Class Discussion: MoMA exhibit & ‘Metropolis’

Ok, we’re going to re-boot and have a discussion about the MoMA exhibit, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, and how it connects to the texts we’ve been discussing this semester, and to the genre of Science Fiction more broadly (so feel free to also bring in other SF texts). However, you should definitely have part of your discussion about Metropolis. Perhaps you need a refresher? Re-watch Metropolis (with the original score) before commenting on this discussion (and maybe even go see it on the big screen again at the Brooklyn Public Library this coming Wednesday!)

Remember to think about the big themes, central conflicts, and competing values in the exhibit (and its content) and also the texts/SF. Remember that part of the critical power of the genre is to think about alternatives to the present, and to imagine radically different ways of living/structuring the world.

Check out the last part of Eugene’s great class notes from Th 3/5 for some thoughts about how to approach the connection between the exhibit and the other texts we’ve been discussing.

(and remember, if you haven’t seen the exhibit yet, you have until this Sunday, 3/8, to get up there and see it and post about it–for credit!)

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (3/8). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 3/10. 

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the exhibit & film (quotes/scene + citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

27 thoughts on “Class Discussion: MoMA exhibit & ‘Metropolis’

  1. Haha, lets just hope surge does not go off again.
    I think the main way this exhibit relates to the other texts is the idea of creating mega cities. Expanding where there normally you would think there is no room to expand. As you can see in blade runner, in the wide shots you can see the LA with tall buildings. To us new yorkers that’s every day. But the idea of a city like LA being densely packed is not something we are used to. However these cities in the exhibit are expanding in a smart way. They are making use of their space in a logical way. Not just make living spaces but areas that have use beyond that.

  2. I think I mentioned this already in my response to the exhibit, and they are points I was saving to bring up during class discussion, but I might as well mention them here. While reading the information about each city and the proposals to deal with future overpopulation, a few things stood out that I could somewhat connect with the material we’ve been working with:

    The current spacial divide between rich an poor sectors of the population in cities like Mumbai and Rio de Jaineiro reminded me of how the inhabitants of metropolis were divided into the workers and the affluent. The proposal for Mumbai is that instead of the slums being seen as a space that must be cleared, the inhabitants should shape their environment to suit their needs and therefore make it productive. I’m not 100% sure about what the proposal for Rio consists of, it’s not very clear… Something to do with creating everyday consumer products to “promote city-making”.

    The proposed community network for Istanbul, which will allow people to share and exchange their services, goods, skills, etc. reminded me of the empathy box from DADOES, a place where people go to connect with others and help build each other up.

    Lagos and New Yorrk propose building on top of the existing infrastructures, merging the old systems with updated improvements. The result would be futuristic looking landscapes like the ones we see in Blade Runner, light-emitting towers and pyramids built on top of the old buildings, yet the old streets remain there.

    Hong Kong’s artificial islands make me think of colonization, a theme we haven’t really looked into in any of the texts. It brings up the question of what colonizers must do in order to prepare new locations to inhabiting. I especially liked that they place emphasis on distinguishing the new islands from the old territories by generating different myths and legends to go with them.

    The ONE gripe I have with most of the proposals, however, is that they call for social responsibility on the part of the inhabitants, something that people in general are not really good at…

    • I kind of got that impression as well, regarding social responsibility. Our society has become one where generally everyone is complacent in their lives, and generally nothing changes. It seems somewhat meaningless to point out these ideas to the public, as its not up to the public, but really the governments to deal with this… and it is just not going to happen.

    • DUDE! Mind blown, empathy box and the community network of Istanbul. Why didn’t I think of that before! Things just got real, I can see it now. Now I can see the similarity with the concept of sharing, either the experience of empathy in D.O.D.O.E.S. and a plan of sharing within the community

    • I felt the same way. We can’t really expect people to pitch in for the good of the people unless their lives called for it. Kind of like in any kind of apocalypse, groups of people get together to survive. Seeing as how there is no current apocalypse, I don’t see that happening. Maybe if there was a clear benefit to the participants will there better involvement.

  3. Overall I still believe there are no real connections between the exhibit and the texts. Yes there are some minute ones but, you can connect any two things if you try hard enough, which is why I personally never bother making such connections, but for the sake of the assignment I guess I’ll make one. RELIGION! lol The work I believe connects the most is Metropolis, but again, the city in Metropolis is just a backdrop; there is no focus on it. In Metropolis we are introduced the tower of babel. The tower of babel in the book represents the need to achieve a god-like status, and honestly, what are buildings in our society? They’re pissing matches. Everyone tries to one up the last person. As humans there is a need to reach some point in which you could be seen like a god, whether through building that pierce the skies, that are greater than any natural structure, or through science, such as genetic engineering.

    • ha i totally agree with Surge at first I was like what does this have to do with anything but after wondering around I guess some things made sense. This is interesting I like how you manage to make Religion out of this, and your points that you brought up to back it up.

