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


Social Media as a Tool for Urban Design

This video discusses how we can use social media as a design tool for the city. Speakers talk about harvesting the twitter, foursquare, and sonar data through APIs and how this relates to an urban environment. Peoples movement patterns are studied through check-ins on four square. What tools can we use to connect people through the city? What services are people going outside their neighborhoods for? Is there an opportunity for small businesses to move in and do we have zoning or business licenses in place to support this?  For instance, if people are going far to go to the coffee shop etc. As the video demonstrates these types of technologies are already being used by Starbucks.

By looking at these movement patterns and trends on twitter give we can begin to identify a place. By using geo locations one can begin to map these qualities of the city. What type of rezoning of neighborhoods would support small business and create jobs in communities in Chicago?

Sarah Williams discusses a research project, Industry in Motion, which studies the movement patters of fashion designers in the New York Garment District. This area is under contention for rezoning. Designers check in throughout the day in Foursquare. What she explains is that this manufacturing is important to the vitality not only locally but regionally. The manufacturing sector has declined greatly in the U.S., for example in Detroit with the loss of the auto manufacturing industry, and we need these type of manufacturing sectors they support our work force.

What do these moving patterns tell us in Chicago?

New York Garment District: Designer Movements (Manufacturing Industry) through Foursquare