A Point In Design

Architecture News – The Physics of Cities & Economies
September 19, 2011, 4:15 am
Filed under: Architecture News

This was a fascinating lecture given by Geoffrey West, a physicist on the development of cities presented at the most recent TED Conference in July 2011. The material is a little dense and somewhat difficult to follow, but the gist of the lecture being that cities, economies and even businesses follow a clearly traceable growth pattern (hockey stick shape) where growth is initially robust then falls into a linear growth pattern, then finally levels off and begins a slow decline. My initial reaction to his findings was that his research was simply an exercise demonstrating regression to the mean (regression analysis to all those who took econometrics/statistics); yet thinking back to my days in economics West’s results do make sense. The law of diminishing marginal returns, the rate of return equalization principal, Kondratieff Wave Cycle theory, Marxian economics and the work of Manfred Max-Neet, the Chilean economist all echo West’s findings, although this was not discussed in the lecture. Below is the lecture.

Returning to Architecture, West’s discussion of what cities will look like in the future was also thought provoking. He showed two slides, one of the slums of Rio and another city (which looked like Sydney) with Central Park like recreational areas pondering which was the image of the future. Architects have taken various approaches to urban planning over the years, from L’Enfant’s grid plan for Washington DC, to Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin creating high rises around parks. The high rise model was adopted starting the 1950s, but the parks were always left out for budgetary or space reasons. West seemed to think that the slum model is where we are heading and in a zero growth economy he may be right. Your thoughts on the future of cities?

Slums of Rio

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