Seeing the Big Picture: Cities of the Future. #architecture #eco

For the first Urbanverse guest blogger, I am very pleased to  welcome Ana Maria Manzo, an architect practicing in Valencia, Venezuela. Thank you, Ana, for this excellent inaugural contribution on future cities.

by Ana Maria Manzo


I remember hearing that when designing a park, the best way to define the route that would follow the trails, was to put a group of people in the area and observe the paths they followed, the places where they stopped to take breaks.

When I think of how to design future cities, it always comes to my mind that idea I heard once. From my point of view, it is people, those who will be the inhabitants of the cities of the future, who hold the key to show us the way toward a better life.

To create successful cities, we must begin by reviewing what we have, the way we live, what people want and need, and evolve from there.

Architecture should be made by people and for people, and not for architects. We must remember that not everyone in the world are architects, therefore, not everyone has the ability to visualize things that have not been created yet, because they have not been trained for it, unlike us. Accordingly, not everyone will easily accept the idea of feeling comfortable in a place so different than the one they are accustomed to living.

An architect who faces the image of a city of the future may think it is impressive and exciting; can feel drawn to it and compelled to find ways to make it real as soon as possible; live the change, experience the differences.

Proposals such as the one presented by the Venus Project makes us dream and believe that change is close.

Part 1:

Part 2:

But it is precisely this type of change the one that comes to my mind when I write about non-architects not being able to visualize and relate easily to; drastic changes that erase what we have, eliminating cities and creating new ones. It is possible that this is the best solution to create a better future, but the truth is that there are many people that we must convince first. And the best way to do it is by identifying their needs and then designing based on them.

Big changes are already happening in some countries.


Masdar, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.



Dongtan, China



BedZED, London, U.K.

These are some examples that show us that it can be done; but there are still many skeptics.

For non-architects, or at least for some of them, the images of these cities of the future they find online, are a crazy fantasy; many may even get afraid when seeing them, fear of change, of the unknown. And, as a result of this fear, rejection appears.


(I think this picture is scary even to me)

That is why I think change should be gradual, at least in the most skeptic countries but, above all, should be made thinking of non-architects. We must think of the best way to reach people, to sell to them our futuristic ideas which have to be created based on their own needs so they can relate to them. I think the most important thing is to take one step at a time so as not to frighten these countries with an absolute transformation, in one fell swoop. Small changes are easier to digest, therefore, are more likely to be accepted quickly and can be seeing come true in the short term, unlike what would happen to big changes.

We must see the big picture, dream big and go after that dream; and sometimes the best way to do it is by making small positive changes which will gradually turn into big changes for the world and its inhabitants.

Let´s observe the paths that people follow and change the world one small change at a time…

Ana María Manzo

I am a Venezuelan architect who has devoted the last nine years to developing residential, commercial, industrial, and interior design projects. I have designed for Chrysler, Kraft, and Lucky Strike, among others. I recently started writing, which has been my passion for years. An eternal daydreamer, always looking for happy thoughts.

twitter: @anammanzo

blog:the place of dreams

Images credits

Scary future

The Venus Project





What’s Next for 21st Century Cities? Part 2


Yesterday, I posted ten trends from The Futurist magazine Outlook 2010, which I selected from approximately 80 topics and modified them to apply to cities. The trends were organized into ten domains. I covered five of them in Part I: Environmental, Government, Habitats, Health and Medicine, and Information Society.


Today, I look at the other four domains. (One area in Outlook 2010, “Business”, didn’t cover any issues with distinct implications for cities, as strange as that may seem.)


Lifting ideas from The Futurists’ prognostications and modifying them for 21st century communities, here are ten forecasts that will shape cities. I added comments in italics.


Lifestyles and Values

1.      Transit Oriented Cities. While 7 out of 8 Americans own cars today, only two-thirds will own cars in coming decades. We already see car sharing, more bikes and a strong push for public transit. The biggest change over time will be in denser, mixed used communities, based on infill and adaptive reuse to retrofit areas and for new developments.

