The Charm Cities Blog

News and updates on the Charm Cities project

Buildings and Stories

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You might wonder how exactly we chose the particular buildings we used for our header images on the main page and here on the blog. For the main page, we used the Mausoléu António Agostinho Neto, seen here from a different angle to show how it dominates its surroundings in southwestern Luanda, the capital of Angola. It's a 120 meter (393 foot) tall monolithic monument — nearly as tall as the continent's most famous mausoleum, the Great Pyramid of Giza — and was completed in 2012 by North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio, primarily out of concrete. Its remarkable spaceship-like design borrows heavily from Afrofuturism (despite being constructed by mostly Korean workers), as well as socialist realism. A partial skyline of southwestern Luanda, dominated by a grey, futuristic tower which dwarfs the low residential buildings of the Bairro Azul behind it.

The blog page, meanwhile, features the roofline of Delhi's Lotus Temple, the Bahá'í House of Worship for the continent of Asia, seen here as it appears illuminated at night. It's a 70 meter (230 foot) diameter nine-sided dome designed in 1976 by the Persian architect Fariborz Sahba and completed ten years later, and receives about 3 to 5 million visitors every year, making it among the most visited buildings in the world. It is made of architectural precast concrete clad in marble and is an Expressionist design inspired by the petals of a lotus flower. The Lotus Temple, a building shaped like a nine-sided white lotus flower, illuminated at night.

These are two extremely different buildings, of course! But what does either have to do with a city-builder game? Absolutely nothing; that's the point. Neither would make any sense in any existing city-builder game. Oh, sure, you could model either of them in Blender and import them (here's the Lotus Temple modeled for Cities: Skylines, you're welcome). They might even look somewhat reasonable in your city. The Mausoléu would make a pretty great SimCity 2000 arcology, after all, and the Lotus Temple would fit in nicely with the Expressionist architecture of many of the unique buildings in Cities: Skylines (someone at Colossal Order is a Calatrava fan). But simply recreating their shapes would be missing the point, wouldn't it?

For one thing, in reality both sit at the center of massive parks and gardens, which doesn't really fit with the way most city-builder games (with the notable exception of the Cities: Skylines Parklife DLC) like to imagine parks as simple inert rectangular structures. Simply placing either in the middle of a downtown city block would be slightly absurd.

Second, and more important, each comes from a powerful cultural context. The Mausoléu doesn't exist because Luanda unlocked it when the city hit a population of two million, it exists because the victors of the quarter-century Angolan Civil War (a proxy war between the US and USSR) needed to craft a coherent narrative of the birth of the Angolan state. The Mausoléu seeks to say something — about Luanda, about Angola, about anti-colonialism, about socialism — and city-builder games are fundamentally averse to the very idea of narrative.

The Lotus Temple, meanwhile, is located in India largely because the Bahá'í Faith is banned in large swaths of Asia (notably in Iran, the homeland of the religion's founders), and is specifically intended to be a place for people of all faiths to congregate. Religion is not something that city-builder games even pretend to incorporate — I don't think the Cities: Skylines "Cathedral of Plenitude", unlocked by building all of the civil service buildings, really counts here — but it's a key factor that shapes the growth of cities all around the world.

The truth is, we could have picked any buildings in the world. I grew up in a turn of the century Formstone-clad East Baltimore rowhouse a block north of Patterson Park, and even that house — one of thousands like it throughout the city — exists as part of an incredibly complex story, a story which touches on class and race and impacts the lives of hundreds of people I've never met. If anything, vernacular architecture is more deeply tied into these stories than monumental architecture. A row of typical Baltimore rowhouses, most of them clad in FormStone.

I'm not saying that we're going to be able to achieve a city-builder game in which you can recreate the story (and not just the buildings) of cities as complex as Luanda or Delhi or Baltimore. But I think we can get closer. Those buildings were chosen to remind us of what we're trying to do here: to create a city-builder game where cities have narrative and context, and where they proceed and grow in surprising ways.

(The Mausoléu António Agostinho Neto over Luanda photo is by Erik Cleves Kristensen, the Lotus Temple at night photo is by Arian Zwegers, and the Baltimore formstone rowhouses photo is by "Baltimike"; all three are used under a CC-BY-2.0 license.)

About F. Ghoti:

Ghoti (he/him), the founder of the Charm Cities project, is also a developer, writer, project manager, Concrete Professional™, and ADHD disaster child. He lives in West Baltimore and has very strong feelings about the fate of the Red Line. He's @flying_ghoti on Twitter.

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