Chicago’s New Babylon

This semester, I will be exploring Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon project. I will be attempting to explore the criteria of the New Babylon structure and philosophies, and attempt to recreate the project in a modern city, such as Chicago. As Mark Wigley, author of Constant’s New Babylon, puts it, “New Babylon might be the liberating way of the future, or it could just as easily be a nightmarish pleasure prison.” The “nightmarish pleasure prison” seems more accurate when looking at the images and paintings produced by Constant, but the philosophy behind it questions how a modern city is formed and Constant proposed a new and liberating way to perceive the city. As Constant puts it, “The modern city is a thinly disguised mechanism for extracting productivity out of its inhabitants, a huge machine that destroys the very life it is meant to foster.” When viewing it from the perspective, the “pleasure prison” seems to represent what the city is today. Constant continues to explain, “The increasingly traumatized inhabitants have to take over the shaping of their own spaces to recover the pleasure of living.”


These spaces located within the New Babylon structure are very flexible. There is no natural lighting within and all spaces are air conditioned, so it gives the inhabitant the ability to change temperature, lighting, and the program is flexible enough to move walls, floors, materials, etc. But where does these spaces come from, and what occupies them? Constant’s proposed city wanted every individual to be a nomadic artist, part of a larger utopian city of never-ending labyrinths. Constant believes commercial and residential spaces will become obsolete once the New Babylon project is developed. Since people do not work anymore businesses are closed. Manufacturing districts will stay to house robots that produce all of our clothes, food, etc. All residential spaces will be changed to agriculture to provide the manufacturing plants with raw materials and allow the city to be self-sustainable (this makes up for the lack of sustainability from air conditioning the whole city). Historical buildings and parks will stay to maintain the identity of the city. To foster transportation major roads, and train rails will remain in the city under the structure, and runways/ helicopter pads will be on top of the structure for further transportation. Antennas and cranes will also remain in the city.

Chicago – What Stays

To access the parks, rail lines, etc. the structure will be held up by massive columns. The structure starts anywhere between 15 and 20 meters over the ground (50′-65′). These columns continue to rise anywhere from 30 to 60 meters above the ground (100′-200′). The columns will cover about 10 to 20 hectares (a space 328′-1466′ by 328′-1466′). Because of the structure being so massive and commercial space and businesses becoming obsolete, I am proposing that some of Chicago’s tall building are cleared out and retrofit to become the columns to this New Babylon structure.

How do we know where the structure is is built? How does Constant get the abstract paths through the city? These paths are based on a concept invented by the Situationist, known as psychogeography . This has to do with an inhabitants desires. These paths, referred to as the dérive, have no destination and are not planned. The paths are generated from contours in the architecture and geography, which subconsciously direct the travelers. I will look into technologies similar to MIT’s StarLogo project. “StarLogo is a programmable modeling environment for exploring the workings of decentralized systems — systems that are organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator. With Logo, you can model (and gain insights into) many real-life phenomena, such as bird flocks, traffic jams, ant colonies, and market economies.” MIT’s Logo project draws and animates “turtles” (the travelers) paths as they cover “patches” (space) and is influenced by the patches (the architecture and geography). The Star Logo project is similar to the Logo project, but Star Logo is able to apply this to thousands of “turtles” instead of just one.

“Every aspect of the environment can be controlled and reconfigured spontaneously; Social life becomes architecture play; architecture becomes a flickering display of interacting desires.”

Plan Proposal


city wifi usage

the launch of Connect Chicago,  a loose network of more than 250 places in the city where internet and computer access, digital skills training, and online learning resources are available—for free.

y way of background, Connect Chicago is a part of the Public Computer Centers grant  received by the City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has also awarded a grant to support this project. Smart Chicago administers many portions of this grant, including the Connect Chicago portion. 

Most of the locations in the Connect Chicago system have been serving the community for many, many years. Wi-fi and public computers have been available in the Chicago Public Library for more than a decade. Community technology centers— supported in part with programs like the State of Illinois’ Eliminate the Digital Divide Program (going back to 2001)— have been essential parts of neighborhoods for many years. Home-grown classes on social media and photo sharing have been taught in senior centers since the days of Friendster. This robust, caring, and rich environment is the basis for our work.

“Chicago will be one of the most connected cities in the world,” said Emanuel. “The establishment of a world-class broadband network in Chicago will create thousands of jobs and dramatically improve educational opportunities, economic development, health care services, and general quality of life throughout the city.”

The City of Chicago is releasing a Request for Information (RFI) today, that seeks to engage private companies, universities, and other organizations to accomplish three main goals: building world-class broadband infrastructure for the city; extending broadband service into underserved areas; and providing free Wi-Fi access in public spaces throughout Chicago.

connect chicago



location of connect chicago