2.      Active Older Population. The oldest segment, Centenarians, is also the fastest growing and will double. Furthermore, this group along with people over 70 is healthier, more active and has more resources. They will demand buildings and public spaces that accommodate older bodies and activities and experiences that cater to their needs.

3.      Virtual Reality as Testing Platform. While The Futurist listed VR as an area to expand research on ethics and moral dilemmas, I think that that we will also see the AEC professions, government agencies and private developers test development ideas via virtual environments. Primitive technology at this time, it may soon be a mandatory means of sharing development plans. Design professionals always wanted more public participation – be careful what you wish for! It could be a tidal wave.

Science and Technology

4.      Brain-to-Brain Telepathy. Or brain-to-thing messages. For example, we can think our house warm, lights on, windows closed, or oven cooking. Particularly useful for people with health problems such as dementia or physical disabilities. The twitter house experiment demonstrates the possibilities.

5.      3D Prototype Printing. These printers which are now used for fabricating manufactured parts and making architectural models will enable people to print objects ranging from building parts to containers to furniture. Distribution, shopping patterns and object design will change as a result.

Work and Careers

6.      Growing Workforce; Shrinking Talent Pool. Financial concerns and healthy aging may add to the workforce with delayed or partial retirement. Yet a shortage of technology workers is looming. Workplaces would need to accommodate an older workforce, and public transit and nearby services become even more important. A countertrend is increased robotics which could reduce available jobs. Furthermore, education needs a full re-vamping, integrated into all levels of activity from personal finance to upgrading our employment potential.

7.      Terrorism Thwarted. Jihadist rehabilitations programs sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and others may shrink global terrorism. To me, that sounds as amazing as a cure for cancer! However, perceived problems can still change behavior and people may seek protection with gated communities, secure buildings, and fortified corporate and government facilities.

8.      China Largest Economy by 2025. China will shift to consumer driven while the US slips from the top 20 countries in GDP per capita. In addition to being a location for possible development projects, China will exert cultural influence in design, innovation, and education that will influence cities and architecture globally.

World Affairs

9.      Post-Peak Oil Era. While developed countries will shift to alternative energy sources, nations such as Saudi Arabia will be faced with high unemployment, increased poverty, and slums. These countries may become more open or more insular.

10.     Information Warfare. Security of infrastructure from energy to transportation will become increasingly troublesome. We may find centralized solutions and ubiquitous rfid “smart” technologies can create too many weaknesses. In fact, data security could cause more “off-grid” behavior unless absolutely necessary, which would change internet dependent entertainment, communications, education, and work habits. A walk in the park may find a new generation of enthusiasts.

Adding yesterday’s list, that’s twenty images of the future that will change the way we use and build cities:

Colorful Solar Energy                      Transit Oriented Cities

Flooded Coastal Cities                   Active Older Population

Local Fragmentation                       Virtual Reality as Testing Platform

China’s Ascent                                  Brain-to-Brain Telepathy

Healthy Cities                                   3D Prototype Printing

Car-Free Cities                                  Growing Workforce; Shrinking Talent Pool

Suburban Woes                               Terrorism Thwarted

Sensors and Nano-technology     China Largest Economy by 2025

Augmented Reality                          Post Peak Oil Era

Telecommuting                                Information Warfare


However, the list is far from complete in defining tomorrow’s cities – not that The Futurist made any bones about it being a comprehensive survey, and they did not focus on cities in particular.

In fact, the lack of attention to the built environment struck me as a complete oversight, and inspired me to write these two articles. Cities are ascending, we are an urbanized planet for the first time in history. Surely that deserves our attention in 2010.

What’s missing? Off the top of my head: megacities, slums, robotics, geo-engineering, smart infrastructure, diffused energy sources, tribal communities, prefabrication, nanotech, and urban farming, just to name a few.

Many other critical trends will shape 21st century cities, which warrants another post – big ideas looming outside the scope of Outlook 2010.

In the meantime, what do you think of the 20 trends from The Futurist? Are any more critical, exciting, or terrifying? And what do you think might be missing?


Image: Buckminster Fuller: Dome over Manhattan, 1960, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller