Monday, January 23, 2012

Metropolis from The Human Drift - King Champ Gillette

Before perfecting his invention of the safety razor and founding what became a major American industrial and sales enterprise, King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) authored several books and pamphlets calling for radical changes in the country's economic and social system. The first of these polemical tracts, The Human Drift, called for the establishment of an ideal society to be created by The United Company "Organized for the purpose of Producing, Manufacturing, and Distributing the Necessities of Life." Except for agricultural and other rural pursuits, all activities and all the population would be concentrated in one gigantic urban complex that Gillette called "Metropolis."

Although Gillette's book has been regarded as part of the tradition of utopian romances like the better-known Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, it can also be looked on as a serious, if misguided, proposal for organizing the urban world. Gillette was a tinkerer and inventor, and "Metropolis" represents his verbal working model of a new kind of city. One wonders how many later planners or urban theorists knew of his book and how he thought a modern city should be ordered. He anticipates by many years Le Corbusier's concept of widely-separated, lofty skyscrapers, although it seems unlikely this Swiss-French designer would have seen The Human Drift. Much closer in time and space is the proposed hexagonal city plan by Charles Rollinson Lamb in 1904. Lamb might have found inspiration for his own less drastic vision of the city of tomorrow in Gillette's writings. Or, perhaps Walter Burley Griffin, deeply interested in city planning and seeking whatever writing existed on this subject, came across Gillette's hexagonal system. This may either have confirmed his own ideas about the use of geometric forms or set him to considering how this might be done. Griffin's design incorporating hexagons and octagons that won first prize in the competition for the plan of Canberra, Australia in 1912 may thus have had partial origins in Lamb's or Gillette's hexagonal city designs.

Gilette writes: "For many reasons I have come to the conclusion that there is no spot on the American continent, or possibly in the world. that combines so many natural advantages as that section of our country lying in the vicinity of the Niagara Falls, extending east into New York State and west into Ontario. The possibility of utilizing the enormous natural power resulting from the fall, from the level of Lake Erie to the level of Lake Ontario, some 330 feet is no longer the dream of enthusiasts, but is a demonstrated fact. Here is a power, which, if brought under control, is capable of keeping in continuous operation even manufacturing industry for centuries to come, and, in addition supply all the lighting;, facilities, run all the elevators, and furnish the power necessary for the transportation system of the great central city....

The manufacturing industries of "Metropolis" would be located east and west of Niagara River in Ontario and New York. The residence portion of the city would commence about ten miles east of Niagara River and Buffalo; and from this point to its eastern extremity, which would include the present city of Rochester in its eastern border, the city would be sixty miles long east and west, and thirty miles in width north and south, lying parallel with Lake Ontario, and about five miles from it.".

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