Cities are all pretty much the same -- just sprawling environments spiraling outward from a central hub with no particular plan or theme to speak of. But if any of these designers had had his way, every city would be a bizarre, science fiction-esque place full of strange sights, wondrous inventions and occasionally, people-movers slick with vomit.
In the 1960's, Buckminster Fuller (the geodesic dome guy) was commissioned by Matsutaro Shoriki, a wealthy Japanese patron, to design a city in Japan. This architectural marvel was to be a tetrahedron that measured two miles on each side, capable of housing one million residents, and would be located in Tokyo Bay. Not along Tokyo Bay, but in Tokyo Bay. Floating.
It's about time that shiftless ocean pulled its weight.
The tetrahedron shape provided many benefits as well, like maximizing the availability of outside living area, and protecting residents from potentially fatal falls off of the tall buildings (guard rails were not to be invented until 1992, by Sir Preston Guardrail, of the Oxford Guardrails). Unfortunately, Shoriki died in 1966, which brought an end to the plans for the gargantuan artificial floating pyramid. Until the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development caught wind of the idea. So Fuller went to work on a scaled-down model for the US, called Triton City.
Triton anticipated a lower maximum population of just over 100,000 people, and was also to be the first fully organic city, complete with a desalination system to re-circulate ocean water. Schematics for Triton were sent to the United States Navy's Bureau of Ships, to check it for "water-worthiness," stability and organic capabilities, then off to the Bureau of Yards and Docks to see whether or not they could even build this thing, specifically at the cost they had projected. Both Bureaus gave the thumbs up, and the Navy's cost estimate came within 10% of Buckminster's. And that's probably the craziest part of Triton: At every stage, it was going to work.
Except maybe the "convincing people to move into a giant floating pyramid" stage.
So why aren't you living in a floating metal pyramid, mocking the ocean and all her impotent fury? Like all things, you can probably blame Lyndon B. Johnson for that: The plans had taken too long to get approval, and by the time they did, LBJ left office and took all support for the idea with him. He even took the Triton City model when he left and put it in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum. You guys didn't play nice, so he just took his futuristic water-city and went home.
"LBJ, LBJ, how many floating futuristic ocean cities did you kill today?"
Metropolis isn't just a fictional city ruled by a power-mad Aryan Ubermensch. It was originally a real place -- or at least it was going to be. Just prior to the turn of the 20th century, King Camp Gillette (yes, the shaving guy) had a slightly different idea for Metropolis:
You missed a spot there, buddy.
"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."
No more Chicago, Miami or L.A. Just one gargantuan city, home to everyone in North America, and maybe, eventually, the entire planet. Sure, there would be other, smaller areas scattered throughout the country for people to work for temporary periods of time, and even others to vacation in, but Metropolis would be "home to the people." All 6,075 square miles of it, located directly over Niagara Falls.
And we can't stress this enough: In no way was it a mammoth training base for King Gillette's Razor-troopers.
Gillette's plan was to use the falls not only as the main source of water but also to power the city. The design and layout of the buildings themselves were so brutally efficient that we wouldn't see their likeness again until the pod towers of The Matrix.
And Gillette was dead serious about his mega-city. Not only did he write a book on the subject of Metropolis, detailing dimensions and specific methods of implementation, he also wrote a book on the hypothetical company that should create and manage it. He offered the presidency of said company to Theodore Roosevelt at the bargain price of $1 million. Which seems like a pretty fair trade once you realize that one of Gillette's main goals was to abolish the concept of money entirely.
"I will give you complete control of the entire continent in exchange for 1 million nothings!"
Imagine you're standing on the Great Wall of China. Now, imagine that instead of endless miles of inert brick, you're instead gazing upon a long, thin line of bustling city. Welcome to Roadtown, Edgar Chambless' idea for a two-room-wide, two-story-tall technological utopia. The uppermost levels are reserved for the recreation area of the roof promenade, the apartment levels are below that and the employment levels below those, and underneath it all is a three-level underground railway system, which is good, because when everything is located along one long, straight line, it's going to take fucking forever to get anywhere. It's basically Traffic Jam: The City.
All the fun of riding in a cramped train, with none of the benefits of ever actually arriving anywhere.
The problem with the early 1900s city designs, Chambless figured, was that land was being underutilized because of a lack of transportation. And like most terrible ideas, his started off being absolutely right: That was the biggest problem of the early 20th century. But where the rest of the world proposed building up (thus the popularization of the skyscraper), Chambless instead proposed building out, in a long, continuous line. He thought that transportation and utilities would be improved by running things linearly, which would allow services like heat, water, electricity, phone and public transportation to be universally available and easy to maintain.
Chambless obviously never had to deal with Christmas tree lights.
Of course, like all mad city builders, Chambless couldn't quit with just one weird concept: He also proposed that all meals would be cooked in cooperative kitchens and then delivered via the underground transportation system. Afterward, dishes and dirty linens would be dropped down a chute for delivery to a centralized dish- and clothes-washing room. The problem, of course, being that the already taxed two-lane, three-story rail system -- which is the only means of transportation -- is now attempting to ferry not only every person in the city in a straight line, but also all of their clothes and meals. Chambless essentially wanted to eliminate an entire dimension by tacking all the contents of said dimension onto the ends of a giant line.
But at least his heart was in the right place: The dish, dinner and laundry systems were all conceived to help free women from the stereotypical homemaker role. Chambless felt that women were being suckered into the position of household servant, and he wished to abolish "woman's economic dependence on man that makes her a sexual slave." And somehow, through a series of labyrinthine insanities that only Chambless, God and a litany of confounded psychiatrists can know, he figured that women were being oppressed only because cities were just too goddamn wide.
"We demand the right to vote! And also the right to live in a hellish tube of horrors!"