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Transcending the Surface: 

The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility 

Stephen Graham
Increasingly 

stacked 

societies















A growing
“independence of
volumes with respect
to the original land”

H...
Mobilities in stacked societies

Beyond flat, God’s eye, 

cartographic perspectives
Geographers,	
  especially,	
  s0ll	
  
facing	
  legacies	
  of	
  the	
  ‘flat	
  
earth’	
  problem	
  






The power of the section



“In the section you can tell compelling stories
which not only talk about the building, ...
Vertical/ aerial/

volumetric 

turn well

underway!
But	
  slow	
  to	
  react	
  to	
  myriad	
  of	
  proposed/imagined/experimental/	
  
exis0ng	
  volumetric	
  mobility	...
Fantastical, multiscale, projections
Messianic, boosterist, ‘launches’
2. Fantasies of 

subterranean

auto-tunnels



Elon Musk tweet

“Traffic is driving me nuts.
Am going to build a tunnel
b...
3. New supersonic/stratospheric transports: NASA and Boom
Supersonic (one-third scale demo planned to fly 2018)
4. Suborbital 

space travel
5. Deepening 

sub-oceanic 

verticalities
6. Superfast and volumetric

elevators
‘Sky garage’:

Singapore
Much more hidden and older push for deep mining
7.	
  Drone	
  logis-cs,	
  	
  
sky	
  taxis	
  and	
  	
  
Ver-cal	
  take-­‐off	
  	
  
urban	
  vehicles	
  
Drone-­‐based	
  logis0cal	
  solu0ons	
  for	
  the	
  urban	
  ‘Last	
  mile’:	
  
”A	
  key	
  to	
  solving	
  urban	
...
Drone	
  	
  
securi0sa0on	
  
Protected	
  Volumes	
  and	
  the	
  Fear	
  of	
  the	
  ‘Swarm’	
  
Ultimate ‘disruptors’?



More than 30 prototype
‘ski-taxi’ urban mobility
systems in development



Various technological...
Multiple competing vehicle designs:
Embraer’s “Dream maker”
Uber’s own idea
Pipistrel (Slovenia)
‘Vertical Solutions’
‘Uberising’	
  the	
  elite	
  helicopter	
  in	
  São	
  Paulo:	
  	
  
“[Voom]	
  is	
  showing	
  preGy	
  clearly	
  t...
Uber	
  Elevate	
  e.g.	
  Bell	
  4	
  Seat	
  Sky	
  Taxi:	
  
trials	
  in	
  2020;	
  	
  commercial	
  flights	
  in	
...
Trials	
  also	
  in	
  	
  
planned	
  (inevitably!	
  allegedly!)	
  	
  
In	
  Dubai	
  
London	
  scenario:	
  Ini0ally	
  	
  160	
  sky	
  taxis	
  
and	
  10	
  ver0ports	
  geared	
  towards	
  
allowing	
 ...
ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuWOUEFB_IQhGps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuWOUEFB_IQ	
  
New politics of urban 

airspace 

NASA	
  Slides	
  
Initial ‘vertiports’ visions
decidedly utilitarian...
Now glossy architectural
competitions to imagine
sky-taxi stations
hGps://www.uber.com/info/elevate/	
  
	
  
Projekt
Humphreys &
Partners:
Pickard 

Chilton/

Arup’s

“Sky Tower”
Corgan
Gannett 

Fleming
BoKA
Questions/ Issues: 1. Political and performative
power of technophiliac/ masculinist fantasies
Fragmented, patchworks: Ult...
2. Back to the future: 

Retrofuturism and the 

Blade Runner effect
3. Futuristic imagineering as ‘worlding’: Overlap with global city
boosterism, branding and spectacle; elite urban vanity ...
4. What of

mobility justice and critical 

mobilities research?

But what of system-builders, mobility justice,
standards...
Thank you!

Steve.graham@ncl.ac.uk
“What would happen if you took geographic thinking and
instead of putting it on a horizontal axis, you added a
vertical ax...
Beck
Aurora Flight Sciences, belonging to Boeing
‘Geography’ as a Flat Plane: ‘Geopolitics is a flat discourse. It largely
ignores the vertical dimension and tends to look...
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility
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Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility

A presentation about a range of utopian projects for moving about cities above and below the surface via tunnels. orbital travel, supersonic airliners and vertical take off and autonomous 'sky taxis'.

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Transcending the surface graham: The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility

  1. 1. Transcending the Surface: 
 The New Techno-Utopian Dreams (and Realities!) of Volumetric Mobility 
 Stephen Graham
  2. 2. Increasingly 
 stacked 
 societies
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 A growing “independence of volumes with respect to the original land”
 Henri Lefebvre
  3. 3. Mobilities in stacked societies
 Beyond flat, God’s eye, 
 cartographic perspectives
  4. 4. Geographers,  especially,  s0ll   facing  legacies  of  the  ‘flat   earth’  problem  
  5. 5. 
 
