Edge of Innovation

Jetpacks? Organic architecture? Disney’s Tomorrowland is closer than you think


In the Disney movie Tomorrowland, a young girl living in a gloomy version of our world gets a glimpse of a bright, futuristic utopia – “a secret place where nothing is impossible.”

But just how impossible is it? If you’ve watched the trailer (see below) or you’ve seen the movie then you’ll know that Tomorrowland depicts a Jetsons-style megacityscape where crazily-shaped buildings soar, jetpack-wearing loons corkscrew through the air and boiler-suited squads of androids keep the peace.

That said, Tomorrowland’s utopian vision isn’t as futuristic as you might think. In fact, its Sci-Fi design could have its roots in some of today’s boldest ideas.


We already have some amazing buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Tomorrowland — London’s wedge-shaped Leadenhall Building (aka the ‘Cheesegrater’), Dubai’s half-mile high Burj Khalifa and China’s spiralling Shanghai Tower.

Valencia’s extraordinary City of Arts and Sciences was reportedly used as a location in the Disney film. It’s where you’ll find the eye-shaped L’Hemisfèric (an IMAX cinema) and the beautiful curves of the Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts (used as an opera house).

Futuristic buildings
From left to right: Tomorrowland’s futuristic buildings; London’s towering ‘Cheesegrater’; and Valencia’s stunning City of Arts and Sciences.

Look closely at the Tomorrowland metropolis and you’ll see vegetation fringing the edges of some of the buildings and aerial walkways. It’s an idea that some architects are experimenting with today; an approach dubbed organic architecture.

In Milan, the Stefano Boeri-designed Bosco Verticale towers have facades planted with 21,000 trees and plants in an effort to absorb CO2. While in California, Frank Gehry designed the new Facebook HQ in Menlo Park with a spectacular nine-acre garden roof.

Green spaces
From left to right: Tomorrowland’s gravity-defying greenery; Milan’s ‘vertical forest’; and London’s proposed Garden Bridge.

In London, Westminster Council have approved what could be the most expensive footbridge in the world — a £175 million ‘Garden Bridge’ across the Thames. The crossing was designed by the Heatherwick Studio, the imagineers behind the new, and equally futuristic, Google Mountain View Campus, which will have its buildings draped with translucent canopies.

The Tomorrowland trailer also shows jetpacks, which has long been a Sci-Fi staple together with flying cars and Hyperloop-style train transportation. As the video below demonstrates, the technology to build one has actually been around since the 1960s. Fuelled by a mix of nitrogen gas and hydrogen peroxide, jetpacks and modern-day rocket belts can whoosh through the air lifted by jets of superheated steam. The problem is keeping one in the air for more than 30 seconds.


We’re obviously nowhere near being able to deploy squads of boiler-suited android enforcers on our city streets. But that’s not to say that current-gen technology can’t put together a robot that looks almost like a human.

Toshiba’s lifelike Aiko Chihira ‘communication android’, for example, has “the appearance of a friendly young woman, an impression accentuated by blinking eyes and a warm smile.”

Future technology - jetpacks and life-like robots
From left to right: A Tomorrowland jetpack; the Bell Rocket Belt at Brands Hatch; Toshiba’s Aiko Chihira robot in Tokyo.

This April, Aiko Chihira was installed in Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi Nihombashi department store, where it will act as a receptionist, greeting shoppers as they enter. Toshiba hopes to improve this debut model to include “sensing, speech synthesis, speech recognition and robotic control to realize a more sophisticated social robot by 2020.”

Tomorrowland shares its name with one of Disneyland’s five themed lands, a place that Walt Disney originally described as “a step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come.” In some respects, we’re already on the way there. – Dean Evans


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