How do we want our cities to look like in the 21st century?

Longread9 Jun 2016

Imagine a city you can not see on Google Earth! An article by SUPERFUTUREGROUP.

Cities were and remain the center of innovation, exchange, interests, culture and art. Increasing urbanization is taking place all over the world. At the beginning of the 21st century more than 50 percent of world population lives in cities and according to United Nations in 2050 this number will rise to nearly 70 percent. In Western countries urbanization is already slowing down and the challenge is to optimize and update existing structures. With the change from an industrial society to a service and knowledge society, cities offer numerous development opportunities for today's highly individualized and fully connected society. The main challenge of cities which want to play a role in the competition for businesses and residents face will be to offer a high level of living quality.

Even if we are aware of the positive effects which nature is able to provide in cities, we pay almost no attention to the complex and subtle ways, in which architecture and nature can relate to each other. History showed us extraordinary examples of visionary projects which explore new models of coexistence between buildings and nature. Lots of those concepts seem to be forgotten.
The mixed use building complex “Cité des Étoiles” in Ivry sur Seine, Paris 1970-1975 manifests Jean Renaudie’s antithesis to functionalism. He converted the understanding of a city into a living organism of diversity, whose parts are closely related. He claimed vegetation as a necessary condition in living environments and believed in the right to enjoy a portion of natural space, not just a balcony but a real terrace where trees could grow.
As a contemporary position Sou Fujimoto envisions in his Energy Forestproject a proposal for the 21st Century Energy Station. A largescale structure as place where light, wind, and rich vegetation mixes with theactivity of people, vehicles, insects and animals. He transforms the energy station of the 20th century, formed as a place of efficiency and transit, into a place of complexity combining qualities of road and square. Located in the center of cities like Tokyo and Rome Fujimoto’s imaginary Energy Forest opens a door to new programs and typologies of activity and communication for highly urbanized areas.
As initial project of our practice we developed “UrbanSuper Forest” contributing to such understanding of city. In an international study by Mercer,  the city which is ranked first in living quality is Vienna. In this context it seemed interesting to seek for Vienna's hidden potential to transform into the “city of 21 century”. The fact that growth of cities all over the world is connected with extending into “green land” we decided to flip this reality by transforming the existing city to an invisible city, combining urban and nature and giving back green land. In highly urbanized areas the understanding of landscape changes. Landscape is not an untouched natural area on the outskirts of cities anymore, it is more an important part of the city, which contributes to a high quality of life and a better urban climate. But above all people change the relationship and awareness to their cities. 
Our idea is changing the “Google Earth” view of Vienna radically, while keeping the existing “Charm” of urban live on the streets of Vienna. Combining this idea of the big scale transformation of the roof-level into an urban forest, with the human scale, how inhabitants would live in this new surrounding we analyzed the status quo of housing production. It turned out that very few of new built housing estates are taking response to our changing society. For younger generations benefit get more and more priority than owning. This approach provides a flexible way to customize a mobile lifestyle.Responding to this needs we programmed a new housing typology of sharing communities, which combine qualities of single family houses and urban lifestyle. Understanding habitation as an open structure filled with possibilities and opportunities opens a wide area for new ways of socialized housing. Any urban program interacting with nature in a symbiotic way creates unknown hybrid forms of architecture and reacts automatically to basic human needs. In this we also see more potential for using Urban Super Forest for different cities, as well as for mixing different program.


Urban Super Forest is a radical way of transforming cities and pushing there complexity by adding a layer based on a new housing typology.
In 2017 a group of citizens realized a rooftop extension shaped like terraced housing platforms at 1st district of Vienna. These platforms where like stacked little paradises covered with dense vegetation. Designing homes based on their own visions of an ideal living environment, they got avantgardes of shaping future cities. Their housing platforms gave specific answers to major problems of modern cities. Using existing infrastructure and extending them vertically with light wooden constructions, result in higher density and reduce land-use. Wood as main structural material lowers primary energy use by 1/3 and functions as gigantic carbon dioxide storage. Combing qualities of forest ecosystems and urban metropolis, the existing city is transforming in a radical way. A synthesis of architecture and nature evolves a complex new organism. In 2050 almost 96% Vienna roofs are activated as URBANSUPERFOREST.


Every community is directly connected to public forest platforms in front of their doors and inhabitants of the existing buildings use the added forest landscape as a welcome outside space. Trees improve air quality, help to lower temperature and moderate local climate. Other benefits of living between trees are shade, humidity, wind and acoustic control and stress reduction.


Advantages of living in communities are evident in sharing space, tools and time. Minimizing living area of Austrian average from 41,6m² by 50% to ~20,6m² is only achievable in totally new forms of housing. Reducing private space with smart furniture in prefabricated boxes, inhabitants get between their flats generous spaces for shared use, including kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, offices and workshops for people to meet, socialize and play.


Prefabricated wooden ergonomic boxes respond to the needs of different types of people (singles, couples, friends, multigenerational families...). When a family grows/decreases they can expand/reduce the flat by adding/subtracting modules by reorganizing the community. The pocket size boxes have a system of flexible furniture (hidden beds, mobile tables, folding elements). Every flat has a kitchen and bathroom what makes it autonomous.

SUPERFUTUREGROUP (Anna Jurkiewicz & Robert Lamprecht) is an architectural office based on the international experience of the co-founders. Focused on improving living conditions and thinking about future developments of cities. Our mission is to explore new ways of responding to a changing world. We are open to new unexpected ideas, entirely devoted to architecture and urbanism and ready to make life better.