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Here Now, a Look at Eight Utterly Failed Pop-Up Cities

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In recent years it seems many high-flying architects have eschewed regular residential design—the very stuff that made names for the likes of John Lautner, Richard Neutra, and more—in favor of grand schemes that float like lily pads or hover like helicopters. Instead of custom-designing dwellings for the rich and famous, many instead reach for full-scale, sparkling utopias. And yes, while there seems to have been a recent surge in the trend, proposals for pre-designed, ready-packed insta-cities have been around for centuries, hatched by philosophers, idealists, and religious fanatics alike.

Now, as then, most proposals don't see the light of day, but for the few that do get the funding (and the over-bold developer) to break ground—a number of such examples are not (yet) failures, including the world's first zero-carbon city and a Kenyan metropolis—there is almost always a bit of a media flurry. Yes, pop-up cities are pretty much always worth following, even if that means watching a disaster unfold with all the horror of a car accident in slow-motion. Below, eight pop-up city flops from around the world:

Ordos City, China: Regarded as China's most famous ghost city (which is really saying something), this city in the Kangbashi district was built to house a million people, with huge residential blocks as well as an airport, hospital, and sports arena. According to Time, which once pulled together an epic photogallery, Ordos "remains nearly empty five years after construction." A dateline blogger described the city, in China's Inner Mongolia region, as being of similar scale and ghostliness as North Korea's capital Pyongyang: "Wide, empty boulevards. Grandiose architecture with confused themes. And an eerie shortage of people. At times you have to pinch yourself and say, 'Yes, it's real.'"

Fordlandia, Brazil: Unambiguously the largest failure of American industrialist Henry Ford, Fordlandia, a faux Michigan suburb swaddled in the Brazilian rainforest, boasted rows of little white houses with pitched roofs and porches, swimming pools, dance halls for square dancing, and cafeterias for serving up hamburgers and other American fare. Why did it exist? In 1928, when Ford first commissioned the development, he and his American carmaker comrades were using something like 70 percent of the world's rubber supply, and because rubber plants were only grown in small amounts in Asia (and synthetic rubber had yet to be invented) Ford knew he needed to do something to avoid a crisis. He snatched up 6,000 square miles of Amazon (totally the same thing as Southeast Asia) and hired locals to grow and harvest the rubber. Problem is it didn't work; employees rebelled and the rubber plants failed to flourish.

Yongsan International Business District in Seoul, South Korea: Here's an example of pop-up city that, despite involving some of the world's most famous architecture firms—BIG, MVRDV, Foster + Partners, and more—has seemingly failed before it really had the chance to get started. In 2008, the dream team of architecture conglomerates (an assemblage cobbled together by everyone's least favorite pseudo-starchitect Daniel Libeskind), produced a batch of glittering skyscraper renderings for a city-within-a-city in Seoul. The cost? $28B. The timeline? To break ground in 2011. The status? Halted, and probably permanently.

Last year the developers faced bankruptcy, having defaulted on a massive (about $4.8M) loan amid the real estate free-fall of 2008-'09. In April, Business Insider reported that the project's total collapse was "still speculative, as it is unclear how the next round of loans ... will fare." In September, however, Korean news outlets reported that the Seoul Metropolitan Government officially scrapped the plans for the "Dream Hub," saying in a statement: "A combination of the economic downturn, the project operators' inability to secure funds and Korail's [the state-run railway operator and largest shareholder] decision [to pull out of the project] all contributed to the collapse of the project."

Auroville, India: India's experimental City of Dawn in Tamil Nadu was founded by "The Mother" Mirra Alfassa in 1968 to complete the, uh, easy task of "realizing human unity." Designed by French architect Roger Anger and financed by UNESCO, Auroville is, according to a statement, "meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities." It may seem incredibly pie-in-the-sky, but, for however little it's worth, Auroville is actually one of the more enduring cities on this list. Sure, only 2,305 people live in a settlement meant to house 50,000, but the town's gold-plated Matrimandir (pictured) remains a symbol of peace and a space for meditation. What's more, the city's commune-style economy (more on that, over here) and national government support remains.

Photo via Getty Images

Arcosanti, Ariz.: In 1970 Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri brought the experimental township concept to the United States, breaking ground in—where else?—central Arizona. Arcosanti was his chance to use his "arcology" concept, basically combining architecture and ecology to create ecosystems that minimally impacted the surrounding environment. His ideas about improving urbanity without totally eviscerating the land still influence organic architects and urban planners today. His Arcosanti? According to Wikipedia "the population varies between 50 and 150 people, based on the number of students and volunteers on the site." So really, the degree to which Arcosanti failed depends on how one envisions the end-goal—was the town meant to actually function as a "hyperstructure," or was this just some giant display to be Exhibit A for explaining his concepts?

Tianducheng, China: Considering China's penchant for wacky development ideas, it's not outside the realm of all possible worlds that someone thought it was a grand idea to appropriate the architectural tropes of a city 5,760 miles away. Tianducheng is a petite Paris, complete with an Eiffel Tower as well as streets marked by fountains, gaslamps, and apartments with Juliet balconies. As if this weren't enough to give visitors the wiggins, the city is practically devoid of people, "surrounded by a confusing mix of farmland and wide, abruptly ending roads," as The Atlantic Cities once wrote. Do take a quick detour and check out the video.

Kadykchan, Russia: Built by Gulag prisoners during WWII, this municipality in northeast Russia attracted workers to its coal mines. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., which kept the town's main business profitable, Kadykchan's 6,000ish residents have rapidly evacuated. When a mine explosion in 1996 killed six people, the government chose to subsidize the moving costs for its population. According to Wikipedia: "As of 2010, the settlement was officially completely depopulated, although travelers reported one or two hardy residents remaining in 2012."

Octagon City, Kansas: Founded in 1856 by the Vegetarian Kansas Emigration Company, Octagon City—named as such because, as io9 writes, "scientific idea" at the time was that octagons were the most practical shape for cities and and homes—began as a vegetarian colony, but very soon after had to open its membership pool to include meat-eaters. Along the eight radial roads, octagonal farmhouses with octagonal barns were meant to house the city's population, but during the first year settlers arrived to find a single log cabin, a single plow, and a whole lotta tents. And it didn't get much sunnier from there. According to Wikipedia, Octagon City was plagued with mosquitoes and a "flu-like epidemic" that together brought on malaria and malnutrition. Thunderstorms were "a continuous problem" and by July "the springs feeding the community had dried up." By the beginning of the next year, only four of the original settlers remained.

· Ordos, China: A Modern Ghost Town [Time]
· Come Tour Fordlândia, Henry Ford's Failed Suburb In Brazil [Curbed National]
· Korea's $28B 'Dream Hub' is Probably Not Going to Happen [Curbed National]
· Check Out China's Uncanny Faux Paris, Now a 'Ghost Town' [Curbed National]
· 10 Failed Utopian Cities That Influenced the Future [io9]
· All Metropolis 2.0 posts [Curbed National]