The History Channel's series Engineering an Empire depicted how the all-powerful (sometimes even deified) rulers of ancient civilizations roped clever architects into designing them the ultimate legacy: massive monuments. But after chronicling the architectural feats of the Romans and the Aztecs, the cable outlet looked ahead, announcing The City of the Future: A Design and Engineering Challenge.

In November and December last year, The History Channel convened design teams from three U.S. cities—Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York—and asked them to imagine the architectural and engineering marvels that will define their cities a hundred years from now.

“We're hoping to shape the debate about the future based on what we know about the past,” says Mike Mohamad, the channel's senior vice president of marketing.

The New Orleans–based design consulting group Jones/Kroloff structured the competition, inviting several firms from each city and jurying portfolios to round out the list of contestants: 10 teams competed in New York, eight in Chicago (where ARCHITECT editor in chief Ned Cramer was among the jurors), and eight in Los Angeles. “The History Channel was interested in identifying young and forward-looking designers,” explains Jones/Kroloff principal Casey Jones, adding that the open-call submissions yielded entrants who were just as talented as the invitees. Jones noted the positive reactions of many participants. “They appreciated having a concentrated time period to think at this scale,” he says.

In the first round of the competition, teams had four hours to assemble 3-D models of the city they envisioned (the models had been prebuilt during a one-week design period) before presenting them to a jury of design professionals. Honorable mentions (sponsored by Infiniti and IBM) were awarded, but only one winner was chosen in each city.

The three winning schemes went head to head in an online competition at Voting, led by Daniel Libeskind, will close on Feb. 3, and the overall winner will be announced later this month.

Each winner has already collected a cash prize of $10,000, and the ultimate winner will garner an additional $10,000.

In ancient Rome and the other civilizations that Engineering an Empire has covered, hubris and overextension led to decline. Do these ideas for the future of three great American cities represent the next step forward—or are they symptomatic of the end of another empire? Stay tuned.