The skyscraper video games exploring the smart city of the future

Did you know that the future of the smart city might be vertical? With space increasingly at a premium and cities getting more unwieldy from massive sprawl, many architects and urban planners have been considering expanding up rather than out, building colossal towers and mega skyscrapers.

In this scenario, interconnected towers stretch high into the clouds, incorporating apartments and offices, parks, hospitals, cinemas, shops, energy, vertical food production facilities, plus everything else we’re accustomed to seeing in a ground level metropolis.

A concept by Luca Curci Architects, for example, envisions a massive modular structure planted in the sea in which each module is 72 metres high, 120 metres wide, and can house as many as 2,500 people in a variety of abodes, while providing 20,000 square metres of garden space.

Another futuristic smart city idea, put forth by the authors of a book called Vertical City: A Solution for Sustainable Living, imagines a network of many self­-sustaining, eco-­friendly mega towers connected together via sky bridges and ground­ level roads.

Just as cities emerge from villages and towns, vertical cities will likely start as smaller vertical communities adapted from traditional housing estates.

This kind of smaller-­scale smart city design is already appearing. In Singapore, a series of hexagonally­-arranged stacks of apartment buildings completed in 2013 are orientated to create communal indoor and outdoor spaces, such as roof terraces, plazas, gardens, gyms, and more for the thousands of residents.

Another take on the idea involves embedding forests in skyscrapers. One such pair of towers in Milan won an award for best tall building worldwide in 2015. Similar projects have been planned or proposed in major cities all over the world, such as One Central Park in Sydney and Diamond Lotus in Ho Chi Minh City.

One Central Park smart city development
Sydney’s One Central Park concept embraces nature. Credit: 2016 PTW Architects.

Video games have begun to explore the concept of vertical cities, too. The SimCity series has long touched on different formulations of self-­contained mega towers, such as with SimCity 2000’s four arcologies. But two games currently in development put vertical living front and centre.

BalanCity takes a playful, lighthearted approach inspired by building with wooden blocks. The idea here is to stack airports, offices, houses, power plants, factories, transportation, and other buildings and services haphazardly atop each other in a floating city that balances precipitously atop a platform.

If you don’t balance your distribution of buildings well enough, your smart city literally comes tumbling down.

Block’hood is rather more rooted in actual architectural and urban theory. Developed by former architects, it gives you a small space about the size of a city block and a library of 96 modular pieces from which you need to assemble a sustainable vertical micro­city.

All its systems feed into each other, so you have to balance leisure, work, power, water, waste, and other needs against each other. The game serves as both a primer and as a testing bed for urban ecology and entropy.

Block'hood smart city simulatorr
Block’hood combines a fun game with architectural and urban theory.

It’s a place for envisioning and understanding how cities might handle land and other resource constraints effectively and to come to terms with a future in which the urban environment and nature must become better entwined.

The great thing here, of course, is that unlike with the myriad architectural concepts for the future, everyone can craft their own vision for how we might live — how our work and pleasure and housing and the facilities that support these might evolve — as our cities stop growing out and increasingly climb up into the clouds.

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