How we can design timeless cities for our collective future | Vishaan Chakrabarti

Travel with me to some of the most beautiful spots
in cities around the world: Rome’s Spanish steps; the historic neighborhoods
of Paris and Shanghai; the rolling landscape of Central Park; the tight-knit blocks of Tokyo or Fez; the wildly sloping streets
of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; the dizzying step wells of Jaipur; the arched pedestrian bridges of Venice. Now let’s go to some newer cities. Six downtowns built across
six continents in the 20th century. Why do none of these places
have any of the charming characteristics of our older cities? Or let’s go to six suburbs built
on six continents in the 20th century. Why do none of them have
any of the lyrical qualities that we associate with the places
that we cherish the most? Now, maybe you think
I’m just being nostalgic — why does it matter? Who cares if there is this creeping
sameness besetting our planet? Well, it matters because
most people around the world are gravitating to urban areas globally. And how we design those urban areas
could well determine whether we thrive or not as a species. So, we already know that people
who live in transit-rich areas, live in apartment buildings, have a far lower carbon footprint than their suburban counterparts. So maybe one lesson from that
is if you love nature, you shouldn’t live in it. (Laughter) But I think the dry statistics of what’s known as
transit-oriented development only tells part of the story. Because cities, if they’re
going to attract people, have to be great. They have to be powerful magnets
with distinctive appeal to bring in all those new green urbanites. And this is not just
an aesthetic issue, mind you. This is an issue
of international consequence. Because today, every day, literally hundreds of thousands of people
are moving into a city somewhere, mainly in the Global South. And when you think
about that, ask yourself: Are they condemned to live
in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better? And to answer that question, you have to unpack
how we got here in the first place. First: mass production. Just like consumer goods and chain stores, we mass-produce glass and steel
and concrete and asphalt and drywall, and we deploy them in mind-numbingly
similar ways across the planet. Second: regulation. So, take cars, for instance. Cars travel at very high speeds. They’re susceptible to human error. So when we’re asked, as architects,
to design a new street, we have to look at drawings like this, that tell us how high a curb needs to be, that pedestrians need to be over here
and vehicles over there, a loading zone here, a drop-off there. What the car really did
in the 20th century is it created this carved-up,
segregated landscape. Or take the ladder fire truck —
you know, those big ladder trucks that are used to rescue people
from burning buildings? Those have such a wide turning radius, that we have to deploy an enormous amount
of pavement, of asphalt, to accommodate them. Or take the critically
important wheelchair. A wheelchair necessitates
a landscape of minimal slopes and redundant vertical circulation. So wherever there’s a stair,
there has to be an elevator or a ramp. Now, don’t get me wrong, please —
I am all for pedestrian safety, firefighting and certainly, wheelchair access. Both of my parents were in wheelchairs
at the end of their lives, so I understand very much that struggle. But we also have to acknowledge
that all of these well-intentioned rules, they had the tremendous
unintended consequence of making illegal the ways
in which we used to build cities. Similarly illegal: at the end
of the 19th century, right after the elevator was invented, we built these charming urban buildings, these lovely buildings,
all over the world, from Italy to India. And they had maybe
10 or 12 apartments in them. They had one small elevator
and a staircase that wrapped them and a light well. And not only were they charming buildings
that were cost-effective, they were communal — you ran into your neighbor
on that stairwell. Well, you can’t build this, either. By contrast, today, when we have to build
a major new apartment building somewhere, we have to build
lots and lots of elevators and lots of fire stairs, and we have to connect them with these
long, anonymous, dreary corridors. Now, developers —
when they’re confronted with the cost of all of that common infrastructure, they have to spread that cost
over more apartments, so they want to build bigger buildings. What that results in is the thud, the dull thud of the same
apartment building being built in every city across the world. And this is not only creating
physical sameness, it’s creating social sameness, because these buildings
are more expensive to build, and it helped to create
an affordability crisis in cities all over the world,
including places like Vancouver. Now, I said there was a third reason
for all this sameness, and that’s really a psychological one. It’s a fear of difference, and architects hear this
all the time from their clients: “If I try that new idea, will I be sued? Will I be mocked? Better safe than sorry.” And all of these things
