Urban Land Institute conference: imagining the future

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Property Week reports from Paris, at the annual conference.

It is hard to tell whether this image (above) depicts the stuff of psychedelic dreams or real life.

For Steven Rayner, emeritus professor of Oxford University and co-director of the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, who presented the picture to delegates at the Urban Land Institute’s annual conference in Paris last week, it shows the importance of imagination in helping cities to evolve.

“I’m not suggesting people will live in floating cities in the sky,” he says. “But the image is a reminder that the future of cities is not just a design challenge, it is a fundamental challenge of the human imagination.”

The unusual installation was created by Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno and forms part of his “Cloud Cities” project to build impressions of a sustainable city in the sky, with bubble-like cells fuelled by solar energy. With this image, Rayner wanted to show how human inventions have shaped our cities and will continue to do so. He noted architects such as the Netherlands’ Koen Olthuis, who is circumventing flood risk by building “floating villages” (second image).

Others have used aeronautical design to increase air flow to buildings in sun-scorched deserts — as at Lord Foster’s Masdar City in Abu Dhabi — or have proposed renewable technologies to turn an offshore oil station into a conservation park (CGI, third image).

“Cities, when you think about it,” says Rayner, “are very much the product of human dreams.”

More insights from the conference at Property Week parent UBM’s www.UBMFutureCities.com

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