Share on:

A model for Singapore: how a billionaire envisions future cities to be like

American businessman Marc Lore is working with BIG to create a future utopian city.

Copenhagen-based architecture company BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) isn’t afraid to think, well, big. They’re future-proofing cities when the demands of urban population growth need to be balanced against beauty, utility and plain-old liveability. All this, under the looming spectre that is climate change.

Just last year, the Danes turned a waste-to-energy incinerator into a recreational hub (incidentally, the newly opened 280-m tall CapitaSpring in Raffles Place is also by BIG). They even came up with a concept for a floating, flood-proof metropolis that fits 10,000. Now, they’re working with American billionaire Marc Lore to build a utopian megacity with a much bigger population in mind: 5 million, to be exact.

At least, that’s the number in mind three decades down the road. The e-commerce magnate, who has his fingers in everything from aerospace tech to the Minnesota Timberwolves, hopes to create a self-sustaining, self-contained and self-governing city within a 607 sq km site – for context, Singapore’s land area is 729 sq km – in the West Coast of the United States.

Think of it as Cadbury’s Bournville on a grander scale (or any other private towns that’ve sprung up over the last half century). Telosa isn’t just a factory town for happy, productive workers. It’s meant to reinvent how we live.

(Related: Talking about the future, this is how SquarEat CEO Paolo Cadegiani imagines we will be eating)

A rendered aerial view of Telosa. Image by BIG.

A rendered aerial view of Telosa. Image by BIG.

He’s hoping to answer the question: “How can we create a better world for our kids and grandkids? How much happier could people be? That’s what it’s all about.”

As for how the serial entrepreneur is actually planning to go about answering that question, he’s assembling a team of urban planners, historians, economists and engineers to design the city. Among them, BIG’s decorated founder, Bjarke Ingels, one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Times Magazine circa 2016. And going by the renders and plans, he and Lore are painting a pretty picture.

Telosa’s size would afford citizens fair living standards you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world (assuming the plan works). Inclusive housing that’s relatively close to one’s work – within Telosa, hopefully – would prevent certain districts from turning into enclaves for the well-heeled.

Leftover rooftop spaces would transform into aeroponics farms or dedicated to solar panels, while recreation and other amenities would also integrate directly into infrastructure. Telosa’s residents can probably thank BIG’s penchant for multi-use urban design for that.

This integration eliminates unnecessary travel and minimises daily commutes, reducing hours spent in traffic and metric tons of carbon to boot. Commuters would walk, cycle or sit in autonomous cars – further improving safety. The extra space that’s freed up can now become abundant green, open spaces, along with a futuristic city centre that comes with a plant-covered tower.

(Related: Angel investor Kunal Chowdhry on the biggest problem in the world today)

An artist's impression of the streets of Telosa. Image by BIG.

An artist’s impression of the streets of Telosa. Image by BIG.

A self-sustaining power grid (remember the solar panels?) and water services will allow Telosa to run independently of the nation’s larger utilities’ infrastructure. Other issues, like healthcare, education and employability, would also be reimagined from the ground-up. thanks to the flexibility that only an independently governed new city is capable of.

As radical as it all sounds, none of this is novel. For example, decentralised micro-grids have long been championed as a potential solution to best optimise power usage, transfer and storage into the future. Telosa is simply applying that model to – well, everything.

If things run according to plan, the first residents will move in by 2030. Whether such an endeavour is actually possible is another matter altogether. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.