Practical Utopias presents a body of recent work by American and other international firms in five cities across East Asia. Though occurring in culturally, economically, politically, and geographically diverse environments, these projects exhibit similar characteristics that while not unique in themselves, combine in ways that distinguish this work from that being done anywhere else in the world. Practical utopias are focal points for utopian ambition: expanding central business districts, improving tourism economies, or increasing transportation connectivity. They are also solutions to practical challenges: accommodating increasing density, creating spaces for public leisure, or crafting cultural identities in rapidly changing societies.
Products of the global design expertise of international firms, these projects are planned and developed to address the conditions of Asian urbanization and express the local aspirations of their cities. Practical utopias are supertall towers, multi-use megablocks, public infrastructure, revitalized historic districts, and transit-based developments with common attributes that are as philosophical as they are programmatic. They are Connected: networked to cutting-edge technological systems and infrastructure allowing rapid access to adjacent urban fabric, airports, and the rest of the world;Dense: accommodating large numbers of people in extremely efficient spaces that reflect a premium on being located in the city center; Green: conceived with explicit environmental agendas; Thick: three-dimensional and layered in their programs; and Fun: bringing together cultural and recreational elements with other programs to enhance their role as spaces of both work and leisure.
By transforming vast landscapes, urban growth also strains societies, at times sharply juxtaposing the small and the large, the old and the new, the local and the global, the public and the private, the privileged and the disadvantaged. A growing middle class, emerging preservation movements, and increased attention to the public realm are positive outcomes. However, Asia’s new urbanism is not always good urbanism, facing challenges of environment, mobility, and quality of life. Asia today is a vast experiment in what makes a city: how it is called into being and built, and how it is occupied and lived in. Practical utopias, as products of this experiment, offer a valuable window into the future of the city in Asia and worldwide.