 
 The power of the section
 
 “In the section you can tell compelling stories which not only talk about the building, but of a whole society” 
 Architect Max Gerthel
 
 “While attention is traditionally given to the plans of urban civilization and top [down] views of human history, this schematic cross-section view of the world opens a lens on the planet as an urban projection, pattern and process of overlapping change across different layers and level of space... “
 
 Processes ...isolated in plans, or divided in conventional categories from above, can be better understood and revealed from the side, as being associative and integrative— often overlapping, intertwined and entangled”
 Pierre Bélanger (my emphasis)
  6. 6. Vertical/ aerial/
 volumetric 
 turn well
 underway!
  7. 7. But  slow  to  react  to  myriad  of  proposed/imagined/experimental/   exis0ng  volumetric  mobility  systems.       1.  Hyperloop:  Radical  0me-­‐space  compression  for  kine0c  elites    
  8. 8. Fantastical, multiscale, projections
  9. 9. Messianic, boosterist, ‘launches’
  10. 10. 2. Fantasies of 
 subterranean
 auto-tunnels
 
 Elon Musk tweet
 “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging...” hGps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5V_VzRrSBI  
  11. 11. 3. New supersonic/stratospheric transports: NASA and Boom Supersonic (one-third scale demo planned to fly 2018)
  12. 12. 4. Suborbital 
 space travel
  13. 13. 5. Deepening 
 sub-oceanic 
 verticalities
  14. 14. 6. Superfast and volumetric
 elevators
  15. 15. ‘Sky garage’:
 Singapore
  16. 16. Much more hidden and older push for deep mining
  17. 17. 7.  Drone  logis-cs,     sky  taxis  and     Ver-cal  take-­‐off     urban  vehicles  
  18. 18. Drone-­‐based  logis0cal  solu0ons  for  the  urban  ‘Last  mile’:   ”A  key  to  solving  urban  mobility  is  to  fly  burgers”     Dara  Khosrowshahi,  Uber  CEO,  2018  
  19. 19. Drone     securi0sa0on  
  20. 20. Protected  Volumes  and  the  Fear  of  the  ‘Swarm’  
  21. 21. Ultimate ‘disruptors’?
 
 More than 30 prototype ‘ski-taxi’ urban mobility systems in development
 
 Various technological and engine configurations; software systems; levels of autonomy; financial backing; and levels of credibility
  22. 22. Multiple competing vehicle designs: Embraer’s “Dream maker”
  23. 23. Uber’s own idea
  24. 24. Pipistrel (Slovenia) ‘Vertical Solutions’
  25. 25. ‘Uberising’  the  elite  helicopter  in  São  Paulo:     “[Voom]  is  showing  preGy  clearly  there  is  a  need  for  urban   air  transporta0on  in  ci0es.  Even  with  a  conven0onal   helicopter  —  which  is  a  bit  more  noisy  and  higher  in  costs   than  a  CityAirbus  will  be  —  even  with  this  concept  and  the   right  approach  you  can  deliver  an  opportunity  for  ci0es.”    
  26. 26. Uber  Elevate  e.g.  Bell  4  Seat  Sky  Taxi:   trials  in  2020;    commercial  flights  in  ‘2023’    
  27. 27. Trials  also  in     planned  (inevitably!  allegedly!)     In  Dubai  
  28. 28. London  scenario:  Ini0ally    160  sky  taxis   and  10  ver0ports  geared  towards   allowing    kine0c  business  elites  to   bypass  congested  ground  corridors     (especially  routes  between  finance   districts  and  interna0onal  airports)  
  29. 29. ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuWOUEFB_IQhGps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuWOUEFB_IQ  
  30. 30. New politics of urban 
 airspace 

  31. 31. NASA  Slides  
  32. 32. Initial ‘vertiports’ visions decidedly utilitarian...
  33. 33. Now glossy architectural competitions to imagine sky-taxi stations hGps://www.uber.com/info/elevate/    
  34. 34. Projekt Humphreys & Partners:
  35. 35. Pickard 
 Chilton/
 Arup’s
 “Sky Tower”
  36. 36. Corgan
  37. 37. Gannett 
 Fleming
  38. 38. BoKA
  39. 39. Questions/ Issues: 1. Political and performative power of technophiliac/ masculinist fantasies Fragmented, patchworks: Ultimate ‘bypass’ through ‘premium network spaces’? Technophiliac and capsular fantasies of three-dimensional bypass and transcendence for neoliberalisation’s techno-kinetic elite. As with ‘smart’ cities and ‘eco’ city projects, politically constitutive without having to be built. Technocratic fantasies which work to depoliticise, aestheticise, fetishise and technicise mobility politics
  40. 40. 2. Back to the future: 
 Retrofuturism and the 
 Blade Runner effect
  41. 41. 3. Futuristic imagineering as ‘worlding’: Overlap with global city boosterism, branding and spectacle; elite urban vanity projects; competitive, urban experimentation; urban plutocratisation; and political economies of technological change and data capture...

  42. 42. 4. What of
 mobility justice and critical 
 mobilities research?
 But what of system-builders, mobility justice, standards, cross-subsidies, labour, technological diffusion, infrastructural planning, state mobility policies, safety, effects on existing labour processes and infrastructures? Contest the masculinist and elitist technophilia and its depoliticising effects Work to support social mobility innovations which exploit undoubted potential, especially of UAV systems, for ecologically and socially beneficial, and ethical, innovations...
  43. 43. Thank you!
 Steve.graham@ncl.ac.uk
  44. 44. “What would happen if you took geographic thinking and instead of putting it on a horizontal axis, you added a vertical axis?” Trevor Paglen
  45. 45. Beck
  46. 46. Aurora Flight Sciences, belonging to Boeing
  47. 47. ‘Geography’ as a Flat Plane: ‘Geopolitics is a flat discourse. It largely ignores the vertical dimension and tends to look across rather than to cut through the landscape. This was the cartographic imagination. Vertical inherited from the military and political spatialities of the modern
 state” Eyal Weizman

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