Many things happening in one place at one time….
…the term simultopia was coined by New York-based architect Brian McGrath in 2002 in an essay Bangkok Simultopia, to describe the living and built ecologies of urban Bangkok.
As an urban metaphor simultopia is both pluralist and present tense, and so it brings also those qualities to urban theory. McGrath constructs a range of Bangkok-based urban narratives in which he develops the metaphoric agency of the term simultopia.
In Bangkok Simultopia the architect observes that the city of Bangkok is a ‘culture of the simultaneous’ in which a lively diversity of gender, sexual and religious orientations are expressed and tolerated, via unique and culturally-specific social mechanisms. In the early years of the new millenium McGrath as a theorist found himself drawn to identity politics and queer theory. He discovered in Bangkok an urban milieu that thrived on discretion, tolerance and diversity in a culture of open gender expression. McGrath’s observations of Bangkok provided the architect urban/designer with the impetus to begin to articulate a critique of western capitalist urbanism through a counter narrative, and in the process challenge the hegemonies of the built environment of western cosmopolitan spaces where McGrath perceived human discriminations and privileges were acted out.
When it comes to the built environment, Thai culture has an interesting way of creating assemblages of typologies, and rolling them together. In Bangkok where supermall culture proliferates, the Thai urban desginers add libraries and public institutions into the mix, such as the Emporium Suites in Phrom Phrong that also houses the library of Thailand Creative Design Centre (see image below) . It makes sense as the public transit networks are oriented towards the super plazas of the various malls and so governmental space can take advantage of the existing infrastructure and vertical builds. Another newish plaza owned by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok houses retail that is geared towards university students needs, an edutainment centre and a large online cafe where students can log on to the university system.
The word simultopia combines Latin (simul-) and early Greek (-topia) etymological roots, yet also references a contemporary post-structural idiom through alluding to the work of Baudrillard on ‘simulacra’. In combining various word fragments across time, cultures and philosophy, the syntactical mixture of the new term simultopia parallels its meaning; a pluralism that is of the moment.
I use the term simultopia in appreciation and admiration of McGrath’s great work but I also read a simultopia slightly differently. In my research I became interested in reading a simultopia as an urban agent that has plural roles. In my PhD I take three projects the Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux, the maison folie Wazemmes, and the Living Water Garden in Chengdu in China and read them as simultopia that is urban complexity agents.
I also use the Dujiangyan Irrigation project in Sichuan, China as the exemplary model of simultopia precisely because it combines the cultural, the philosophical, the ecological and the economic all within one project. You can read more about the project here
Here is a diagram for the simultopia model we used in the Auckland Museum living roof design project.
All of the projects studied in the ARCHGEN 721 paper, and that are highlighted on this blog, are simultopia, that is urban agents for a complex transurban 21st century world.