Imagining the Emergent City

I am fascinated by the thought of future cities. Even more so after hearing CJ Lim, visiting professor at RMIT from the Bartlett, give a public lecture at Storey Hall this week. CJ’s research into future urbanism is unique and imaginative. Throughout history and even until today, there has been three main philosophical Urban Design traditions:

1) Empiricistshow does it feel? They believe the city should be designed according to experience, with ideas that arise from reflection on information received through our senses.

2) Rationalists – what is the logic? The city governed by logical thinking, the like of Corb and other champions of rational principles.

3) Pragmatic – how does it work? A solution focussing on practical implementation such as Hillier.

However I could not pin point CJ. His visions encompass culture and identities, eco-friendly designs all the way to fiction and sci-fi. One analogy that stood out to me most was when he likened the city to the Garden of Eden. In this Garden man had everything he needed. This concept has changed today where the food we eat come from all over the world raising concerns such as food miles and food security. To overcome the current situation we need to empower communities that produce food. Why not bring the city to the countryside? Lim talks about the idea of a future ‘smartcity’ where agriculture and urbanisation co-exist enabling a more sustainable way of living.

Another aspect to Lim’s work is the development of narratives that shape his designs. He refers to Lebbeus Wood and Roland Barthes as story-tellers. Narrative is, after all, like life itself and has the power to cross cultures. He also finds Jules Verne an inspiration. The 19th century author wrote about air, sea and space travels before technology made such expeditions possible. In this sense he was ahead of his time and was truly speculative. When we think about future cities we need to be the same. Perhaps this is why Lim’s designs for the future have yet to be realized in real life. However his research and work have undoubtedly influenced a wide range of people all over the world. Not to mention his drawings and models are some of the most creative and intriguing I have ever seen. Photomontage at it’s best:

Lastly the lecture ended with a very fitting quote from Einstein:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you anywhere.”

More information on CJ can be found here as well as his website

Images from


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