have conspired together to blanket our planet with a homogeneity
that I think is deeply problematic. So how can we do the opposite? How can we go back to building cities that are physically
and culturally varied again? How can we build cities of difference? I would argue that we should start by injecting into the global the local. This is already happening
with food, for instance. You just look at the way in which
craft beer has taken on corporate beer. Or, how many of you
still eat Wonder Bread? I’d bet most of you don’t. And I bet you don’t because
you don’t want processed food in your life. So if you don’t want processed food, why would you want processed cities? Why would you want these
mass-produced, bleached places where all of us have to live
and work every day? (Applause) So, technology was a big part
of the problem in the 20th century. When we invented the automobile,
what happened is, the world all bent towards the invention. And we recreated our landscape around it. In the 21st century, technology can be part of the solution — if it bends to the needs of the world. So what do I mean by that? Take the autonomous vehicle. I don’t think the autonomous vehicle
is exciting because it’s a driverless car. That, to me, only implies that there’s even more congestion
on the roads, frankly. I think what’s exciting about
the autonomous vehicle is the promise — and I want to stress the word “promise,” given the recent accident in Arizona — the promise that we could have
these small, urban vehicles that could safely comingle
with pedestrians and bicycles. That would enable us
to design humane streets again, streets without curbs, maybe streets like the wooden
walkways on Fire Island. Or maybe we could design streets
with the cobblestone of the 21st century, something that captures
kinetic energy, melts snow, helps you with your fitness when you walk. Or remember those big ladder fire trucks? What if we could replace them
and all the asphalt that comes with them with drones and robots that could
rescue people from burning buildings? And if you think that’s outlandish,
you’d be amazed to know how much of that technology
is already being used today in rescue activity. But now I’d like you
to really imagine with me. Imagine if we could design
the hovercraft wheelchair. Right? An invention that would
not only allow equal access, but would enable us to build
the Italian hill town of the 21st century. I think you’d be amazed to know that just a few of these inventions,
responsive to human need, would completely transform
the way we could build our cities. Now, I bet you’re also thinking: “We don’t have kinetic cobblestones
or flying wheelchairs yet, so what can we do about this problem
with today’s technology?” And my inspiration for that question
comes from a very different city, the city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I have clients there who have asked us to design
a 21st-century open-air village that’s sustainably heated
using today’s technology, in the heart of their downtown. And that’s to cope
with their frigid winters. And the project is both poetry and prose. The poetry is really
about evoking the local: the mountainous terrain, using colors to pick up
the spectacular light, understanding how to interpret
the nomadic traditions that animate the nation of Mongolia. The prose has been the development
of a catalogue of buildings, of small buildings
that are fairly affordable, using local construction
materials and technology that can still provide
new forms of housing, new workspace, new shops and cultural buildings,
like a theater or a museum — even a haunted house. While working on this in our office, we’ve realized that we’re building upon
the work of our colleagues, including architect Tatiana Bilbao,
working in Mexico City; Pritzker laureate
Alejandro Aravena, working in Chile; and recent Pritzker winner
Balkrishna Doshi, working in India. And all of them are building spectacular
new forms of affordable housing, but they’re also building
cities of difference, because they’re building cities
that respond to local communities, local climates and local construction methods. We’re doubling down on that idea,
we’re researching a new model for our growing cities
with gentrification pressures, that could build upon
that late-19th-century model with that center core, but a prototype that could shape-shift
in response to local needs and local building materials. All of these ideas,
to me, are nostalgia-free. They all tell me that we can build cities that can grow, but grow in a way that reflects
the diverse residents that live in those cities; grow in a way that can accommodate
all income groups, all colors, creeds, genders. We could build such spectacular cities
that we could disincentivize sprawl and actually protect nature. We can grow cities that are high-tech, but also respond to the timeless
cultural needs of the human spirit. I’m convinced that we can build
cities of difference that help to create the global mosaic
to which so many of us aspire. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How we can design timeless cities for our collective future | Vishaan Chakrabarti

