Studio 2013: Building Megalopolis


Extreme Cities: Building Megalopolis

Spring 2013
Columbia University
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Network Architecture Lab

Instructor:              Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.
Associate:             Leigha Dennis

This studio is part of the Extreme Cities collaboration between the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and Audi AG. Not merely content with the extra-large, our aims are the extreme future, the megalopolis, and the megaform.

Developed out of the Experiments in Motion program, Extreme Cities begins with the observation that cities will intensify considerably during the next fifty years. Instead of the usual mindset seeing the growth of global cities as an overwhelming set of seemingly unmanageable problems, this project sets out to take this intensification to an extreme. In doing so, we will interrogate both the past and the distant future, with the aim of having students envision unprecedented building types for the year 2063.

The studio’s site is the world’s first megalopolis, BOSWASH. In his 1961 book Megalopolis; the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, geographer Jean Gottmann identified this territory as an unending conurbation of cities, satellites, and suburbs stretching from Boston to Washington D.C., For Gottmann, the megalopolis is “the cradle of a new order in the organization of inhabited spaces,” a territory in which any distinction of city and country is gone, but also a territory that is dominantly suburban.[1] Dubbing the area BOSWASH in his 1967 book the Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, scenario planner Herman Kahn predicted that the area would reach a population of 80 million by the year 2000, up from 37 million in 1960. Kahn’s term stuck but his prediction was mistaken, missing the massive migration of population to the South and West, and a warning sign to us that prediction is a dangerous business. Architecture studio, of course, is dangerous business.

Thus, if BOSWASH is our physical site, the studio’s temporal site is in both the past and the future. We aim to go back fifty years into the past, to the era of Gottmann and Kahn, as well as fifty years into the future, to a time when current GSAPP students will reach an age traditionally considered as elderly. Doing so will unsettle our conceptions about architecture and cities, allowing us to think beyond the atemporality of contemporary culture and the limitations of contemporary thought.

Semester Plan

We will begin the semester with a historical research project into the development of BOSWASH.

Our premise is that the fifteen years between 1961 and 1976, traditionally seen as an era of decline were in fact a rich time in terms of thinking about the future of cities and particularly so in BOSWASH. In addition to Gottmann’s work, the research of BOSWASH-based scholars and designers such as Jane Jacobs, Herbert Gans, Kevin Lynch, Venturi-Scott-Brown, Stanley Milgram, William H. Whyte, Paul Rudolph, Kevin Roche, Robert Smithson, and Gordon-Matta Clark proved critical to establishing new thinking about the city. We start off with a survey of both, producing a timeline of the megalopolis and also a dictionary of urban qualities.

For our survey, we will take repeated forays into the nearby areas of BOSWASH, visiting the Empire State Plaza in Albany (one of America’s largest megastructures and an attempt to create a link to BOSWASH that is generally considered to have failed), Union Carbide Headquarters in Danbury, and take repeated forays into New York City. Our goal is to investigate architectural interventions that reflect specific qualities of the city, engage in the region, and anticipate a future, particularly those that Kenneth Frampton has identified as megaforms, an architectural genre of massive sprawling horizontality that he sees as native to the megalopolis.[2]

During the first half of the semester, each student will examine one project in this region and timeframe in extreme depth and identify the governing urban quality in it. If the Ford Foundation exemplifies generosity, which projects demonstrate mobility, asymmetry, complexity, or cosmopolitanism?

Students will be required to produce two well-developed drawings of publication-level quality that address the architectural project through project-specific analyses. Some projects may have remarkable circulation and crowd patterns, space planning, environmental systems, etc. These drawings should be produced over time, developing throughout the first half of the semester, as more information is unearthed and will be simultaneously oversaturated with information and rigorous restrained (in other words, you will find out so much utterly amazing information that even though you will only add the information you cannot resist adding, there will be a lot of it). Students should look to the representational techniques that their projects’ architects and others produced for inspiration. Grand exterior axonometric drawings, intricate multi-layered plans and analog data visualizations will become common tools for representing projects of the megalopolis.

Accompanying this, students will collect a dossier of information on the single urban quality embodied within their project. Using photography and film, they will capture evidence of this quality within the present day city. Students will situate this data in the form of a timeline that examines the temporal dimensions of their quality and its architectural, urban and social implications.

