Friday, 31 July 2015

The Maximally Deployable Modular City

The high density modular city.
A sustainable alternative to the unconstrained growth of megacities?

Tay Kheng Soon is a practising architect and academic, who has spent many years thinking about cities and urbanism. He was also a friend of my father, and someone I saw a lot of when I lived in Singapore. Here, he proposes a possible solution to the problems resulting from the unconstrained growth of megacities due to the rural poor migrating to them and slums developing at their fringes.

The solution he proposes is the construction of modular cities: high density, high tech, urban environments, occupying 1 square kilometre, housing 100,000 people.

By having the services and motorised vehicles at ground level and constructing the city above the roads, an entirely car-free urban environment is created, where there are only pedestrians and bicycles on the streets.

By banishing vehicles, the city can be built on the scale of historical ones prior to the motor car era, with streets and squares on a human scale.

This, it is suggested, offers a way of reversing the growth of megacities that threatens to engulf the countryside, while offering the inhabitants of the new modular cities a good quality of life, and allowing the regeneration of degraded agricultural land.

 Rural populations migrate to slums at the edges of megacities

The construction of modular cities allows this trend to be reversed

Key to the modular city is a degree of autonomy and self sufficiency in energy, food, water and waste recycling through the use of new technology, currently under development, but possibly close to realisation.

I enjoyed watching the video, and I think there are some interesting and good ideas, but I also have some reservations about the concept.

I like the idea of high density urban living on a human scale. It's what makes many mediaeval and renaissance cities so attractive. By banishing cars, and freeing up the space they require, this becomes  possible once again in the modern world

I like the idea of a city where there is complete separation of motorised traffic from pedestrianised streets, hence my fondness for Venice, where the streets are for pedestrians, and the canals for boats. The idea of putting all the motorised traffic below the city is intriguing, and it might just work.

I'm less keen on the zoning scheme in which the middle classes live at the edge, and the poor people in the centre. In my experience, places where the rich and the less well-off live amongst each other have a greater vitality and interest.

The technologies by which it is proposed that these modular cities can be self sustaining are not yet in production, although perhaps they might be around the corner. More problematic are the political structures by which it is proposed these modular cities might be established and sustained, especially since many of the megacities are in regions that are totalitarian and corrupt.

Still, it did give me some food for thought, and I'd be interested to know what you think.


plantOS said...

Found this post and your blog from Reddit (/r/Futurology/). Like the concept of a modular city to scale in harmony with nature. My tech startup is working on high tech precision agriculture or automated aeroponic farming(combination of IoT and Big Data). We have similar principles in mind and we are based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Do check us out at or @plant-os. We should talk.

Peregrinating Penguin said...

That looks interesting. I'll pass your details on to Kheng Soon, the originator of the Modular City concept. And I'll be following you on Twitter :)

Lynn said...

This article ( makes an interesting contribution to the debate. It poses the question of whether it's even possible to design the ideal city.