Threatening to end Cairo’s 1,046 year dominance as the country’s capital, earlier this month the government of Egypt announced their intentions to create a new, yet-to-be-named capital city just east of New Cairo. The promise of the more than 270 square mile ‘new New Cairo’ has attracted headlines from around the world with its sheer scale; a $45 billion development of housing, shopping and landmarks designed to attract tourism from day one, including a theme park larger than Disneyland. And of course, the plans include the promise of homes - for at least 5 million residents in fact, with the vast number of schools, hospitals and religious and community buildings that a modern city requires - making the new capital of Egypt the largest planned city in history.
The idea of building a new capital city has appealed to governments across history; a way to wipe the slate clean, stimulate the economy and lay out your vision of the world in stone, concrete and parkland. Even old Cairo was founded as a purpose built capital, although admittedly urban planning has changed a little since then. It continues to change today; see the full list of different ways to build a totally new city after the break.
Famously a solution to the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, modest Canberra was founded in 1913 as the capital for the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia. In contrast to the frenzied construction of more recent planned cities, Canberra’s construction moved at a slower pace befitting the quiet, leafy city that was envisioned. Designed by the husband and wife team of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, the capital is made out of geometric shapes laid out around the topography of the city, so the city is shaped by natural landmarks, with large stretches of parkland and vegetation. Sadly, a plan to cover each of the three main hills with flowers in one primary color (taking the term ‘garden city’ very literally) never came to fruition.
Brazil’s modernist utopia is possibly the most famous planned city in the world. With a population of nearly 2.5 million arriving in the 55 years since it was founded in 1960, it’s certainly one of the most successful in the simple terms of population statistics. The plan to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro dates right back to the Empire of Brazil in 1827, and the city at the center of the country became a way to proclaim Brazil’s modernity while incorporating the regions in a way that the coastal Rio couldn’t.
Brazil’s literally monumental capital is the defining image of the modernist city, designed by Lucio Costa and featuring landmarks by Brazil's titan of modernism Oscar Niemeyer. Focusing on efficient road layout and high living standards for both the rich and poor in tightly defined leafy residential areas, the city attracted and still attracts both praise and criticism for its goals and their implementation, but the city has nevertheless had a huge impact on urban planning in the years since its creation.
If any city can compete with Brasilia’s modernist credentials, it’s Chandigarh. Masterplanned by Le Corbusier, the state of Punjab required a new capital, after the previous capital of Lahore became part of Pakistan in the 1947 partition. The horrific events of the partition became part of the state capital’s raison d’etre, as Le Corbusier used his sculpture of The Open Hand to position Chandigarh as a symbol of the peace and reconciliation everyone hoped would follow the conditions of its founding.
Chandigarh is one of the wealthiest cities in India, with a quality of life that is second to none in the country. The city’s framing against the mountains, green space and hierarchical road planning make the city a very different one from Le Corbusier’s earliest Ville Contemporaine and Ville Radieuse plans, but one which very cleverly uses the natural geography of the site to inform and ground the scale of this modernist city in a way that humanizes it.
Also founded as part of the legacy of the 1947 partition, Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad was built from a desire to balance development across the country and move government further from the easily attacked coast. The planned city was built on the idea that urban areas should be scientifically built, and should be replicated as models to grow as needed - a model capital for a state that considered itself a "model developing country." This design for growth was met with plenty of it, and the capital today houses 2.2 million in the metropolitan area.
Constantinos Doxiadis’s triangular grid system was arranged in sectors, something that hasn’t always been met with success: the idea of model, flexibly designed districts built for growth didn’t quite mesh with the strictly regulated hierarchical sectors, segregating different classes - government employees had their own accommodation away from the rest of the city that was allocated to them.
The capital of Myanmar was moved from Yangon to the center of the country only 10 years ago, in 2005 - creating, according to the UN, one of the fastest growing cities in the world with an official population of nearly one million. Despite being one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia, the capital of Myanmar is a well maintained, landscaped conurbation covering a staggering 2,700 square miles, with roads of up to 20 lanes. Although the rumored $4 billion budget pales in comparison to Cairo’s $45 billion, the city includes a monumental parliament complex of 31 buildings and the Uppatasanti Pagoda, a hollow replica of Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
The government of Myanmar claimed to create the new capital in response to the overcrowding of the rapidly growing former capital, and their inability to expand the government offices still housed in often decaying, colonial era buildings. Naypyidaw is also located close to the exact center of the country, making it a transport hub; however this hasn’t stopped some speculating that the capital was moved for security reasons, given the reluctance to open parts of the city up to journalists.
Founded as a Russian settlement in 1830, the Kazakh capital was moved here in 1997 and required the built organs of government, transforming the face and economy of this city by adding a brand new governing district of nearly 80 square miles for a population of roughly 340,000 people. The new capital has been outfitted with the intention to create a global city: a Norman Foster shopping center in the shape on an enormous silver tent, a commercial mirror of Foster’s other Astana project, the 77m high glass Pyramid of Peace and Accord, as well as a concert hall by Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti and of course the urban plan itself, by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.
Kurokawa was chosen to create a cutting edge, international city (earlier attempts to find a native, Soviet trained architect had been viewed as too backward looking), one that could break with the Soviet past and attract the world’s attention in a way that the previous capital, Almaty, never could. Following Kurokawa’s radically post-modern philosophical outlook, the capital has become known for the futuristic buildings and Kurokawa’s attempts to create an environment that reflected Kazakh life and independence.