  1. Some of his ideas, like hover chairs, are stupid, but the core idea is actually pretty good.

  2. An architecturally ergonomic vision for promote our cultural heritage and to keep it sustainably relatable for better social cohesion. Fantastc talk! Nice one!

  3. If you clicked on this video for the subject matter, skip to 3mins in. The first 3 is pointless filler..

  4. The Auravana Project is building upon the work of these architects to build cities of difference in a community network of cities.

  5. The state of human civilization is often caused by reactionary changes rather than by intentful design. Blocks falling into a clutter with gaps of various sizes. Not even the core of people's beliefs are founded on reason but in reaction to the events in their own lives. Architecture reflects the societies in which they are built. All work and no play makes towers a dull shade. There are no artists who do business in these buildings. There is no art more precious than money in our society. If our cities weren't grey or uniform people would complain because our people are grey and uniform.

  6. The difference is all the new cities were built around the same era. The older cities are separated in time by hundreds of years.

  7. Technological Slavery: Reduction of carbon foot print is about killing off billions in population and putting the rest of humans into a closed and surveilled police state; its clean, technocratical, yet, its an inhuman living habitat for prized ZOO ANIMALS. Building technological, inhuman communities treats people like captured prey. Everything (Chakrabarti) says is deceptive propaganda against Americans to deceive and seduce them to accept their dismantlement of their God-given sovereignty, their property and their land. Lies Kill People Advanced Technology is being used as a lure like the pied piper seducing humanity into a technological slavery. The "place we cherish the most" is our homes. That's the very property right the pied piper Chakrabarti wants to dispossess Americans of.

  8. So this dude has rich clients who want a village to themselves. I wonder if there will be a money bin complete with diving boards like Scrooge McDuck had in Duck Tales.

  9. A flying wheelchair would be kind of the epidemy of stupid problem-solving

  10. This was the Craigslist equivalent of TED. This was a poor presentation and looked more like a spam ad.

  11. What we need is synchronized autopilot cars, cars in a group that accelerate and decelerate at the same time as if they were connected like a train and move in unity and don't take so much space. The cars would also talk to the traffic lights and in turn be directed by a super computer that instantaneously direct traffic flow.

  12. 5:24 I swear, I SWEAR I slept in that hotel in Rome, meters away from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

  13. His basic error is the same as so many other central planners, he's thinking he can plan from the top down and get spontaneous order.

    Those two things are irreconcilable.

    Abolish zoning. Eliminate regulations. Allow property owners to build as they see fit, as was the case when cities were "magnetic, lyrical cities that embody their local cultures and adapt to the needs of our changing world".


    My name is Eight Billion,

    I contain an angel and a devil struggling inside,

    The face I dress varies to survive,

    Always hungry for power, never enough to content,

    I look for “inner peace” whilst consumed by grudge,

    For sons, for daughters, for the self, please be advised, there long existed the new code, aside,

    Let’s consider having an appointment with the best stylist for a change,

    Experience, how exceptionally would you look better reflecting the best,

    Thus, if you manage to change yourself, repenting for good,

    The place called Earth might turn into Heaven, I assure,

    It is me, it is you, it is us will power to CHANGE.
    "Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children" (The Noble Qur'an. Surah Hadid. Verse:20)
    Listen to the voice of the Noble Quran.
    Maybe your life will be changed If God allows.
    French :

  15. Well he's not up to speed with technology exactly, but he's right.
    This is the space we work and live in every day. The psychological impact alone should be enough of a motivator if we factor it in our over all cost.
    Oh and there likely will be almost no wheelchair bound people in ten years. Medicine and exoskeletons are changing a lot.

  16. could they be gravitating to modern cities because the cities attract them just fine! and thus do not need your non-bland buildings? and that they like mind numbing similarity?

  17. Collectivism has killed more people and destroyed more of the planet than any other thing. How long does this toxic ideology live?

  18. I mean it is unacceptable that there are 600+ idiots (likes) out there who do not understand the dangers of Collectivism ( GROUP THINK). People who probably think themselves educated. Not to mention an ideology which is in complete conflict with Americanism and the rights of individuals. Beliefs like this emanate from Universities which teach toxic and historically failed notions. These are not institutions of higher learning but simply propaganda mills for oligarchs running slave plantations. Farms where their cattle are people. Changing the color of the fences does not change the fundamental FAIL going on here.

  19. The cities may be poor, but the quality of the humans they house in general is poor. The humans which contemporary cities are for are not the same as those of old. And the old cities were more like towns. The type of human who chooses places like modern cities deserves them. WHEN the average human concerns themselves with over-population; environmental destruction; bettering education; etc; etc, . then we can talk about giving them a 'nice' place to live. But those choosing to be rats scurrying from a job they hate to an apartment where their primary functions are creating plastic waste, consuming media, and drinking themselves into a stupor, bring the level of general humanity down to where timeless / pleasant architecture is neither appreciated nor deserved.

