The City That Never Was

The Architectural League invites you to “The City That Never Was,” a one-day symposium that uses the current crisis in Spain as a lens to reconsider contemporary patterns of urbanization and settlement.

In the twenty years after its accession to the European Union in 1986, Spain underwent unprecedented physical development that radically reshaped its major cities and metropolitan areas. From new housing to commercial and cultural facilities to infrastructure, the country experienced a building boom of such remarkable proportions that by 2005 20% of Spain’s GDP was attributable to construction-related activities. A year later, The New York Times celebrated Spain as “one of the great architectural success stories in modern history” when reviewing the Museum of Modern Art’s 2006 exhibition On Site: New Architecture in Spain.

Today, as Spain teeters on the brink of bankruptcy with rising deficits and unemployment, the country is littered with unfinished, partially completed or abandoned developments: housing complexes left unenclosed; empty museum buildings with no collections; hundreds of miles of roads unused; and airports without a single arrival or departure. In Madrid, where this situation is at its most severe, over 25% of the urbanized land in and around the city is comprised of these partly vacant or incomplete developments.

Though extreme in its outcomes, the situation in Spain is not unique; one can look to overdevelopment in the American Southwest or the mining regions of China as just two of many similar examples. What happened in Spain and elsewhere around the world illustrates broader trends in the conceptualization, planning, and design of contemporary urbanization in which presumptions of–and desires for–continuous economic growth catalyze massive investments of capital in speculative development, seemingly indifferent to considerations of local or regional needs or capacities and changing market demands.

“The City That Never Was” will use Spain as a lens in which to reconsider how planners, designers, politicians, and financiers conceive and realize large-scale urban settlement. The symposium will consider future urbanization through four thematic spheres–agility,entropyutility, and fertility. Using the economic downturn as an opportunity to challenge conventional modes of urban development, the ambition of “The City That Never Was” is to explore and propose new possibilities for how future formats of urbanization are conceived, financed, planned, and inhabited.

“The City That Never Was” is co-organized by Christopher Marcinkoski,  Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania, and Javier Arpa, Visiting Professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris Belleville, in cooperation with the Architectural League.



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