blade Runner 2049." An unrecognizable Los Angeles skyline in "Blade Runner 2049."

1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017), directed by Denis Villeneuve

Villeneuve’s sequel to the original 1982 neo-noir sci-fi classic transforms Ridley Scott’s eerie vision of future Los Angeles into an even more dire, environmentally-ravaged megalopolis. As the movie journeys across desolate landscapes and unfamiliar, crowded cityscapes, closer inspection renders Villeneuve’s vision perhaps not entirely

Gotham frames the Joker in this pivotal scene from "The Dark Knight."
Wakanda as seen from above.
Tokyo is both intensely fascinating and alienating for the film’s two protagonists.
The architecture of Columbus, IN functions as a character in its own right.
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The Sims Lend Aspiring Architects a Hand at World-Building

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Some gamers work diligently to recreate historically-accurate structures or design their own renditions. Some gamers work diligently to recreate historically-accurate structures or design their own renditions. Avid gamers and casual observers alike have probably heard of The Sims, a life simulation video game and one of Electronic Arts' (EA) most popular franchises. The Sims, which has undergone multiple iterations and expanded its virtual universe many times over the past decade, allows players to dream and control elaborate stories for their Sims. This "virtual dollhouse," as The Sims creator Will Wright describes, also lends players the ability to endlessly customize and construct their own houses and cities for their Sims–a feature that has allowed many gamers to interact more closely with the real world of architecture.
The Sims player Jason Sterling’s virtual rendition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage. The Sims player Jason Sterling’s virtual rendition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage.

As Dr. Luke Pearson, a lecturer in the University College London's prestigious Bartlett School of Architecture, observes, world-building games such as the

Mela Pagayonan's midcentury Modern inspired home in The Sims.
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