Imagining a City of Treelike Buildings | History | Smithsonian

Imagining a City of Treelike Buildings

Amid growing concerns that skyscrapers were blocking sunlight for people on the ground, a British architect proposed a novel solution.

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The city of the future (April, 1934 Popular Science Monthly)

As New York City’s buildings sprouted toward the heavens in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a concern that people on the ground would be deprived of sunlight. The buildings were blocking out the sun for those on the ground and it looked like a problem that was only going to get worse.

The April, 1934 issue of Popular Science Monthly ran this illustration by B. G. Seielstad, which shows the city of the future as it was imagined by British writer R. H. Wilenski. It looks like this kind of design would depend much more on spacing such buildings out, but there’s no doubt there would still be some major shadows.

With modern elevators and living quarters perched high above the ground, Seielstad and Wilenski’s vision of the city of the future appears positively Jetsonian to modern eyes.

Shaped like trees with slender trunks, homes and office buildings of the future may rise into pure air on pedestals of steel. Our artist presents here his conception of this startling proposal, made recently by R. H. Wilenski, noted British architect. The scheme leaves the ground level virtually unobstructed. Each building is supported upon a single, stalk-like shaft of steel or strong, light alloys, resting in turn upon a massive subterranean foundation. Modern advances in the design of high-speed elevators simplify the problems of transporting passengers between the buildings and the earth. Access from one building to another is provided by a system of suspension bridges, and stores and places of recreation contained in the building make it possible to dwell aloft for an indefinite time without needing to descend. Gigantic, luminous globes are placed at strategic points to light the aerial city by night, while by day the inhabitants enjoy the unfiltered sunshine and fresh air of their lofty nests.

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