Lunar Urbanism – Overarching planetary parameters and how they will shape Moon cities

In Lunar Architecture and Urbanism, 2nd Edition, Brent Sherwood, NASA architect and pioneer of space architecture writes about the fundamental factors that will govern the approach to human habitation of the lunar surface. The paper sets out key points of reference to be used as a guide map for the urban development of the moon, shying away from specific predictions but relying on scientific evidence and logic to form likely general principles. On urbanism the paper predicts “lunar urbanism will be densely populated at virtually all stages of its evolution” due to the inherent cost of building on the moon and the high degree of atmospheric and environmental control that will be necessary to sustain life there. Following on from this, he states the prohibitive cost of space transportation as likely to result in a strong lunar manufacturing economy for the production of day to day tools and utensils, augmented by imports of more specialised ware. The paper predicts an emphasis on simplicity in transport and construction, reasoning that “If a few kilograms of composite can provide mobility and exercise unobtrusively, elaborate centralized transit systems are likely to be justified only for inter‐urban traffic.” Of architectural materials he suggests metals and glass will be the most common, as the raw materials used to make these substances are commonly found on the Moon. A key prediction is the introspective nature of the cities, as since the Moon is devoid of atmosphere its surface (and anyone who may be on it) is vulnerable to solar flares or radiation. This debunks the Golden Age of Science Fiction –era idea of the Moon city as Manhattan‐like within a transparent dome shroud: “The image of miraculous, crystalline pressure domes scattered about planetary surfaces, affording a suburban populace with magnificent views of raw space, is a baseless, albeit persistent, modern myth. Such architecture would bake the inhabitants and their parklands in strong sunlight while poisoning them with space radiation at the same time.”

Caves for New York (1942) – Hugh Ferris

The urbanism may move underground entirely dependent on the required response to the solar radiation mentioned previously, describing methods of burying cities such as constructing great roofs of lunar concrete and covering them over with regolith, or making use of natural caves, either way predicting “The natural and engineered planetary surface will be the single most important architectural interface on the Moon.” A defining feature of the lunar city against a counterpart on Earth will be the presence of a city wall‐style impermeable architectural skin containing the breathable atmosphere for the city. This will enable individual buildings within the urbanism to be composed with traditional building techniques. Sherwood’s strongest persuasion for the underground urbanism is that “every square meter of the actual city wall must withstand over 100,000 newtons of force exerted by the air within it. Indeed, a regolith overburden with sufficient weight to counteract this pressure would exceed by many times the thickness required for safe radiation shielding alone.”

Antonio Sant Elia – Futurist Architectural Perspectives

What would this urbanism look like? I won’t attempt to prescribe an architecture, but I can point out that thus far, Sherwood’s descriptions of the likely lunar urbanism – a heavy reliance on alloys, concrete and glass; an emphasis on simplicity in construction; a tendency to be extremely urbanised – all sound very much in line with the Modernism and Futurism movements of the early 20th century, though of course the built forms would have to be re‐imagined for an underground setting. The notion of a lunar city seems to dovetail particularly well with proclamation 5 from the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture:

“That, just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created, and of which architecture must be the most beautiful expression, the most complete synthesis, the most efficacious integration.”

Antonio Sant Elia – Futurist Architectural Perspectives

Sherwood goes on to describe the lunar parameters likely to have the most effect on the design of the individual building when he says “First, lunar architecture must accommodate a larger scale of human movement. Although details await experience, the stride of a natural human gait in lunar gravity will be longer and rise higher than on Earth.” This increased range of motion would of course call into question every standard measurement on earth, for instance the typical dimensions for ceiling heights or stair risers. This alteration of standard measurements would carry over to building structure, enabling columns and walls of far more slender shape than would be possible on Earth.

Le Corbusier – Plan for Paris

The final point made relates to the human treatment of the lunar wilderness. Sherwood quite perceptively points out that “the Moon must be a place of unprecedented demarcation between wilderness and human use. The ancient architectural form of the “town wall” will recur on the Moon – not to protect inhabitants from outside dangers, but rather to keep routine human activity from inexorably overrunning the native lunar landscape. The lunar wilderness …is truly fragile and effectively irrecoverable. At least millions of years are required for micrometeorite “gardening” to remake just centimetres of regolith.” These final points on the lunar landscape indicate an urbanism derived from Le Corbusier’s La Defense, in the sense that Sherwood is describing a number of insular urbanisms of high density, arranged so as to free the landscape to revert to (or remain in) a natural or parkland state.

K.

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