Magnasanti (Vincent Ocasla)
From the curators: Filipino architecture student Vincent Ocasla used the urban-simulation video game SimCity 3000 to create and optimize his ideal city, named Magnasanti. To design this virtual city of six million, he applied extensive calculations and modeling experiments. SimCity ostensibly encourages generative rather than destructive play. However, Ocasla wished to explore the slippage between an optimized SimCity and the dystopian virtual community produced by the strict regimentation required to sustain it. Inspired by experimental documentary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Ocasla highlights a brutal dichotomy: “Hidden under the illusion of order and greatness [lies] suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle—this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population.” As the debates that surround the legacy of architects such as Le Corbusier attest, it is difficult to separate the benevolent from the coercive when planning an ideal community, either on paper or digitally.
I once designed the perfect non-gated gated community in Saudi Arabia. It was commissioned by an enlightened developer who wanted a mold-breaking project: a new residential typology for middle-to high-income Muslim families that is neither high-walled private villas nor paranoid expatriate ghetto compound, models that make up the bulk of the real estate market in that country. Yet it had to offer at least some of the “quirks” of the typical models, such as sociability being a purely internal/domestic matter.
The result is inspired by traditional Arab, Mediterranean, and Islamic urbanism. Clusters of rooms and protected terraces form blurred buildings around lush courtyards and gardens.
SAUDISANTI is composed of:
- Only four apartment types, their structure and services designed with front-to-back, side-to-side, and rotational symmetries, create a Rubik’s cube system with an incredible number of possible four-story building configurations (8^4 = 4,096 to be exact)
- Each apartment has separate entrances for “male only” and “family;” sliding partitions to change the configuration from “family time” to “men visiting mode;” and at least one large outside room/patio to allow for the occasional breakout from air-conditioned utopia. It is protected from the elements and the gaze of the neighbors by wood screens inspired by traditional mashrabiyas.
- Five community gateways
- Four gardens
- Three mineral parks
- One clubhouse
- 31 total lift and vertical circulation cores only (33% more efficient than a typical development), serving…
- 47 blurred buildings, each unique, which house…
- 188 families
Parking is achieved using underground car parks, so surface vehicular circulation is minimal;
No streets, but pedestrian-priority mineral parks;
No backyards, but communally controlled children’s playgrounds (parents inside, children outside with the help);
Only 5% of all apartments share their floor lift lobby, so 95% of all residents can consistently avoid having to greet a neighbor.
Some more figures and stats:
Two international design awards
One international real estate award
100% modular construction and development system
100% dwelling mode adaptability
100% respect of its social and cultural context
100% flexibility for developer
*3-D simulations are a great way to visualize sightlines in a project. I built in—against the developer’s knowledge and probably against his will, but not necessarily to his detriment—perfectly positioned gaps in the walls and in the mashrabiya screens to allow disruptively voyeuristic social sightlines between neighbors.