  20. Felt like he was setting up this new way to do things and then threw a bunch of same old same old stuff at us. Probably one of the worst TED talks I've seen. I hope this guy's ideas are not implemented.

  21. He made an assertion about modern cities without backing it up. His whole premise is flawed.

  22. Make it all ramps for peds and wheelies…. Larry Niven of science fiction reputation talked about how star trek- like transporter technology was smearing global uniqueness of nationalities into a global sameness.

  23. My template perfect villages that can adapt to anything anywhere are far superior to anything he is offering… I solved that in the 70's and nothing has changed and i am still owner of the most advance wisdom mankind ever could know…build what i teach and your world and the galaxy thrive. I have the solution and it was possible 4000 years ago maybe even father back in time so it would of worked any time in history and can work BUT mankind built wrong and then overpopulated to fit capitalism sickness on the planet survival as it ruin the future for today and exploits ALL for greed and vanity. They that learn what I have will survive and the others will not.

  24. Who says we want a collective future?
    Western civilization was successfully built by risk-taking ndividualists, not comfort-seeking collectivists.

  25. But the sad story is despite all of us knowing the consequences we ignore and do things like a heard of sheep does.

  26. If you want local identity you have to let local architects do the work, but i guess this is also influenced by education, i remember growing up with this concept that global is the future of everything, i'm pretty sure global is good for big corporations but thats in deep conflict with local differences just as the beer example suggested, i think theres no way around it

  27. I was waiting to see a lecture about how we can accelerate cities to the speed of light to get more time to fix all our and Universe problems, or something 😛

  28. 'Green Urbanites'? Agenda21 Agenda20/30 on steroids. I'll tell you what mate lets just leave the city and start living off the land instead of engineering ways to live on top of each other. Put a stop to this evil global plan for a new american century that's being covertly implimented locally by community change agents. All talking utter crap about 'sustainability' 'regeneration' and a lot of other benevolent sounding buzz words. Whilst herding the cattle on to ever smaller farms. Stop this battery farming, demand free range or even organic status!

  29. Whats one of the most beautiful things is to be in a room amidst silence with your headphones on, to be watching a TED talk like this one & hence be communicating with the speaker via his talk, whilst critically thinking & analysing things 🙂

  30. I think allowing a developer to pay only 1 architect & build similarly elsewhere should be outlawed.

    But so should the crappy building designs you get from variation.

    But to do the latter is hard. Because it would require all heads of state to have great artistic taste & preferences, and not all of them has that – to know what to approve & disapprove.

    Furthermore not every head of state is a dictator. So they cant remain in office for long, to continuously approve or disapprove designs. Nor is every dictator deserving of that title

  31. Maybe if more urban areas were created than suburban areas, people would be less likely to live in a suburban areas 😛

  32. You want timeless cities, watch the TedTalk on walkable communities (Bill Lindeke). That's all you need.

  33. Couple of fallacies in this talk. He is comparing cities built in the 20th C to cities of the past as if "the past" was one single time period. Paris was not planned and built to be as it is now. It developed over many centuries. In each time period, you can find people who were saying that the architecture of their day was soulless. In fact, the soul of a city is the layering of many, many 'soulless' styles one on top of the other. We are just playing our part in history. Variety was not created by any one generation, it is developed across centuries by each generation doing what works for them.

    Cities evolve by human selection. Things which don't work, cause problems or look ugly are the first candidates to be replaced with something else (better or not). We keep the things which work and look well. This process is not in the control of any one school of architects or planners, because no matter how inspired and visionary you are, you do not know exactly how the future will play out. History shows that it is not always the best design or invention that dominates, it is ones that are most convenient for their time in conjunction with every other societal development. If you plan for hoverchairs before they become dominant, your plans become obsolete if insect-legged robochairs become dominant.

    I don't think it's hyperbole to say that in a hundred years time, someone will look to us and say how beautiful a wheelchair access ramp beside a set of steps is. Because we say exactly the same things about functional features of the past which are now obsolete due to a better solution.

  34. I'm feeling the core idea of what he's saying. I was born and raised in a major city, and it's weird to see the older, walkable parts of town peppered with skyscrapers. Some of them look cool, but you'd be surprised how fast shiny steel and glass can turn grungy.

