FP_Ngai Section 11-12

Final Project | Ted Ngai, Lecturer


FP Students 2011-12 – Ted Ngai Section

According to the United Nations, more than half of the world’s population now resides in urban areas. WIth an estimation of 50 cities around the world growing at a staggering rate of more than 100,000 people per year, urbanization is now described by UN officials as “unstoppable”.  Many of these megacities are growing with such a rapid rate they are expected to merge into “mega-regions” or the so called “endless city” within the next few decades, with Hong Kong – Shenzhen – Guangzhou, China, leading the way with about 120 million people, 4 times the size of the Tokyo metropolitan, the largest city in the world today.

One of the most alarming factors of such rapid growth in these mega-regions, such as the West African economic belt – Nigeria, benin, Togo and Ghana, and the Northwest corridor of India – Mumbai to Delhi, is the lack of urban infrastructure that facilitates and manages the city’s metabolism – the material and energetic flows. Growth at such a rapid rate can have dire consequences to both its inhabitants and its environments. One such scenario presented itself in 2003 as SARS, a near pandemic incident killing 1000 people and shutting down more than 5 major cities around the world. The virus, originating from bats, crossed the xenographic barrier due to the collapse in proximity between densely populated environment and wildlife as a consequence of intense urban development.

Cities undergoing rapid growth destabilizes the intricate Climatic / Geographic / Ecologic balance. To identify and understand these relationships, our studio investigation began with students choosing 12 of the 50 fastest growing cities in the world (by more than 100,000 per year) and studying how these cities metabolize this sudden influx of immigrants, and how their surrounding landscapes respond to these newly engineered environments.

Assessment of each city followed an expanded version of Abel Wolman’s 1965 formulation of urban metabolism – “all the materials and commodities needed to sustain a city’s inhabitants at home, at work, and at play”. Each student began their research and analysis with the city’s food security, fresh and waste water management, pollution, and energy production / consumption issues. These metabolic factors are basic living resources and are fundamental to all built environments. The goal was to develop an understanding of how metabolic systems relate to the city’s unique context, and they can be used to shape our future cities.

As we developed the comparative studies and began juxtaposing the ad-hoc / on demand water delivery networks in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, the mega water infrastructure on and beneath the streets of Tokyo, and the ancient underground lake and fresh water delivery system in Mexico City , it became clear that metabolic mechanisms are trans-scalar, crossing the regional, local, and architectural boundaries. We also find in many other cities, architecture often plays an important role in shaping the city’s metabolism, thus it quickly became our goal to use this unique property of metabolic systems to inflict urban and ecological change through the development of architectural systems.

12 students will present their design proposals for 12 mega-cities around the world. The design proposals should not be considered as finished projects, but rather, they are performative frameworks devised at an architectural scale that would address our cities’ future at urban, socio-political, and ecological scales.


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Evan Douglis, Professor


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