Friday, November 21, 2014

"Metropolis," Plus 120 Years

(From King Camp Gillette, via Cornell University Library, used w/o permission.)
(Plates V and I, "Metropolis," King Champ Gillette)

"The Human Drift"
King Camp Gillette (1894)

"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. There would be outlying groups of buildings in different sections of the country for the accommodation of those who were, for limited periods, in the field of labor, and also others that would be occupied as resorts of pleasure in season; but the great and only 'Metropolis' would be the home of the people...."

A major problem with this proposal is in the third word of the first paragraph. It's been the Lemming's experience that humans don't do "perfect." "Not bad," "it'll do," "it could be worse," yes: "perfect," no.

To Mr. Gillette's credit, he realized that a city needs power: which is why his Metropolis was set east of Niagara Falls. Humans still draw energy from water flowing downhill, which helps explain Las Vegas. As usual, where humans are involved, it's more complicated than that.

"...The Whole World Would Contribute...."

"...Here should be located the great central city, which would be the home of all; and to the artistic beauty, grandeur, and magnificence of this wonderful production of the combined intelligence of a united people, the whole world would contribute its wealth and treasures...."

King C. Gillette was a smart man. He invented a very practical safety razor — he's that Gillette — and put quite a bit of thought into the physical design of his Metropolis.

He was also a utopian socialist, and thought all industry in the United States should be owned by one company, with everyone living in one city.

Bear in mind that this was back in the 19th century: long before anyone tried putting his nifty ideas into practice.

It's possible to build a city in some arbitrary spot, and make it work. Brasília, for example, is east of the Tocantins River headwaters, more or less, because Brazil's national government said that's where the country's capital should be.

Most cities, though, grow where humans are getting something done. Some of Earth's largest cities are break-in-bulk points, where humans haul stuff from one form of transportation to another.

That's why humans have been building at Londinium for some 10,000 years now. The locals are calling it "London" now, and it'll probably be a population center 10,000 years from now.

Crossroads are another favorite, and some cities grow because there's a valuable natural resource nearby that's needed for some industry.

But enough about real cities. Let's look at Gillette's Metropolis again.

"Sitting Rooms" and a Zigzag Outer Wall

(From King Champ Gillette, via Cornell University Library, used w/o permission.)
(Plates VI and IV, "Metropolis," King Champ Gillette)

Most American houses and apartments don't have "sitting rooms" these days, but Gillette's floor plan has features that could be used today.

That zigzag outer wall, for example, gives each apartment a dozen windows on the side walls: without having tenants staring into the neighbor's home.

Gillette's paper showed how these huge apartment blocks could be built, one tower at a time: presumably with the central dome added after the ring was complete.

Social and economic aspects aside, Gillette's residential blocks strike the Lemming as having workable features. That hundred-yard-tall domed atrium could be a really nice feature this time of year: where the Lemming lives, in Minnesota.

On the other hand, one of those 25-story apartment buildings would have 450 units. At six people per unit, that's 2,700 folks living in one building. Two of them would have room for everyone living in the Lemming's town, with room left over.

It's a little hard to imagine a good reason for going to the trouble of building something that size here, though.

More posts that aren't completely unrelated:
More about cities and hexagons:


Brigid said...

Forgot to create an actual headline here: "asfasdf"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Found, fixed, and thanks!

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