[While I was working on the original version of this very post, The Huffington Post had to go and scoop me on one of the items here (the solar-powered floating island). But I'm going to do them one better and put together here an #epic #superfuture post just for you.]
What is the "superfuture?" Superfuture is a word I coined about 12 years ago when I was in San Francisco building and crashing dot-coms. Surrounded by innovative thinkers, dreamers and futurists I felt disatisfied with the concept of "the future" because it lacked the necessary superlative if the future I envisioned. So for something to be "superfuture" it needs to be something wildly awesome and robotically automated in our present day, or something truly visionary in its scope and approach to how we want to live in the future. Most of the superfuture concepts I've put forward on my Twitter or elsewhere have a utopian aspect to them. One thing my selections have in common is that they solve a problem.
The Ultimate Tower
To start things off, here's a 1991 illustration and architectural plan of the Ultima Tower by Chinese-American architect and futurist Eugene Tsui.
Ultima Tower would stand at a gravity-defying height of 10,554 feet with over 500 stories. What is really amazing to me is not merely the size and height of the building, but rather the completeness of the vision. This "building" is a city and ecosystem unto its self. I remember dreaming of building the world's largest building, with a similar footprint as this. And I had hoped that the building of my superfuture dreams would reside in Washington DC. What better place really? I even attempted to build a structure out of Legos and Lincoln Logs when I was a child. It took me an entire weekend and my bedroom was essentially destroyed—greatly displeasing my parents—but I had built a rough-scale model of my utopian future DC. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever created. It was this futurist thinking that made me want to be an architect, but by the time I was in high school I knew that wasn't my path.
"In essence, Ultima Tower/Sky City is more an ecosystems design than an architectural habitation design. The structure provides a basis for architectural development upon which architectural diversity can flourish." -Eugene Tsui
Tsui is an under-celebrated superfuturist, but I think we can all agree that the concept is an awe-inspiring one, even if it does look like Tolkein's Mount Doom.
Four years after Tsui unveiled his vision for the Ultima Tower, Peter Neville created and developed the X-Seed 4000, an even taller building that tops out at 13,123 feet (see above). This building has a much more crude approach to the design and the interplay between the natural and man-made environments. The X-Seed 4000 has the collective design and artistic appeal of the previously unfinished Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea. It's a good thing this one never made it out of the 1990's.
The City in the Sky
Building on the "sky city" theme is the "City in the Sky" concept which literally elevates New York's High Line in both scope and vision. City in the Sky is a little bit Jetsons and a little bit Matrix, but 100% superfuture. I love how the attempt here isn't to build these massive superstructures that are massive cities within themselves, but rather these glorious public spaces that return light and green space to the public. It's an exciting vision of how cities can grow without expanding their footprint. If this were ever to work in Washington DC there would have to be a change to the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910—which exists because of The Cairo apartment building not because of the U.S. Capitol. But since DC's location between two separate states, there is no room to grow and expand without Virginia or Maryland giving up space. So, as people naturally flock to cities it is only natural that they grow upwards.
These are the most elegant superfuture structures I've seen in some time. Check out the video after these images.
Watch the "City in the sky" video:
The Crystal Island
The building that was until it wasn't. In 2007 an epic building/project by famed architect Norman Foster was green-lit called Crystal Island located in Moscow, Russia. Unfortunately due to the world economic crisis in 2009, the building has been postponed. The design you see below is incredibly elegant in not only it's design and footprint, but in how the structure of the building plays with the environment. As with most Foster-designed buildings, this one was to feature a variety of innovative environment-friendly solutions including solar and wind turbines for power generation, and an outer "crystal" skin that can seal the building during the winter to reduce heat loss or open up to allow cooling airflow to reduce the cost and electrical demand associated with air conditioning.
Bringing the Superfuture to Street Level
We can all dream about these amazing cities of the future, but maybe the superfuture is about better using existing buildings and existing structures to improve our experience in the world and time we inhabit. This thought brings me to a totally awesome concept from the New York design consultancy Pensa: Street Charge.
The concept is beautifully simple: use existing street signs or similar public infrastructure to have mobile charging stations for your electronic devices. Street Charge uses photovoltaic cells to charge a small battery nestled inside the hollow center of the street sign to power the USB charging station, as well as provide illumination. It's super brilliant and begs the question why don't we have this now?
Video after the stills:
What's additionally awesome about this particular superfuture tech is that it can create these little micro social gathering spots. Imagine needing a quick charge up on your phone before a meeting. You spot a Street Charge sign where someone's using one of the two USB ports. You guys strike a conversation, likely lamenting the shortness of battery life. You could have just made a new friend or a new important business contact. If you were to then leverage existing social networking apps like Foursquare or Facebook Places you could find the best spots to meet a friend or a date. The possibilities are endless.
The Blue Frontier
About 75% of our planet's surface is covered by water, and if you are to follow the future posited by Kevin Coster's movie Waterworld, it may cover something closer to 100% of the surface. So why don't we build more out in the ocean or at least with an eye to our waterways? Well, you can't really own water. You can own land and you can own things you put in the water, but the water's not really for sale. If I could own 100 square miles of sovereign ocean, I might jump at the chance to build my ocean empire on a flighting island like the one you see below.
While this concept is beautifully rendered, this doesn't strike me as a resort or city on the water, rather a slow river yacht. Not that I wouldn't want one, but if this were thought of as a massive floating city, but not like some awful cruise ship, I would seriously consider this as a viable candidate for superfuture habitation. But it's not so I'll enjoy these pictures instead.
The floating resort looks like a house boat in Miami—not that there's anything wrong with that. When I'm in the 1% of 1%-ers I'll have something way better. No, you are not invited.
As we enter this new age of congested cities and terrible drivers, we are approaching an era not unlike the future envisioned in the movie Minority Report where cars are all but automated. Now, do I think the government or some other regulatory entity should be involved in determining my rate of speed? Of course not. But that's not the debate here. What we as a society will come to understand is that the driving pleasures that we experience on curvy country roads will always be ours to have. However, when you're trying to manage traffic in an extremely congested area that also has to take pedestrian traffic into effect we arrive at the idea of having a level of automation. Already cars are reading the road, tracking the distance between cars, and in some places cars are testing on the road right now that talk to each other.
With a mixture of intelligent road infrastructure and cars that are design to "speak" to one another as well as the road, we are able to dramatically reduce congestion, accidents, road fatalities, and most importantly the time we spend in our cars. I'll always want a little carbureted grand tourer for the curvy back roads, but when I'm driving in the city of the superfuture I look forward to focusing less on the road and more on my tasks at hand, letting the car get me to my destination with ease.
The video below explores ideas for transport in the future.