  35. I think the quality of our lives isn't subjected to the architecture, for to be in beauty with our environment we have nature and the already exsiting beautiful cities. As long as we can find hapiness within ourselves, cities should remain, from my point of view, as comfortable vehicles to achieve such personal satisfaction, being how they look a secondary matter

  36. all this man does is to promote variety in architecture.
    anyone who links this to socialism or anything of the sort just because he uses the phrase "collective future" is extremely butthurt.

  37. One big problem I see, is the aim to separate. If every new neighbourhood is designed to accommodate all aspects of human life (living, working, shopping, recreation, education, health care etc.) within walking distance whilst being conveniently accessible by public transport and additionally mixing local traditions with new ideas you get places that are great to live in and are also sustainable.
    This is possible in densely populated areas as well as in suburbs as in rural towns.

  38. humans are samey, and cats, dogs, every other product of natural species. Theoretically there can only be one 'best way;' to do something so if we all had the best it would all be samey 🙂

  39. I'm kinda conflicted here, I'm both for and against what he is saying. Weird feeling. I agree cities in North America need to change their design completely. It's very hard to get unique and affordable all in one sentence. I can equally understand how people like me not going all in, will sabotage any drive to change and do what he outlines though.

  40. By abolishing divisive mechanisms and ideologies like capitalism, democracy, religions, nations, other languages. Until you realize the things dividing us we will never have a future of any kind.

  41. All he said painted him like he wants to build himself a city he would like to live in suited to his needs and have people praise him for it. Maybe he should just get into a city builder game.

  42. We have no future in the US. We're all gonna be Russian citizens. The GOPinsky party said so.

  43. This is the future, is an argument, is go back to the way it was. NO!! try new things that can accommodate a huge population and inject imagination and creativity.

  44. I like living in a city where fire trucks can get to me if there is a fire, having accessible ramps and walkways to make the city easier to navigate, and knowing that I am relatively safe no matter where I go because fire escapes, rear exits, wide roadways and elevators are part of the design of the city. Could you imagine the EMTtrying to reach someone who fell on a maze of staircases that looked like MC Escher designed it? This is a very touristy TED talk.

  45. I refuse to watch this video based on the pretentious title it has, it reeks of BS

  46. As an urban planner I found this very insightful and elucidated my ideas about today's standards of city development.

  47. So we surpass our wildest dreams can have it all in a prettily wrapped bow .

  48. There is no such thing as timelessness, time is part of our reality. Things change over time, it's called evolution. Creationists believe people are timeless. You are as stupid as a creationist.

  49. Unfortunately, the money is what demands today. Larger buildings to accommodate more people, cheaper construction materials, faster projects. We could easily apply our identity to our own garden but to change the big metropolis we are in the hand of the big companies.

  50. "lets compare 3 places I handpicket from the entire world to an average downtown area"
    Well what would one expect?…

  51. Jacque Fresco designed cities that solved, by my understanding, all of the issues that were addressed in this video

  52. What I took from this is: start murdering people in wheelchairs. Message Received, sir! They're destroying our cities and they must be stopped!

  53. This chappie facies himself as the Monopolists' Roderick Fick designing new dystopian Marxist hellholes

  54. I long for the day when an architect realize that the style of a city is based on current trends, and to make an argument that you should build in Victorian or Gothic or whatever building style is just a subjective argument. Too long have the cities been built after the architects individual visions and not the inhabitants's. Let the people in the city decide what building style should be implemented in their city. This comes from a structural civil engineer.

  55. No. Our modern suburbs don't have the charm of the small country town I grew up in in the 1960s. But the population is three times as big. For transportation sake, people live in high-rise apts in large urban areas. Small tree lined street with seperate houses are great, but the ecologist say we should be living in urban beehives, connected by subways.

    How do you get around the problem.

  56. If you are an architect or urbanist you know that, this talk is amazing and inspiring, because the change is already happening, no more buildings for economist, and more buildings for humanity

  57. You know what's outlandish? Making a speech about livable beutiful cities and never mentioning public transportation as a solution for urban bligth. Also, regulations and mass production are not the problem. The agendas behind those regulations are the problem. Of course if you desgin cities for cars or to accomodate only the needs of industry (manufacturing, construction, energy etc) the result will be awful. I agree we should design for human needs, but which humans are we desgning for? all humans or just our clients? this is a question we must try to answer. If we start by stating the real causes of the problem out loud I think we can make a difference

  58. As an urban planning student this video is so great, i hope i can my my city better in the future

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