In 2012 the architectural firm FR•EE proposed a master plan for a generic high tech city they immodestly called FR•EE City. The firm was founded by Mexican architect Fernando Romero.
“Envision a place where residents are guaranteed security, healthcare and education, a city where access to information is unrestricted and innovative technologies are fully integrated into everyday life.”
That’s from the proposal website, which echoes the sentiment of so many utopian masterplans. The project website hosts a compelling video that demonstrates dynamically the circular and radial geometries of the city’s various elements before flying in to a simulated street scene with people moving, market stalls, trams and views of the higher density central district in the distance. The colouring is silver-grey animated with luminous blue and green flow lines. The clever scale transition from aerial to street view is a common visual trope in high-end computer graphics rendering. I noticed the technique recently in the introductory sequence in the film Gods of Egypt, currently on Netflix.
The FR•EE City website follows the quote above with a further aspiration.
“What if policy-making was determined by factual data and not political disputes?”
Under this urban framing “political dispute” becomes subservient to “factual data” and rational planning — about which there can presumably be no dispute!
FR•EE also developed a proposal for a Border City, a similarly inspired geometrical master plan diagram for a city at the border between the USA and Mexico. The project appeared in an exhibition around 2020. I’m having to infer the chronology from FR•EE’s Facebook site and various links.
Whereas FR•EE City has a sharp border to preserve its circular geometry. Border City appears more open ended, with interlinked radial elements stretching across the landscape. The project was conceived amidst the start of the border rhetoric of Donald Trump (which continues). FR•EE’s Border City counters with the idea of facilitating free trade, commerce, and movement between the countries. The city, if not the citizens, would have dual nationality. According to a review by Jessica Mairs in 2016,
“The masterplan is the antithesis to the hardline immigration and deportation views of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has plans to construct a wall along America’s southern border and foot Mexico with the bill.”
City of blue, green and gold
The latest incarnation of the diagrammatic mega city idea comes with FR•EE’s proposal for Bitcoin City at the side of the Conchagua volcano in El Salvador. I referenced that in my previous post. As far as I can tell, FR•EE’s Facebook site provides the major source of information on what this city is to be like.
The centre is dominated by a giant bitcoin symbol. There will be a museum to the history of money. Further similarity with Gods of Egypt resides with the choice of colouring of the digital and physical model. It is all in lustrous gold, like a lava flow down the side of Conchagua, though the President of El Salvador is keen to remind citizens that this was the architect’s choice for the model, and the dominant colours of the city will be blue and green. It is a sustainable city after all.
“Bitcoin City represents a new form of urban planning, based on values, where its inhabitants have higher rates of social and economic well-being. It will be a city of full citizen freedom with effective exercise of human, civil and political rights. It will promote the installation of technological companies, the intensive use of bicycles, without polluting transportation, with a thematic museum on the world history of money, a cultural center, a convention center, a promenade, hotels, a marina, a nearby airport and an outer metropolitan area, where the current population will have decent housing and efficient urban services, health, education, job and recreational opportunities.”
Cryptocurrency is there in the symbols, narrative and form of the city diagram, though as yet I don’t detect anything about land use, exchange or commerce that draws on ideas of unregulated peer-to-peer exchange. It’s not a “real-world” Decentraland. The circular geometry works against the symbolism. Nor is there a display of pipes, reservoirs, turbines and steam valves that celebrate the thermal energy that is to power Bitcoin City. It’s not yet a crypto steampunk city.
- Degen, Mónica Montserrat, and Gillian Rose. The New Urban Aesthetic: Digital Experiences of Urban Change. London: Bloomsbury, 2022.
- Romero, Fernando. “Bitcoin City: The New City of El Salvador.” Facebook, 22 November. Accessed 19 May 2022. https://www.facebook.com/FREEFernandoRomero/posts/6398039186933579
- Romero, Fernando. “FR-EE City.” Accessed 19 May 2022. https://fr-ee.org/fr-ee-city/