This historical research will act as the basis for the second half of the studio in which students will extrapolate a new building type. This time, projecting fifty years into the future, students will produce a new architecture typology that reflects and aids the changing characteristics of the radically intensified megalopolis of 2063. These future projects must have a timeline of their own, and should demonstrate a nonlinear intensification of multiple urban conditions while embracing one urban quality.


Course Blog

Students will be expected to maintain and post regularly to a shared course Tumblr blog of their research and design progress. All student work will be posted online tagged by student name (firstname-lastname).


Students will work with roving engineers from ARUP during the semester to address the structural and environmental systems in their designs. Even the most speculative of projects can benefit from the advice of these experts.


Ultra-realistic perspective and Photoshop-based montages are banned in this studio. We propose that this sort of representation is inappropriate, corresponding to what Mark Fischer has dubbed “capitalist realism,” a condition in which we are offered nothing but the present the eagerly wait for the next thrill the system has to offer.[3] Evacuated of any critical intent, such work only cements the false notion that modern technology has made communication transparent.

But more than that, if all architects produce a form of science fiction, then to paraphrase William Gibson, we need to remember that as we construct futures, all we have at our disposal is the moment that we are currently living in.[4] The moment we construct a future it starts to age rapidly. Since the crash, along with the development of technologies that were formerly consigned to an endlessly deferred proximate future such as near-universal wireless Internet, locative media, tablet computing, and touchscreen interfaces, it seems that we have exhausted the era of the next new thing, of rapid technological and cultural development and obsolescence.

Thus, envisioning the future through architecture forces us to follow Alex Galloway’s suggestion that “all media is dead media,” to understand that appropriate representational strategies that might resist capitalist realist representations might emerge out of a new understanding of what Gibson calls a “long now,” a temporally stretched condition out of which we can freely recombine material and representational motifs.[5]

We will look at forms of representation immanent to our topic at hand, both the means of representation that architects and others working on these and similar projects would have used, but also the other means of representation of the day, e.g. schedules, traffic engineering plans, flowcharts, exploded axonometrics, and so on. Such diagrams not only offer rich territory to mine for representational strategies, their close study allows us to better understand how to think and represent visually.

Precise, unshaded hidden line drawings, plan, section, elevation, and axonometric form the basis for this studio.


20% Attendance and Participation

Students are expected to attend studio sessions, be on time, and ready to discuss their work at every session. By this we mean that students should be in studio at least from 2 to 6 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays unless they have made other arrangements or are conducting research. Please let us know in advance. In no case will we meet with students who arrive after 4pm on that day unless they have prearranged the late arrival with us or there are mitigating circumstances.

Students are expected to participate in group discussions, to cooperate with other studio members by offering criticism, advice, and good spirit.

Students are expected to be at pin-ups and reviews on time with work ready to present. Students who are not ready at the beginning of the pin-up or review forfeit the right to receive criticism. Students are expected to contribute to pin-ups and reviews, both in terms of criticism and questions as well as by working in a team to ensure that rooms are ready to present in (adequate chairs, projectors, and so on).

40% Concept

Students will be graded on the originality and rigor of their concepts. All students need a coherent thesis in this studio.

Columbia teaches in English. There is help available for difficulties with the English language in the university, but lack of understanding is not an excuse.

40% Execution and Presentation

A good concept means little if it is poorly executed or presented. Presentation and execution are not trivial, nor are they mere “polish,” rather the choices made in presentation and execution should inform, and be informed by, the concept.

Students are expected to render and present their work clearly, succinctly, and elegantly.

Work should be thoroughly and completely represented.

A Brief Bibliography of Books regarding Design and Presentation


Elam, Kimberley. Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

Hurlburt, Allen. The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books. New York: Van Norstand Reinhold, 1978.

Jardí, Enric Twenty-Tips on Typography (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007).

Muller-Brockmann, Josef. Grid Systems in Graphic Design. Zurich: Niggli, 2001.

Samar, Timothy. Making and Breaking the Grid. A Graphic Design Layout Workshop (Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2002).

The Grid System,

Tomato,Bareback: A Tomato Project (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press,1999).



Preliminary Bibliography


Abalos, Iñaki, and Juan Herreros. Tower and Office: From Modernist Theory to Contemporary Practice.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.

Associates, Archizoom. “No-Stop City. Residential Parkings. Climatic Universal Sistem." Domus 496 (1971): 49-55.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Illusion of the End.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

———. "The End of the Millennium or the Countdown." Economy & Society 26, no. 4 (1997): 447-55.

