The evolution of human habitation has been a history of densification. Increases in density have been made possible by innovations in technology. For example, starting from prehistory:
- agriculture – permanent villages
- irrigation – larger structured societies
- money – specialization and global trading, metropolises, free classes not taking part in primary production
Or, to jump to more recent and more specific accomplishments:
- water supply – first by aqueducts, then by pipes
- fire protection – party walls, building regulations, urban planning
- innovations in transport – carts, carriages, trains, automobiles, traffic lights, rapid transit systems etc.
- central heating
- public recreational facilities – parks, swimming pools, gyms, cinemas, fairgrounds etc. to keep the crowded masses amused and content
- refrigeration, preservatives, abattoirs, breweries, industrial food production and processing – essential to feed a metropolis
- sanitation and medical services – waste collection and treatment, medicine industry, hospitals, public healthcare
- Construction innovations – steel, reinforced concrete
- Elevators and escalators
- Innovations in thermal insulation and rainproofing
And most recently:
- mechanical ventilation, heat recovery and air conditioning
My point in listing these is that we, the city dwellers, are already very deeply dependent on various ingenious artificial measures without which our way of life would collapse. We are essentially already living as we would in a spacecraft.
The only reason why buildings are still separated by streets, courtyards, parks and squares is the ongoing preoccupation that ALL ROOMS must enjoy NATURAL LIGHT.
It is widely thought that “natural” light – a spectrum of light that is a result of the mixture of elements that are getting heated in the nuclear fires of the sun, and subsequently filtered by the atmosphere – is ESSENTIAL to our well-being; So essential in fact, that the structure of our cities is completely designed to secure a constant supply of natural light to every nook and cranny of our little nests.
And yet: many of us VOLUNTARILY spend a large part of our lives in places where there is no natural light and instead choose to rather bathe themselves in the shimmering lights of our artificial suns, neon and otherwise:
- Shopping centers
Also, most of us spend our days working in artificially lit (and heated, air-conditioned, etc.) environments staring at bright rectangles constantly emitting artificial light at us.
In fact, I’m afraid that is what most of us choose to do in the evenings as well.
If we could give up our obsession with natural light – if we built our cities as single continuous volumes, perhaps punctured here and there by a park or a square – we would save a lot of energy that is now spent in heating and insulating our buildings, or in transporting ourselves over the distances. The slight increase in energy spent in lighting and ventilation would certainly be offset by the savings. (I admit I will have to try and verify this by some calculations.)
So, I ask: what is keeping us from making use of all the wasted airspace between our buildings?