Science fiction has predicted everything from the internet to mobile phones. Could it help us create concrete-free cities of the future?

Men work on a section of the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair
Men work on a section of the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair © Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

SF magazines of the 1950s and 1960s were filled with features on the city of the future: high-tech metropolises under transparent domes, giant platforms hovering high in the atmosphere on anti-gravity pads, cities under the sea. Rarely was any part of this pegged to practicality.

Occasionally, though, SF vision has been matched with speculation about the materials that might underpin construction. Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise (1979) proposed building structures out of a super-thin, super-strong material called hyperfilament, “a continuous pseudo-one-dimensional diamond crystal”. This could be used as a transparent coat to preserve old buildings, or assembled into structures of its own, supporting towers tall enough to reach into orbit on which could be mounted space elevators. The huge quantities of diamond required could be sourced, he said, from space, where he suggested it was plentiful – the core of Jupiter, he posited, was a single Earth-sized diamond.


Yevgeny Zamiatin’s surveillance-state dystopia We (1921) influenced the likes of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Set a thousand years into the future, the citizens of Zamiatin’s Worldstate live in apartment blocks entirely constructed of glass, so that everybody can be watched at all times. The elimination of privacy might not be appealing, but a city in which every structure was built of filament-reinforced glass would at least be more environmentally sound than one made of concrete. And we could always fit curtains.