Many rapidly growing urban areas seem to share a similar characteristic that development has occurred in large discrete sub-divisions. These areas of the city appear visually (from the air) as clear layers; dense development could be flanked by vacant land, the design of one sub-division may have no relation at all to the area next to it, one sub-division – or a network of highway infrastructure – may have been layered over the top of an exiting area with no regard for it. On the ground often these areas are infuriating to use – illegible, confusing and complex.
The immediate analogy for these cities would be that they have become Collage Cities – using both the definition of collage as a creative process, and Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s concept of Collage City. In both cases however, the collage leads to a unified, or clear whole albeit formed from distinct elements.
Another angle to understanding the collage is to use Bill Hillier’s discussion of order versus structure: although something may be planned and have the qualities that bring order to it – regularity, rhythm, etc, this may not create the hierarchy of spaces that results in a structure. Analysing these areas indeed shows that at a local scale each area has its own hierarchy but that this is often completely segregated from the structure of the wider city.
So by these definitions the cities in question are not Collage Cities as they do not create the equivalent of the complete visual image. What may be a closer term to describe these cities is that they are Montages.
Eisenstein’s description of Montage as an idea that arises from the collision of independent thoughts seems to be particularly apt for these areas. Montage Cities are the result of rapid urban growth; a product of international property investment and the illustration of ever increasing development aspiration (from the building to the urban block to the city). The effect of short political terms in sometimes unstable societies, and the continuous changing of personnel that makes it impossible to deliver long-term strategy. Population growth, rural to urban migration and an increasing middle class also contribute.
Perhaps Montage Cities are in a transitional state to becoming Collage Cities, from small settlement to urban territory. In a few decades time perhaps the missing elements of structure will have been added, the interfaces between discrete areas adjusted to coordinate areas more strongly.
How long this transitional state will last is hard to say. It is made especially difficult by the question of whether current economic conditions and carbon intensive lifestyles have generated legal, spatial and infrastructural frameworks that are flexible enough to support this change.
A game of urban consequences?
The image at the top of this piece was an attempt to create an imaginary Montage City from sub-divisions taken from the Middle East and China, and pasted together on a section of virgin coast line. Whilst at the scale of the sub-division the characteristics are unsurprisingly consistent, there is some overall order which is missing from genuine Montage Cities. Perhaps the only way to create a Montage City is to leave something half finished and pass it on to someone else at a later date.
Montage City image by Ed Parham, July 2012, all other images from Google Earth.