Richard Rogers is most famously known for his modernist and functionalist designs in Europe. The Italian-British architect is the man behind some of the exceptional works of contemporary architecture including the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in London. While his accomplishments in Modern Architecture are exemplary, Sir Rogers also became a visionary for a sustainable future. His imagination for urban cities in the late 20th century describes our planet as we see it today. In 1997, Richard Rogers put together his book, Cities for a Small Planet. It highlights the unkind impact our cities have on the Earth’s environment.

Book in Focus: Cities for a Small Planet by Richard Rogers - Sheet1
Richard Rogers _ ©Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

About the Book

Cities for a Small Planet is a message of hope from Richard Rogers. It takes the reader right through the genesis of cities followed by the social, political, and economic factors that drive them. The five chapters of the book lead to defining the multiple facets of a sustainable city. Ultimately, it is describing the ideal city for a small planet!

Book in Focus: Cities for a Small Planet by Richard Rogers - Sheet2
Cities for a Small Planet _ ©

Learning about the culture of a city greets the reader followed by its evolution. The most significant developments within the last century manoeuvred the alienation of man from his surroundings. Through Cities for a Small Planet, Richard Rogers explores the themes of traffic, pollution, lack of community, and selfish individualism within cities. Reckless use of natural resources built easy access yet dependency on technology. 

Furthermore, it led to the transformation of the relationship between human beings and the Earth. According to Sir Rogers, the above-stated themes all lead to the practice of sustainable urbanism. The concept focuses on building a healthy and safe environmentboth ecologically and socially. In turn, it takes care of both the people and the place. 

Book in Focus: Cities for a Small Planet by Richard Rogers - Sheet3
Idea for a compact city _ ©Krzysztof Rogatka and Rodrigo Rudge Ramos Ribeiro, A compact city and its social perception: A case study

He quotes, “We created cities to celebrate what we have in common; now they are designed to keep us apart.” The idea for an inclusive city is completely overruled. Instead, a consumerist city takes shape. The forces driving it are politics, the economy, and the market. For instance, the book talks about the complex adversities that come up with mix-use buildings. Traditionally, these formed such neighbourhoods which brought life to the streets. They catered to the citizens’ day-to-day needs.  However, management, finance, and sales brought about the challenges that induced a preference for single-use buildings. It leads to the formation of urban traffic. As it happens, it is the fundamental theme explored by Sir Rogers. 

Referring to the car as “a mobile fortress”, the book establishes the dominance of automobiles at that time. While the traffic increases, the streets are drained of all commercial life and become a no man’s land. The sealed private cars disguise the identities as pedestrians scurry through the streets. Alternately, dwellers tend to flee to the countryside to escape the dense city centers. The distance gives the automobile an even more principal position on the roads. In the late 1900s, the environmentalists too exclaimed that cars generate more pollution than the industries!

Book in Focus: Cities for a Small Planet by Richard Rogers - Sheet4
Changing character of streets due to urban traffic _ ©Cities for a Small Planet

The Author’s Vision

Sir Rogers talks about the expected population growth, technological developments, and the state of urban cities by 2025. It is interesting to see how his vision stands with the current state of our urban lives today. Over two decades after Richard Rogers penned down the book, cities in most of the developed and developing countries face a similar dilemma. An overwhelming plague from the cities’ waste and traffic threaten the existence of our very planet. The book cites examples from the densely populated cities of Shenzhen and London. With such a context, it discusses various ideas to promote healthy living within high density. While such metropolitans have a strong gravitational pull, the need to escape it is evidence of our urban maturity. 

Sir Rogers’ take on the concept of sustainable urbanism gave an optimistic approach to the future of city planning. His notions for a compact city concept, pedestrian-friendly transit, a network of public parks, and so on could lead to better communities. At the same time, they had the potential to save the countryside from urban encroachment. Being one of the pioneers of flexibility in architecture, he envisioned the same approach in the urban realm in the form of open-minded places. Such spaces could take care of the individual as well as collective needs of evolving generations. Hence, easier modification of space could make it more long-lasting, and in conclusion, sustainable.

Richard Roger’s take on the concept of flexibility in architecture _ ©Pompidou Centre, Paris; Photograph: Alamy

Relevance through the 21st Century

The author’s ideas in Cities for a Small Planet and his architectural style went hand-in-hand. However, blind acceptance of the disastrous impact of city waste followed the planet in the next 20 years. The period of the post-industrial revolution saw many architects and urban planners highlighting the life fostered within cities. Its gravity never gained enough attention. It leads to an increase in the gap between humans and the environment they inhabit. It is indeed thought-provoking to see the current state of proposals made then that either prospered or failed. 

As the population continues to expand, cities extend their boundaries to the larger countryside. The political and economic forces drive the city dwellers into a disconnected society. It leaves us with the thought of what is the next real step to curb the free-flowing disaster.


An architecture student who finds architecture to be a continuous process of pushing boundaries, to make the world grow around and about it. She strives to read and understand the dialogue that occurs between architecture and the lives of people connected to it.

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