Hyperloop, a futuristic transportation network that, its adherents say, will send paying customers through vacuum-powered tubes at speeds of up to seven hundred and sixty miles per hour—from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under thirty minutes. The project’s preëminent spokesman is Elon Musk, the forty-six-year-old tech entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, who has seemingly restyled himself as the Jerry Bruckheimer of urban design. Besides championing the Hyperloop, Musk also founded the so-called Boring Company, based in L.A. Its breakthrough concept? To put cars in semi-automated tunnels beneath the city’s traffic-clogged streets.
Still, the trouble with the Hyperloop is not its breathless gee-whizzery. It’s the fact that it mistakes the charismatic mega-project for a viable solution to current problems. If the Hyperloop’s purpose is to address large-scale urban mobility, then there are many other options already deserving of public funding and attention—ones that do not require a hard rebooting of the entire urban world to be realized. We could increase funding for Amtrak. We could make our existing subways run on time, safely. We could fix our bridges. If boredom is already setting in, recall the fate of the Concorde. We once lived in a world that boasted a supersonic airliner, capable of whisking passengers from New York to London in three and a half hours—but this was a very qualified use of the word “we.” Who exactly could book a ticket on the Concorde was determined entirely by wealth, and, as such, that now lost transatlantic wormhole never felt particularly futuristic. Certainly, it failed to revolutionize international transportation for the masses. Today, it’s as if this feat of aeronautical engineering never existed.
In the architectural world, a common insult is to denigrate a project—even a person’s entire professional output—as being mere “paper architecture,” just renderings and spatial fairy tales.