Monday, February 6, 2017

King Gillette's Niagara Metropolis

Before perfecting his idea for a safety razor, King Camp Gilette (1855-1932) developed some radical concepts for utopian cities. Chief among them was a giant city called "Metropolis," built on, and powered by, Niagara falls. 

I just learned about this recently, and knew nothing of it when I came up with Waterfall City.

Gilette's Metropolis would consist of a central manufacturing facility owned by the public. The residence areas would be large enough to accommodate sixty million people. Potentially, this city would be the only one necessary for the United States. 

"Under a perfect economical system of production and distribution and a system combining the greatest elements of progress," he said, " there can be only one city on a continent, and possibly only one in the world."

The structures would be arranged like a giant beehive, and uniformity could be alleviated by allowing individual building to vary in color.

Gilette wrote: "The buildings of the city have their foundation in the ground, but the buildings proper rise above the upper platform. The people do not feel conscious of the elevation above the surrounding country; for the platforms, in anticipation of the city's growth, extend out beyond the city proper beyond the range of vision. There is absolutely no way by which dirt or dust can find its way into the city in any appreciable amount. There are no traffic vehicles of any kind in the city except the electric transportation system of the middle chamber and rubber­-tired electrical carriages and bicycles."

Wikipedia on King Camp Gillette
Book: America's Communal Utopias
Thanks, Patty Kellner


Terry said...

Wow, that's bonkers! Did he address the fact that if this was actually implemented, the U.S, would largely be one gigantic - gorgeous and varied - national park?

Smurfswacker said...

Utopian cities have always interested me, but this is the first I've heard of Gillette's version. It shares a common flaw with many late-19th and early-20th-century proposals. The city is intended to provide better living for human beings. In practice it makes the inhabitants subservient to the efficiencies of the machine. The city provides for the inhabitants' physical needs but ignores the "intangibles" that enrich human lives. It might be open sky or fresh air. It might be earth under the feet. It might be weather or the progression of day to night. It might be a small private space or even something as simple as a window to the outside. To function a utopian city requires its residents to become as it is: standardized and efficient.

Le Corbusier's "Radiant City" of the 1920s imagined green zones dotted with immense geometrical apartment buildings. He took as his model the staterooms on passenger ships. Each family lived in an ultra-efficient mini-apartment. Private events like meals were moved to communal dining centers, eliminating the duplication of effort of thousands of people preparing their own dinners. There was plenty of natural space--out there--but a person's daily life was confined to a bed and a chair surrounded by a manufactured environment.

Admittedly it's wasteful to house two people in a ten-room home with a vast yard. Still, I suggest that environments built on a human scale usually provide a better life than those designed primarily for efficiency.

RENE said...

Very interesting...this reminds me of Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans in France, dating back to the 19th Century en France,design during the reign of Louis XV, also in a circleand but only half of it was built.
It proved not to be a feasible concept and was eventually abandoned. Today is a tourist attraction with beautiful buildings. It is next to the Forest of Chaux and about 35 kilometers from Besancon(Wikipedea). Very nice place to visit is you are in the vicinity!!

Anthony R. said...

Hi James,
My question is unrelated to this post, but I hope to get your insight on it.
I'm working on a long-term, multi-faceted project that is very close to me.
It has the estimated size to the Marvel Universe of comics and is in illustrated novel format.
Right now my brother and I have a seed of this project that has sprouted for over a decade.
Only recently have I started to practice art academically, feeling the necessity to do so, to share this story with the world in the way I'd like it to be. I don't feel I can halt the creation of the story, but hesitate to finish even the first pages when knowing how much I can improve and how good the project could be (when I am better). Perfectionism. This is a lifetime of work, but I would like to ask if you look back on personal projects, like Dinotopia, and feel you published them too early, before you had enough skill, or waited too long believing you weren't ready to make something? Any insight into something like this that you've experienced is immensely appreciated.

Gayle said...

Sounds like a perfect concept for those who envision colonizing Mars or one of those planets. Since there will not be any blue sky and good earth on those planets, then everything necessary to support human life would have to be contained under a dome. So maybe Mr. Gillette's imagination was indeed a prophetic vision of things to come! I LOVE the fact that at the top of each apartment there's a library and a music room (which I'm sure could double up as an art studio) - What more can one want eh?

James Gurney said...

Anthony, you raise a very big but very important question shared by everyone who conceives of a big idea: 'Am I ready to announce this thing to the world, or should I develop it longer and improve it?'

On the one hand you might want to resist announcing. While an idea is held back from the world and allowed to grow in your head, all changes are possible. As your artistic skills and experience grow, your conception and your expression can develop as well. Announcing it risks that someone else might run away with the idea and go to the public with it first.

If you feel a need to keep your development unadulterated by exposure, you might want to set a time limit on that period. Keep in mind that an idea is always perfect before it is expressed. The very act of committing it to a particular form diminishes it, regardless of your level of ability. Don't worry about that. That's the nature of art.

Beginning to share your idea has advantages. You can test your idea with real audiences and see whether it holds up. People appreciate being invited into your creative vortex. You can plant your flag on in the sand and claim the territory for your grand idea? Then again, maybe your idea is a dud. How will you know unless you try it out with real people?

Maybe there's a piece of what you've got that you can put out there. Remember that life is not a rehearsal. This is it! Your life clock is ticking. At some point you've got to plant your seed and let it grow.

Anthony R. said...

Thank you so much for the reply. It means a lot. I'll remember these as I keep going/growing.