Last year, The History Channel chose America's big three New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles for its first "City of the Future" competition, tasking eight teams of architects from each location to envision their hometown in 100 years. For 2008, The History Channel tapped architects in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. After a round of local judging, the top scheme from each city has moved on to the national competiton, which concludes on April 28. The winner will be announced during a subsequent episode of Cities of the Underworld. Check out the finalist schemes here, and visit history.com to cast your vote.




CITY: San Francisco ARCHITECT: Iwamoto Scott Architecture

  • Vertical algae farms will produce hydrogen atoms that will power Iwamoto Scott Architecture's scheme for San Francisco circa 2108.
    Vertical algae farms will produce hydrogen atoms that will power Iwamoto Scott Architecture's scheme for San Francisco circa 2108.

To prepare participants, the History channel sent DVDs of its program Cities of the Underworld. San Francisco–based Iwamoto Scott Architecture took the material so seriously that its proposal is largely below grade, in a vast array of habitable, infrastructural tentacles dubbed “Hydro-Net.” Built by robots and lined with carbon nanotubes, the structure will store hydrogen atoms to power the city. Hydrogen will come from vertical algae farms in new high-rise residential structures around the bay.

The underground system, with its intricate and densely packed design, blooms periodically above the surface to form the high-rise algae farms and two other types of infrastructural landmarks, which Lisa Iwamoto and her partner Craig Scott have dubbed “fog flowers” and “geothermal mushrooms.” “San Francisco is very mired in its past—architecturally and urbanistically,” Iwamoto says. “It's tempting to think through visions for the future in a city like this.”




CITY: Washington, D.C. ARCHITECT: Beyer Blinder Belle

  • Old planning principles become the basis for the future of Washington, D.C., as envisioned by Beyer Blinder Belle. Forts become towers for energy creation, existing metro tunnels become a goods distribution network, and L'Enfant's famous boulevards become green space.
    Old planning principles become the basis for the future of Washington, D.C., as envisioned by Beyer Blinder Belle. Forts become towers for energy creation, existing metro tunnels become a goods distribution network, and L'Enfant's famous boulevards become green space.

Hany Hassan, a principal at Beyer Blinder Belle, found inspiration in a ring of 69 forts that once protected the nation's capital. His team appropriated about half of these locales as sites for a new series of icons—towers that will produce power and food for inhabitants. “What once protected the city brings new life in a sustainable manner,” Hassan says.

The towers connect to the L'Enfant plan at Washington's core by falling within the view-shed of its radiating avenues. But Beyer Blinder Belle revises L'Enfant's logic by establishing the diagonal boulevards as new linear, urban parks. The orthogonal streets are retained for some kind of personal transit. Although the team refused to speculate exactly how people will get around in 2108, it certainly won't be by Metro, as the scheme retasks Harry Weese's iconic stations and tunnels as an underground network for the delivery of goods.

The Capitol building remains at the center of the city, with a new greensward connecting it eastward to the Anacostia River. The National Mall is filled with water from the Potomac, in a radical revision of the monumental core.




CITY: Atlanta ARCHITECT: EDAW/Praxis3/BNIM/Metcalf & Eddy

  • To green a future Atlanta, the design team envisions a return to nature, with stormwater runoff brought above ground to form streams and rivers and the forest retaking some of the land.
    To green a future Atlanta, the design team envisions a return to nature, with stormwater runoff brought above ground to form streams and rivers and the forest retaking some of the land.

Atlanta's winning team—a consortium of four firms—proposed a vision, called “The City in the Forest,” that's deeply rooted in EDAW's extensive work with underground infrastructure in the sprawling metropolitan area. “You could do a simple thing and create a chain of events that make Atlanta very sustainable,” says EDAW senior associate Eric Bishop. The underlying idea is to overturn the logic of existing infrastructure—with its extensive and overtaxed underground storm drainage—allowing stormwater to resurface naturally as streams and rivers, and concentrate building development on the resulting natural ridges rather than in an artificial gridiron. By creating the conditions for nature to reassert its presence, the winning proposal rethinks the form of a city in a rolling piedmont region. The drawings are almost bereft of buildings—stressing how the forest, too, would reclaim large swaths of land. Unlike the winning schemes in the other cities, the Atlanta proposal isn't an architectural fantasy. “If you had the money and the political will, you could do it right now,” Bishop says.