1st Edition

Frankenstein Urbanism Eco, Smart and Autonomous Cities, Artificial Intelligence and the End of the City

By Federico Cugurullo Copyright 2021
    228 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book tells the story of visionary urban experiments, shedding light on the theories that preceded their development and on the monsters that followed and might be the end of our cities. The narrative is threefold and delves first into the eco-city, second the smart city and third the autonomous city intended as a place where existing smart technologies are evolving into artificial intelligences that are taking the management of the city out of the hands of humans.

    The book empirically explores Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong to provide a critical analysis of eco and smart city experiments and their sustainability, and it draws on numerous real-life examples to illustrate the rise of urban artificial intelligences across different geographical spaces and scales. Theoretically, the book traverses philosophy, urban studies and planning theory to explain the passage from eco and smart cities to the autonomous city, and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of cities in a time when human and non-biological intelligences are irreversibly colliding in the built environment.

    Iconoclastic and prophetic, Frankenstein Urbanism is both an examination of the evolution of urban experimentation through the lens of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and a warning about an urbanism whose product resembles Frankenstein’s monster: a fragmented entity which escapes human control and human understanding. Academics, students and practitioners will find in this book the knowledge that is necessary to comprehend and engage with the many urban experiments that are now alive, ready to leave the laboratory and enter our cities.

    1. Prologue: of cities and monsters  

    Part 1: The Literature 

    2. Theories of ecological urbanism  

    3. Theories of smart urbanism  

    Part 2: The Experiment  

    4. An eco-city experiment: the case of Masdar City 

    5. A smart-city experiment: the case of Hong Kong  

    Part 3: The Apocalypse 

    6. Urban equations come alive  

    7. Artificial Intelligence and the rise of the autonomous city  

    8. Epilogue: the eclipse of urban reason


    Federico Cugurullo is Assistant Professor in Smart and Sustainable Urbanism at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

    'Federico Cugurullo draws inspiration and an analytical framing from Mary Shelley’s masterpiece to examine what he terms Frankenstein urbanism: experimental urban development designed to create sustainability that emerges with monstrous effects. His analysis is a powerful critique of the discursive and material creation of eco-cities, smart cities, and the coming autonomous city.'

    Rob Kitchin, Professor of Human Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland


    'In Frankenstein Urbanism, Cugurullo masterfully combines science fiction literature with an analysis of real-life cities, to show that fiction and reality are indistinguishable in our quest for autonomous urban futures. This is a theoretically bold and empirically rich book that illustrates how the current obsession about sentient cities is built upon the grand utopian gestures of smart and eco-city experiments turning into Frankenstein monsters. This book will be essential reading material for all those interested in the theory of urban futures as well as in the practical future of smart urbanism.'

    Ayona Datta, Professor in Human Geography, University College London, UK


    'Does the new smart urbanity create a sort of Frankenstein monster, built with good intentions but turning against its masters? This book demonstrates that the only way out of the nightmare of Frankenstein urbanism is to begin loving our monsters. Leaving the city in the hands of technocrats only leads to a monstrous urbanism. That is why a public and politically engaging urbanity is urgently required. And this is precisely what the lessons of this book implore us to do.'

    Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, The University of Manchester, UK


    'In this outstanding volume, Federico Cugurullo examines how humanity’s search for ideal cities- with their corresponding ideal societies- at times produces monsters. Frankenstein is an apt metaphor because, like the monster, the experimental forms of urbanism that Cugurullo discusses are terrifying but also very much alive. Well-documented case-studies in Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong explore the ambiguities and elitism of smart cities, perhaps the most salient manifestation of experimental urbanism. Cugurullo masterfully explains the futility and dangers of technological innovation without an overarching vision of urban futures. However, he argues that, rather than rejecting technology, we should approach it cautiously within a collective inquiry into the type of city that we want.

    Vanesa Castán Broto, Professorial Fellow, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield, UK

    'By mobilising a narrative of monstrosity, Frankenstein Urbanism builds a stunningly effective critique of the contemporary literatures, practices and consequences of the smart city. A compelling and vivid contemplation of some of the most pressing concerns about technology, its related ideologies, and the current condition of our cities.'

    Alberto Vanolo, Professor of Political and Economic Geography, Università di Torino, Italy


    'Frankenstein Urbanism is a profound critique of smart and eco-cities and of the recent city of artificial intelligence. Federico Cugurullo remarkably discovers that the rationale for making these cities is analogically similar to the experiment that creates Frankenstein’s monster. Focusing on Masdar City and Hong Kong, the book provocatively rethinks what urbanism is in the technologically oriented initiatives transforming our cities.' 

    Fulong Wu, Bartlett Chair of Planning, University College London, UK

    'Viewing city development through the lens of Shelley’s early science fiction makes for good storytelling as well as thoughtful analysis of the case studies of Masdar City and Hong Kong. Like many portrayals of future cities, this is a dystopian tale and a fascinating journey for planning practitioners or academics interested in the past, present, or future structure of cities. Cugurullo’s Frankenstein holds open the chances for us to better understand our assumptions, improve upon the science, or choose not to experiment at all.'

    Thomas W. Sanchez, Journal of the American Planning Association

    'Frankenstein Urbanism represents an ambitious blend of theory and fieldwork. The book traces the far-reaching ancestries of contemporary imaginaries and charts an important and measured path forward for both theorists and practitioners of the urban. Throughout, references to Shelley’s Frankenstein serve as more than a simple metaphor, clarifying the stakes of urban experiments in a visceral and insightful way.'

    Nathan Olmstead, Urban Studies Journal