Living for the City

Overcrowding never looked so attractive. Appearing as part of the Tate Modern’s current exhibition, Global Cities, which is on display in the gallery’s vast Turbine Hall, is a series of intriguing “density models”

The plywood structures were created by a team of designers and architects at the London School Of Economics, led by Professor Richard Burdett. The models are shaped around the outlines of each city with each layer of plywood representing an extra 200 people per square kilometre. “To create the models, we calculated a 3D surface representing residential density in each city and then extracted the contour lines for those with Geographic Information System software,” explains the LSE team’s Bruno Moser. “Those were then processed by modelmakers Pipers, cut and assembled.”

Global Cities addresses the major issues facing today’s cities – size, speed, form, density and diversity. It evolved out of a previous exhibition included in last year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. The density models first made their appearance there, where styrofoam forms ingeniously represented the populations of 12 of the world’s major urban centres. For the Tate show, only four models were made, representing the populations of Greater London, Cairo, Mexico City and Mumbai, allowing a more sophisticated model to be developed.

“The brief was to find a way of representing the mass of statistical information in the Turbine Hall that would engage and invite people to explore it,” says Pentagram’s William Russell, who designed the exhibition with Angus Hyland. “We were trying to approach an audience that’s not necessarily an architectural one. I don’t think it dumbs down the information but makes it understandable and clear.”

As it was only possible to include four density models in the exhibition, cities showing the extremes were chosen. The results graphically show that Londoners have nothing to complain about compared to the residents of Cairo or Mumbai, with the models for these two cities towering over the others, revealing the vast quantities of people that are crammed into a far smaller geographical space. Perhaps the most beautiful model though is for Mexico City, with its pockets of low population areas making for a particularly elegant sculptural effect.

“People relate to it because it’s something three-dimensional and maybe because it’s a shape they recognise,” continues Moser. “It allows them to understand the city from a completely different angle.”

Photographs: Nick Turner. Global Cities is on show at the Tate Modern until 27 August.


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