Speculation’s Spatial Terms

Architectural Theory Review 24

my thanks to
Jasper Ludewig
Maren Koehler

The episodic crash and burn of large-scale “new city” projects is part of the contemporary reality of architectural production. Such projects have been described as cases of “phantom urbanism,” “ghost cities,” “ruins” or cities that never were.(1) Their photographic documentation often conveys the pathos of an unfulfilled “promise”—the failed experiments of urbanization used as a mechanism for financial speculation and economic development.(2)We have been shown how “new financial tools” and “increasingly complex transactional instruments” facilitate the circulation of capital into these sites of intervention.(3) The fluid forces of finance co-opt regional political economies under the camouflage of “smarter,” “greener” and “more efficient” cities. When things go awry, the buildings and infrastructure left behind adopt an ambivalent position, as instruments of—and somehow subject to—the domineering force of capital.

This script could also be applied to Amaravati, a new capital city with a planned population of 3.2 million people in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) announced in 2014. The site chosen for this new city is an hour and a half’s drive from India’s eastern coastline and six hours north of Chennai by train. Today, a grid of partly finished arterial roads marks out the 217 square kilometers of once fertile agricultural land that was set aside for the project. Buildings—a handful completed; many others abandoned—are strewn throughout this landscape. Some are in use, such as two hastily designed university campuses. Others are monolithic concrete shells in various stages of completion. Elsewhere, vast pits of excavated ground and solitary foundations identify the Government Complex, a 1,575-acre strip located at the center of the city. This complex was supposed to contain secretariat towers, a state supreme court building and a parliament house, all designed by Foster + Partners.