|"Central Park" on the ship.|
No, not the Upper East Side, nor Hong Kong, nor even Dharavi, but the new cruise ship Allure of the Seas. At 1187 feet long, and having capacity for nearly 9,000 passengers and crew members, the population density of the ship, when at capacity, can effectively exceed 1.2 million per square mile. This is well in excess of Dharavi's 800,000.*
Lest one think the urban comparison is overstated, the urban qualities of the ship, easily visible in its design, are emphasized in its promotional materials:
"Longer than New York City's famed Chrysler building, the Allure of the Seas is so big, that it has "neighborhoods" like Central Park, Royal Promenade and Boardwalk. Like a city at sea, each "neighborhood" has its own unique "personality" along with numerous attractions that everyone onboard can enjoy..."
The New York Times noted the same quality:
"After we ate at the Chops Grille the next night, with its Chicago stockyards theme, and another day at Sorrento’s pizzeria, with photos of Manhattan, I began to see that the Allure is an urban ship, a celebration of cities, a 24-hour dream of lights and movement and the power of being in the center."
The cruise ship arguably represents the ultimate glorification of the public realm at the expense of the private, with living quarters, for most passengers, cramped in comparison to those of the cheapest hotel lodgings on land. It is also the ultimate pedestrian-centric environment, reliant entirely on foot transportation. And yet, the ship is a highly desirable "getaway" for Americans from across the country.
In spite of these typically urban, and traditionalist urban, qualities, the architect best known for deriving inspiration from the design of large passenger vessels is none other than Le Corbusier, who was attracted by the streamlined nautical aesthetic of ships as well as their implications for urbanism. The Unité d'Habitation was itself conceived in part as a self-contained, permanently-anchored ocean liner equipped with both necessities and amenities, thus taking the lesson of the big ship quite literally -- perhaps too literally. The Unité mimicked the ocean liner's isolation even when there was no need to do so, and shrunk units even in the absence of spatial constraints.
Are there other, more pro-urban, lessons to be learned from the "high density design and rigorous servicing discipline" of ships, as Stewart Brand asked in How Buildings Learn? I'll leave that one hanging.
*The since-demolished Kowloon Walled City was reported to have had over 3,000,000 per square mile in the late 1980s – essentially representing four Dharavis stacked on top of one another.