METROPOLIS, World City and EPCOT – visions for the perfect city
Susana Rosmaninho, 14 September 2021
Plato wrote in The Republic that ‘Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich”. But the halves depend on each other: the rich need labour and the poor need capital. As the following examples show, they do not necessarily need to be inspired by architects, writes Susana Rosmaninho
King Camp Gillette (1855-1932), the king of razor blades, planned in the late 19th century a majestic ideal city with an area of 30 by 120 km to accommodate the entire US population at the time: 70 million. He publishes the idea of the ideal society in The Human Drift (1894). METROPOLIS is the city where everything is organized for the purpose of producing, manufacturing and distributing the necessities of life.
'Under a perfect economical system of production and distribution, and a system combining the greatest elements of progress, there can be only one city on a continent, and possibly only one in the world.’ (Gillette) The megacity of METROPOLIS was to be located between Lakes Erie and Ontario,using Niagara Falls as an inexhaustible source of energy.
The technical description for the construction of this megapolis is very detailed and predates the chimerical urbanistic proposals of the Modernists by decades. In a hexagonal grid layout, 40,000 cylindrical apartment blocks would be built, with 25 floors, 180 m in diameter, and 1800 m apart from each other. METROPOLIS would have a perfect electrical transportation system and an above-ground infrastructure conduction system. It would have an indestructible sewage system, a perfect water distribution system, 100% efficient hot and cold air, and a fool-proof communications system.
Note how the idea of this man of vibrant avant-gardism, foresight and visionary thinking, finally results in 1926 in King Gillette Ranch. A 240-acre property in Malibu Creek Watershed, California, where Gillette builds a huge mansion in the best Spanish Colonial style.
The Norwegian-American sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen (1872-1940) lived his entire existence centred on the idea of the WORLD CITY. For Andersen, the World Centre of Communication would be ‘a fountain of overflowing knowledge, a project fed throughout the world and spreading throughout humanity art, science, religion, commerce, industry, law and physical culture’.
He hires a team of architects, led by Ernest Hébrard, who draw detailed plans and elevations of the buildings that would be topped by grandiose sculptures of his. He presents the idea in a book with weighing more than 5 kg in 1913, which was sent to the main heads of state of Europe and North America, where he suggested the location of the WORLD CITY in each country. Two copies were sent to Portugal. Andersen received replies from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1914 and from the director of the Porto Municipal Library in 1915. Hendrik builds a Villa in Rome, with his sister-in-law's money, named after his beloved mother, Hélenè. Located at 20 via Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, it is today the Museo Andersen. A municipal museum and probably the least visited in Italy – it closes at lunchtime, but is free. What we can see in the studio on the first floor is a huge number of plaster casts, bronzes, remarkable WORLD CITY drawings and even consult a copy of the book.
The sculptures, in a very late neo-classical style, are a celebration of youth and beauty of the body - especially male (the version of the Three Graces with men is hilarious).
Walter Elias Disney (1901-1966) invented Mickey Mouse and friends in 1928 and still holds the individual record for Oscars (22) today. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and often travelled to Mexico for peyote. In the movie ‘Dumbo’ (1941), the dream of the mouse Timothy and the elephant Dumbo is evidently the representation of an alkaloid trip.
In 1966, two months before he died of lung cancer, he presents a film with the idea of the Progress City or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), a perfect utopian community separated from the world. He devoted enormous resources to building in Florida this Waltopia: 20,000 people would be selected to live there. Everyone would have jobs, the inhabitants would be moved around by a system of monorails and the WEDWay PeopleMover (WED for Disney's initials). All car and heavy vehicle traffic would be underground at different levels.
This radial plan city would have as its epicenter a 30-storey hotel and a congress centre surrounded by shopping areas, recreating the experience of streets and places from all over the world. There would be only one entrance and one exit from the city.
Disney had a very detailed scale model of EPCOT with a diameter of 20 m (scale 1:750) built in the studio, and made several animated films with the city running, traffic, day and night. Today, less than half of the original scale model of EPCOT remains, and the idea of the city dreamed up by Disney has been transformed by the management of the animation empire into a theme park: Disneyland.
Susana Rosmaninho is a WAF judge at this year’s WAF Festival