Bell, Genevieve, and Paul Dourish. "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Notes on Ubiquitous Computing's Dominant Vision." Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 11, no. 2 (2007): 133-43.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. (New York: Harcourt, 1968.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Empty Fortress; Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self.  New York: Free Press, 1967.

———. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  New York: Knopf, 1976.

Brash, Julian. Bloomberg's New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City. Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Caillois, Roger. The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader.  Durham N.C: Duke University Press, 2003.

Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. 2nd ed.  Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2004.

———. The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed.  Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2010.

———. End of Millennium 2nd ed.  Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2010.

Clark, T. J. Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Crystal, David. English as a Global Language.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on Control Societies." In Negotiations, 177-82. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Eckardt, Wolf von, and Jean Gottmann. The Challenge of Megalopolis; a Graphic Presentation of the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States. Twentieth Century Fund Report.  New York: Macmillan, 1964.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative.  Hampshire, UK: Zero Books, 2009.

Frampton, Kenneth. Megaform as Urban Landscape, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1999.

Flood, Joe. The Fires: How a Computer Formula Burned Down New York City–and Determined the Future of American Cities.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

Foster, John Bellamy. "The Financialization of Capitalism." Monthly Review, April 2007, 1-12.

Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Gere, Charlie. Digital Culture.  London: Reaktion Books, 2002.

Gottmann, Jean. Megalopolis; the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States.  New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961.

———. Megalopolis Revisited: 25 Years Later. Institute for Urban Studies Monograph Series.  College Park, Md.: University of Maryland Institute for Urban Studies, 1987.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change.  Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989.

———. A Brief History of Neoliberalism.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hatherley, Owen. Militant Modernism.  Winchester: O Books, 2008.

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  New York: Random House, 1961.

Johnson, Simon, and James Kwak. 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. La production de l'espace copyright Editions Anthropos 1974, Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1991.

Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority; an Experimental View. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

———. The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments. Addison-Wesley Series in Social Psychology.  Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co, 1977.

Osborn, Frederic J., and Arnold Whittick. The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis.  London: L. Hill, 1963.

Patterson, Clayton, Joe Flood, and Alan Moore. Resistance: A Radical Political and Social History of the Lower East Side. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007.

Pell, Claiborne. Megalopolis Unbound: the Supercity and the Transportation of Tomorrow.  New York: Praeger, 1966.

Phillips, Kevin. Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.  New York: Viking, 2009.

Sassen, Saskia. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

———. "Global City 20 Years Later." A+U, February 2011, 10-16.

Scheppe, Wolfgang, Migropolis: Venice: Atlas of a Global Situation.  Ostfildern: Hatje/Cantz, 2009.

Shepard, Mark, ed. Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Short, John R. Liquid City: Megalopolis and the Contemporary Northeast.  Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2007.

———. Liquid City: Megalopolis and the Contemporary Northeast.  Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2007.

Sky, Alison, and Michelle Stone. Unbuilt America: Forgotten Architecture in the United States from Thomas Jefferson to the Space Age: A Book. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

Stern, Robert A. M., David Fishman, and Jacob Tilove. New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism between the Bicentennial and the Millennium.  New York: Monacelli Press, 2006.

Stern, Robert A. M., Thomas Mellins, and David Fishman. New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial.  New York: Monacelli Press, 1995.

Swatridge, L. A. Problems in the Bosnywash Megalopolis: Pollution, Transportation, Sprawl, Social Problems. Selected Studies in the United States. New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972.

Tafuri, Manfredo. Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1976.

Tainter, Joseph A. The Collapse of Complex Societies. New Studies in Archaeology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Tomlinson, John. The Culture of Speed. The Coming of Immediacy.  London: Sage, 2007.

Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Museum of Modern Art Papers on Architecture.  New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966.

Wigley, Mark. "Network Fever." Grey Room  (2001): 82-122.

Wolf, Peter M., and American Federation of Arts. The Future of the City: New Directions in Urban Planning. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974.





Jean Gottmann, Megalopolis the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961), 9.

[2] Kenneth Frampton, Megaform as Urban Landscape, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1999), also available at

[3] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative,  (Hampshire, UK: Zero Books, 2009).

[4] Scott Thill, “William Gibson Talks Zero History, Paranoia and the Awesome Power of Twitter,” Wired Underwire Blog, posted September 7, 2010,

[5] Alex Galloway, “Cory Arcangel (Beige) and Paper Rad’s The Mario Movie" (2005) Michael Parsons, “Interview: Wired Meets William Gibson,” Wired UK posted October 13, 2010,

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