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Cinematic Urbanism and Future-Making
Alex Steffen, 1 May 06

We need to be building better cities, but since we can't build what we can't imagine, the first thing we need to be doing is imagining and portraying better cities.

Ally Geoff Manaugh notes that another tool for urban future-making is already here. Architects have long drawn their visions as a means of convincing others to build them; now, Geoff says, as digital tools make drawings easier to produce, urban visionaries can expand their ideas into other media:

[They can use] short narrative films as a means to communicate new ideas about urban design and architecture. In other words, once an architect or urban planner has designed his or her cityscapes, buildings, or streets; once he or she has added pedestrians, parks, backgrounds, skies, atmospheres, and weather systems; once there are night scenes, day scenes, aerial views, ground views, interior perspectives, etc. – why stop there? Edit it all into a two or three minute sequence, give it some music, give it a voice-over, give it some dialogue, put some ideas behind it, etc. etc., and you've got a short film that shows off your architectural vision of the city.

Motion and perspective change are themselves useful tools for showing the nature of envisioned space, but there is more to the idea of cinematic urbanism that mere camera shifts. For, if we're serious about imagining better cities, we need to not just tell about them but show them coming alive. They may be visual tools, but too often plans and drawings can become a pedantic way of telling your audience about ones ideas. Geoff asks, "What's the plot?" and he's dead right: great places are not merely engineering feats, they are performances which change the stories of those living in and moving through them. We need to not only describe how a bright green city is possible, but show how it will feel to live and work there, and for that, we need stories.

(Image from a Bartlett class which is teaching these techniques to architecture students)

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Ah, sim city for the professionals!

Architectural modeling and design software keeps getting better and better. But I hope these CG movies will do more than just sell a vision or concept to investors, real estate magnates and civil engineers.

I think what would really be cool is to plug all these modeling programs into some kind of city-wide or county-wide environment simulator with realtime or historical traffic, power grid and weather data. That way they can attempt to predict how a new corporate office part might lead to snarls on a nearby freeway. Or they can learn design better buildings to prevent heat build up or cold blasts of wind in the streets below. Or, best of all, they could figure out ways to revitalize dying neighborhoods.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 3 May 06



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