  4. I mentioned this in my original post, but when i saw the blown up picture of the island of resources, i instantly thought about the Vashti’s room in The Machine Stops (pg.1) “Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee.” This may be reaching a bit, but this exhibit is to show what can be done, and it isn’t hard to imagine the future living conditions being more organized. We already see this in the new structures being built around the city, and even around the globe. The exhibit emphasizes using what is available, and these structures would be ideal for space.

    • That is in interesting way to look at instead of not having enough space they are trying to make it more organized to have more space

    • Does the exhibit really emphasize using what is available? We are running out of resources and the exhibit pushed expansion rather than solutions to the problem of resources. In fact, the moma had an exhibit about bricks that were made out fungus. Yet, ironically, that information was no where to be found in this exhibit. I mean c’mon.

      • I think the intention of the exhibit is to get people thinking. If someone is really interested, it wouldn’t be too hard to do a quick search online for more info. I think the book that they sell to go alongside the exhibit probably goes more into detail… but it’s $35, which is a bit exorbitant.

  5. Sadly I did not get to the exhibit and I missed class this week but according to surge I guess it was good I didn’t go to the exhibit. Just kidding surge, I think the connection between the exhibit and metropolis is how city’s are portrayed in the future and how it affects our society and what that says about us in a whole. Metropolis takes place in 2027 and the exhibit was based on the year 2030 (from what I read from people’s post) which are very close to each other and we are not that far off from there either so it is interesting to see where we are going as a society.

  6. I think the most striking comparison between Metropolis the film and The Megacities exhibit was the subject of social status and income inequality. You see that the New Tower of Babel is a bustling technological megacity where the elite enjoy a perfect life. However, way beneath, under the earth are the vast amount of workers who do not enjoy the fruits of their own labor and live tired, horrible lives.

    Compare that to today’s megacities, where many people are living in poverty and the small group of wealthy continue to get richer and take up even more valuable space to build luxury high rises. It forces low income families to live in small cluttered spaces, while making them pay premium prices that are way beyond their means of living (Uneven Growth Video, Vimeo. In my post on the exhibit, I compared some of the project housing (which I used to live in uptown in the Bronx) to small cells like the ones in “The Machine Stops”. These are not ideal conditions for low income families to live in. So while it’s not explicit, I do see a connection between the exhibit and the texts, especially The Machine Stops and Metropolis.

  7. I’m puzzled that some of you may still be scratching your heads over how and why the exhibit relates to our examined texts and science fiction in general. I think the professor cleared up much when she said at the end of class that all concepts put forth by the exhibit, were just that, concepts. They aren’t concrete plans for the future; these ideas, while plausible, are not 100% underway. Therefore they are a kind of fiction or speculation targeted at the overarching problem, or theme if you like, of overpopulation and growing resource scarcity.

    I’d like to draw your attention to a piece of Gunn Center’s definition for Science Fiction:
    “Like the scientific method, science fiction provides an approach to understanding the universe we live in. It provides the tools, tropes, and cognitive framework within which we can explore ideas and safely run thought-experiments where we cannot or ought not in real-world experiments.”(

    Adding on to that, science fiction and speculation in general, can allow us to envision many different scenarios that we may want to work toward or want to avoid. Just as the exhibit, and the minds who support it, try to present scenarios we may want to work toward; a scenario that provides us with the best outcome when faced with overpopulation.

    In terms of Metropolis, Bladerunner, and The Machine Stops the city itself is an important aspect of each text. How is that not readily apparent? Taking for granted the setting, in this case the city, is akin to taking for granted that humans need air to breath. Just because its ubiquitous and doesn’t seem do much, that does not mean it does not define us in some way or support our very existence.

    The characters, the plot, the circumstance of everything in each narrative would be completely different had the cities in each been altered, or had not even existed. How would Metropolis or The Machine Stops be different if the mega city was a huge farm? What if it was located in the middle of an ocean? What if each person had their own private house? Larger yet, what would happen if there was no city at all? Would you not have a completely different narrative? Had any of these scenarios been true, then the alteration would inevitably trickle down to other elements.

    Get away form the thinking in terms of ‘Deckard’,’Vashti’,’Joh Fredersen ‘,’the cell’,’the empathy box’,’the androids’, etc. and how those individual elements relate to the exhibit. Instead, think of the larger picture. These entities exist within an environment that allowed them to exist, rather, provided the impetus for their circumstance; the city, and as we approach the future; the mega city.

