The Great British [Un]Smart City

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The Great British [Un]Smart City

Taylan Tahir

“In a world of YouTube, FaceBook, and LOLcats, something about Songdo just doesn’t feel authentic, fully reflective of our everyday digital existence” 

~ Anthony Townsend


Under the technocratic control of the corporations, the future vision of the ‘smart city’ has one overriding drive: efficiency. Wired up to control themselves, new cities such as Songdo in South Korea and Masdar in Abu Dhabi feature an autonomous, intelligent networked urbanism that will think, so you don’t have to.Not wanting to be left in second place in the international race for ‘smart’ prowess, Boris Johnson proposes his own charming vision for London situated on the Isle of Dogs. The GBSC exploits the nostalgic view of the British rural idyll in order to assuage and pacify concerns of personal privacy, smartness and homogeneity. In turn creating a slightly dumb but unique and compelling alternative to the generic smart city.

A masterplan based on the principles of crop rotation supersedes traditional urban zoning. The rolling hills of England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ undulate through the city, creating a daring social infrastructure for all. From the farmhouse, data farmers watch over their ‘smart’ demesne. While roaming, connected animals create a friendly and familiar interface between the city and its citizens, their purpose is to gather big data; essential in the operation of every smart city.


Who influences you graphically?

I very much enjoy the way the personality of an illustrator can be conveyed through hand drawing, being particularly inspired by the wit and narrative in the simple line drawings of Heath Robinson and the tone, pattern and colour created in drawings by Nigel Peake. These hand techniques can then be further developed through a number of mixed media processes to create compositions where it becomes a challenge for the viewer to understand how they have been created.

How is the theme of a utopian system conveyed graphically?

My studio unit ADS4 at the Royal College of Art aims to explore possible futures by exaggerating elements of our current realities to portray an uncanny new normal. The use of rendered and photo-collaged imagery represent this familiarity while the addition of more vivid colours and drawn textures create a sense of the bizarre and artificial, something irregular you can’t quite put your finger on. Within all of my imagery I play on countless tiny narratives and micro encounters to build up a broader picture and a story, engaging the imagination of the viewer and allowing them to read their own conclusions from the project.

What role do the colour blue and grey play in establishing a united visual harmony?

The project finds itself constantly mediating between the pastoral and the digital where colour and texture plays a role in conveying this. The alien whiteness of my proposed architecture stands out against a harmonised colour palette, playing on the connotations of agricultural form but also shiny, technological newness. The grey represents the existing city fabric of the Isle of Dogs and the Canary Wharf skyline while the overly gradated and saturated blue sky helps compose these components in a landscape slightly detached from reality.

You rarely show specific views where human/animal and nature all work together although your proposal relies on it, why so?

My proposal is a critique of the generic visions of the ‘smart city’, these are often represented from a macro scale as a holistic approach to city design. It was important for me to convey this sense of scale at a macro level in a similar way whilst still illustrating the meeting of human/city/animal/pastoral. I did this through micro narratives in the bigger images as well as smaller perspectives showing more specific examples of these components interacting.

What is the intention in the image cow with a view? Is it a criticism on the food process chain and the way animals are currently treated in countries as China?

The cow with a view is an example of the new social status of technologically empowered animals within the proposed smart city. As these animals help to provide the vital smart services we rely on, citizens begin to see their true value and importance. The cow stands proud, looking out over the city in a scene that would usually by animated by people.


Taylan began his architectural education at the University of Nottingham where he had the opportunity to contribute to the design and construction of a nursery in rural South Africa. He more recently graduated from the Royal College of Art, being awarded a distinction for his dissertation questioning the negative attitudes towards his home town titled, ‘We Need to Talk About Croydon’. Taylan is currently working at a young and energetic practice, Dan Marks Studio, based in the RIBA Incubator in London.


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