When the avant-garde group Archigram introduced the term ‘instant city’ into architectural discourse nearly a half-century ago, they were inspired by the mobility of contemporary society and its dependence on high technology to enable urban migration and make it creative and exciting—a dynamic, uniquely contemporary way of living. Their model was the circus, which they admired for its élan as much as the excitement of its continuous performances. In their drawings and models they were projecting a future of adventurous hedonism, a liberation of the sort projected by Constant, though emphasizing human creativity less than leisurely consumption. Their visions fulfilled the idea that the city was not to be a monumental srtifact of civilization, but a tumultuous, ever-changing process. “Each generation must build its own city,” Antonio Sant’Elia had proclaimed, and Archigram and Constant, in their own very different ways, fulfilled his demand at the same that that they speeded-up the process.They never realized—or acknowledged—that the modern age could create utterly different kinds of ‘instant cities,’ the hastily constructed communities of urban dwellers displaced by catastrophes of both human and natural origin—war, economic disaster, hurricane, earthquake. After all, where was the role for architects in them? What could architects do to turn these instant cities into affirmations of the human spirit? Architecture is about planning. How can architects plan for the unplanned, for the inpredictable? Exactly….


The following images are reprinted from a New York Times article showing many examples of the transformation of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as a result of the earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, causing building collapses killing more than 200,000 people.

Satellite photo of the Port-au-Prince golf course, before January 12, 2010:

January 16, 2010:

One year later, January 12, 2011:

Today, inside the ‘instant city’—a school classroom:

An impromptu market:

A typical street:

A resident entrepreneur has set up a video  games shop, for which he charges players a fee:

Satellite photo of the Port-au-Prince airport, before January 12, 2010:

January 16, 2010:

One year later, January 12, 2011:

Inside the ‘instant city’: a relatively rare ‘permanent’ house:


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