    How are these two types of ‘text’ different then exactly? All ‘texts’ try to “ask the next question”(Sturgeon, 1967). That line of ‘question’ in our context is roughly one of sociology; how we as a species would act in certain times and environments. The difference between the exhibit, and the ‘texts’ we have been reading and watching, is in the execution. The exhibit uses facts, statistics, and real world events to support it’s claims and concepts of an approaching future. While the ‘texts’ we’ve read and watched “provide the background necessary for the audiences to willingly suspend disbelief”(, allowing them to envision such a future and its consequences. If both science fiction texts and the exhibit try to provide an answer to similar questions, can we not then assert that they are interrelated? If not by their individual elements, then by their ultimate goal; to ask “what if the world looked like this”.

    Theodor Sturgeon. Cavalier Magazine June, 1967. Print.

    • This is a really good comment it helps me understand what is going on with the exhibit and metropolis a little better

    • I was going to make a comment on how this exhibit was related to the cities of science fiction, mostly the sprawling mega cities that come as a result of the enormous populations of the future, but you already wrote it. Also better than I would have.

    • “…Therefore they are a kind of fiction or speculation targeted at the overarching problem, or theme if you like, of overpopulation and growing resource scarcity.” Your wording suggests that the theme of the exhibit is overpopulation and solutions to it. In my post that is the conclusion I came to and why I find it disturbing that it’s an exhibit rather than just public information. Additionally you say, ” try to present scenarios we may want to work toward; a scenario that provides us with the best outcome when faced with overpopulation.” How so? What I saw were not solutions, but rather ways to expand cities to accommodate growing populations; that is not a solution to the problems presented by the exhibit, being poverty and overpopulation in relation to limited resources. The texts we have covered in class do not address any of these themes. Yes the texts take place in cities, but does that constitute a connection between the exhibit and the texts? Everything has to take place in some sort of environment, often a city. Is that alone enough to relate these works? Additionally, I do not consider these works related because there are other works that can relate really well to this exhibit. For example the One Child policy that China had at one point, directly connects to the exhibit. The One Child policy was an attempted solution to the serious issue of overpopulation in China. Or consider the movie, Soylent Green. Soylent Green address the issue of overpopulation in a quite serious way: Cannibalism. Not only does it address the issue that the exhibit is focused on but it also establishes that overpopulation is a serious problem; the streets in the movie are always crowded. However, the texts we have read in class do not establish the problems of the exhibit in their plots other than in the background. Another movie I’d like to point out is Zero Population Growth, it address overpopulation by banning pregnancy. Yes their are minute similarities between the exhibit and the texts, but you can find minute similarities between any two texts if you look hard enough; therefore, they should not focused on.

  8. In a way now I can see how the exhibit can connect to some of the works. Like in Metropolis, there are a bunch of people working to keep the city running. In blade runner, there are tons of people. In this exhibit, it’s all about population. Whether or not people have a huge impact on this world and that is a fact that they do. If the people in Metropolis mess something up, there will be a huge problem. If we on earth destroy our resources or don’t work right, then there will a problem.

    • That’s basically what i took away from the exhibit myself. There may not be a direct connection to the works we’ve been talking about, but the exhibit could easily be translated as what could happen to our world if we don’t deal with these problems. Our planet could easily turn into one of the worlds from the works so far.

    • We would be the cause to our own post World War Terminus. We would be forced to migrate to mars. Which isn’t far from reality as there are plans to migrate there for a long while. Not sure if that happened or is happening but I know I read an article on that

  9. Ok so I really didn’t see a connection to the books or Science Fiction well at least the proposals that they were displaying. Well the only one that i felt that could possibly have to do with scifi was the Hong Kong proposals because they isolated the people to there own little island in which if they wanted to could be isolated from the rest of the world in case of some disaster on the home land.
    Truthfully I was hoping to see an exhibit on the Sky City 1000 Proposal or the Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid proposal or structures like these that just like the Hong Kong can function on there own. so at some point there could be people living there that have never left the structure because everything they needed is there. they have there job, there house, friends everything they might need so they would have no need to leave at all. Which is like the Machine stops they live in this structure that gives them everything they might need so they never feel the need to leave its safety.
    the other cites for example New York and Rio they are just added structures on top of the old those are simple boring ideas in my view, and with the problem on FAR. The FAR really messes with the possibility to build more. for example most of the buildings in NYC are to there max in there FAR and can not get any bigger and if FAR is not the problem then you have the Zoning codes that limit what you can do in certain areas which would make this idea some what impossible. the only real way to get this done in a way that it could help out so may people is to change the rules to allow new more exciting ideas to come out and possibly be created one day.Yet I do understand that these ideas were for the poor people of these cities.

  10. The MoMA exhibit was very interesting in the form of how they broke it down. They put everything into different category like mandatory vs voluntary etc. There were several picture they used to prove certain points with people being over crowded and those same pictures that they used remind me of Blade Runner and Metropolis in the theme that mostly everyone agrees on population” and how in a way people keep the city running. They had some chart that involve currency and how much certain places earn depending on the population. So overall i would say that what I got off this exhibition was that population plays an important role in maintaining the city alive whether you’re homeless or rich, people make the city and can easily break it.

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