20 March 2013

Book: A History of Future Cities

Be the first to share

A History of Future Cities
by Daniel Brook
W. W. Norton & Company
2013 – 480 pages
[Amazon link]

The new book A History of Future Cities looks at the attempts of places like Dubai, Shanghai, and Mumbai to create Western-looking areas in an attempt to create a sense of modernity.


A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Every month, five million people move from the past to the future. Pouring into developing-world “instant cities” like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobbled together from fragments of a West they have never seen. Do these fantastical boomtowns, where blueprints spring to life overnight on virgin land, represent the dawning of a brave new world? Or is their vaunted newness a mirage?

In a captivating blend of history and reportage, Daniel Brook travels to a series of major metropolitan hubs that were once themselves instant cities— St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai—to watch their “dress rehearsals for the twenty-first century.” Understanding today’s emerging global order, he argues, requires comprehending the West’s profound and conflicted influence on developing-world cities over the centuries.

In 1703, Tsar Peter the Great personally oversaw the construction of a new Russian capital, a “window on the West” carefully modeled on Amsterdam, that he believed would wrench Russia into the modern world. In the nineteenth century, Shanghai became the fastest-growing city on earth as it mushroomed into an English-speaking, Western-looking metropolis that just happened to be in the Far East. Meanwhile, Bombay, the cosmopolitan hub of the British Raj, morphed into a tropical London at the hands of its pith-helmeted imperialists.

Juxtaposing the stories of the architects and authoritarians, the artists and revolutionaries who seized the reins to transform each of these precociously modern places into avatars of the global future, Brook demonstrates that the drive for modernization was initially conflated with wholesale Westernization. He shows, too, the ambiguous legacy of that emulation—the birth (and rebirth) of Chinese capitalism in Shanghai, the origins of Bollywood in Bombay’s American-style movie palaces, the combustible mix of revolutionary culture and politics that rocked the Russian capital—and how it may be transcended today.

A fascinating, vivid look from the past out toward the horizon, A History of Future Cities is both a crucial reminder of globalization’s long march and an inspiring look into the possibilities of our Asian Century.

Fast Company review

The four are as much “ideas” as places, he argues–Eastern cities in agrarian backwaters that copied the West architecturally in hopes of borrowing their modernity. To whatever extent they’ve succeeded, they point the way forward for the next urban billion.

Be the first to share
29 September 2015
[Experientia book] Ethnography on elderly health and wellness
As we age, we increasingly depend on public services and the community for support. Well-designed public services can greatly affect the lives of the elderly and their experiences of healthcare. Experientia collaborated with DesignSingapore Council …
26 September 2015
[Book] The first-ever ethnographic study of the global reinsurance industry
Making a Market for Acts of God: The Practice of Risk Trading in the Global Reinsurance Industry By Paula Jarzabkowski, Rebecca Bednarek, and Paul Spee Oxford Scholarship Online April 2015 Abstract Reinsurance is financial market trading in the risk of …
24 September 2015
[Free eBook] Understanding the Connected Home
Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow's connected home By Peter Bihr and Michelle Thorne Berlin, September 2015 Available on GitBook We know that connectivity increasingly makes its way into our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. Into …
5 September 2015
[Book] Anthropologist observes the world of London bankers
Swimming with Sharks: My Journey into the World of the Bankers by Joris Luyendijk Guardian Faber Publishing September 2015 - 288 pages Joris Luyendijk, an investigative journalist and anthropologist, knew as much about banking as the average person: almost …
2 September 2015
[Book] The Silo Effect
The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers by Gillian Tett Simon & Schuster - September 1, 2015 304 pages > Extract Abstract From award-winning columnist and journalist Gillian Tett comes a brilliant examination of …
11 August 2015
[Book] Aging and the Digital Life Course
Aging and the Digital Life Course Edited by David Prendergast and Chiara Garattini Series: Life Course, Culture and Aging: Global Transformations Publisher: Berghahn Books (June 30, 2015) Hardcover, 289 pages Abstract Across the life course, new forms of community, ways of …
1 August 2015
Nissan’s place-based design process
Megan Neese is a senior manager in the Future Lab at Nissan Motor Ltd., a cross-functional team tasked with uncovering new business opportunities for the future of automotive. In an article for EPIC, she explains how …
31 July 2015
[Book] Excited to announce the new book by John Thackara
How to thrive in the next economy by John Thackara Thames & Hudson August 2015, 192pp Abstract Drawing on a lifetime of travel in search of real-world alternatives that work, I describe how communities the world over are creating a …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

29 September 2015
[Experientia book] Ethnography on elderly health and wellness

As we age, we increasingly depend on public services and the community for support. Well-designed public services can greatly affect the lives of the elderly and their experiences of healthcare. Experientia collaborated with DesignSingapore Council on understanding how the elderly interact with public services and how we can look towards improving their lives with design. […]

2 July 2015
Getting citizens involved in protecting fragile energy environments

A new project funded under the FP7 European Commission framework is getting citizens involved in testing new tools for reducing energy consumption during peak loads, in the hope that its pilot program will set the new state of the art for protecting locations with fragile electricity supplies. One of France’s most fragile regions The Provence-Alpes-Côte […]

5 May 2015
Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록 in Design 4 Disaster

Design 4 Disaster features an engaging illustrated safety manual for ship passengers, a personal project by Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록. After the Korean ferry accident last year, Yuluck (who is Korean) wanted to find a way to make safety manuals more interesting to read. He spent one year designing an interactive safety guide […]

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
21 December 2014
Experientia’s Twitter feed live

Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]

See all articles