In 1964, Ron Herron of Archigram proposed a Walking City: urbanism gone ambulatory, a metropolis on the move. The Walking City, strutting along on iron stilts, was imagined as an “escape hatch from environmental conditions,” Simon Sadler writes. It was an “architecture of rescue” – a city in shining armor – “partly inspired by the tents and field hospitals of humanitarian relief efforts.”
[Image: Ron Herron/Archigram, The Walking City].
Herron also had openly utopian intentions for the project. If the city didn’t like where it was, for instance – if its residents found their surroundings boring, oppressive or even quasi-fascist – the whole thing could simply stand up and walk away, re-settling itself elsewhere, freed from the constraints of law and geography.
But what if you didn’t live in the Walking City – indeed in any city at all? What good would it do you then?
For those of us trapped in a cultural desert, Archigram had another solution: the Instant City, flown in by hot-air balloon and helicopter and deposited anywhere in the world. The roofs, domes and canopies of a new metropolis could earn an official post-code in the blink of an eye.
There is no reason, however, to limit those helicopters to a role as mere delivery vehicles. The helicopters themselves could be liberated to form their own city – an airborne utopia, endlessly aloft, wandering through the planetary atmosphere. A helitopia, perhaps.
They could form, in other words, a helicopter archipelago, or flying island-chain, a brand new player in the sphere of geopolitics.
[Image: Leah Beeferman/BLDGBLOG, close-up of The Helicopter Archipelago].
Running on solar power, the helicopters would stay perpetually airborne – even as new machines latch on with rope ladders, the shape of the archipelago changing as its population expands. Pilots and passengers both could move between “islands” on bridges and zip-lines, which rearrange as the choppers switch position, moving in and out of formation.
All repairs would take place mid-flight.
A kind of flying Hawaii, or anti-gravitational Micronesia, with tanned deck-hands leaping across aerodynamic tailfins to the soundtrack of ceaseless enginery, the helicopter archipelago would act as an escape hatch from traditional, nation-state sovereignty. Its government would be a parliament of pilots, led by experts in storms, whose access to climatological data – future weather, air speed, barometric pressure – would determine the nation’s route and direction.
Never leaving the international airspace of unregulated trade winds, the archipelago would be impossible to map. Atlas-makers and manufacturers of globes will simply include a pack of removable stickers, featuring small clouds of helicopters, to approximate the country’s location…
Of course, these helicopters would not be the first manmade archipelago.
Today in Dubai, for instance, private hoteliers are developing both “The World” and “The Palm,” two artificial island chains of robotically-displaced sand upon which hotels and housing are being constructed.
[Image: Photographer unknown; creating an archipelago in Dubai. (Via Pruned)].
As the global oil economy begins to run dry, Dubai hopes to market itself as a tourist destination par excellence, boasting 7-star resorts –
[Image: The Palm (Via Pruned)].
– and an underwater hotel, where guests will look out through glass walls at schools of exotic fish.
Dubai supplies an interesting model, here, because if the helicopter archipelago ever found itself in need of a few extra – dollars? euros? pounds? – it could simply open itself up as a fantasy hotel. When the pressure of living terrestrially becomes too much, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes could raise their kids there.
But if a flying resort of 7-star helicopters is too bourgeois for you, another manmade island chain worth considering is the aesthetic ancestor of Archigram’s Walking City: England’s Maunsell Towers. Built by the British Army during WWII, and named after their architect, Guy Maunsell, the Maunsell Towers were an offshore military fortress from which Army gunners could shoot down Nazi aircraft en route to bomb London.
[Image: Photographer unknown; the Maunsell Towers – for more information see Underground Kent].
Now rusting and derelict, the Towers have become eccentric tourist stops – yet the Maunsell Towers are just one example of offshore structures put to new use.
Sealand, for instance, is a self-declared country, constituted and run on a former anti-aircraft platform in the North Sea; today, it remains economically active as a data haven and pirate radio station, and it even issues passports – for which it has earned the status of micronation.
[Image: ©Ryan Lackey, Sealand].
So could the helicopter archipelago itself become a micronation? If so, how would it support itself, nutritionally or otherwise?
Could it have a seat at the U.N., or join the E.U., perhaps even train an Olympic team?
There might be flying gardens, for instance, bulging hammocks of soil cultivated to bear fruit. Almond trees, apiaries, chicken coops. A flying aquarium, with cloned fish suspended in pools above the Gulf Stream. An arts center, hospital and gymnasium.
The archipelago could issue stamps –
[Image: Leah Beeferman/BLDGBLOG, postage stamp for the Helicopter Archipelago].
– produce a permanent flag –
[Image: Leah Beeferman/BLDGBLOG, flag for the Helicopter Archipelago].
– and compose folk songs. Babies born onboard will be declared instant citizens, and the archipelago will welcome immigrants, incorporating whole new helicopter clusters at a time.
Once the archipelago is aloft for more than a century, the International Geological Society will declare it a flying continent, the world’s first airborne tectonic plate.
Some speculate that two million years from now the archipelago’s ruins will still hover in the sky: a ghostly blur across the north Atlantic horizon…
(Note: Leah Beeferman, who illustrated the “Helicopter Archipelago,” is a Brooklyn-based artist and the graphic designer for Cabinet Magazine. [Cabinet, in fact, has a whole issue on micronations, if you’re curious]. Leah’s work has appeared on BLDGBLOG once before. Meanwhile, Lonely Planet is getting into the spirit with their forthcoming Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations, co-written by none other than Simon Sellars of Ballardian.com).