1. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo has long been regarded as a bastion of state-of-the-art, from its fine dining (more Michelin stars than London and New York combined) to its toilets (automatically raising lids and heated seats). If you want to travel, trains capable of 200mph whisk you out of the capital. If you’re thirsty, vending machines predict your drink choice before you select (via sensors, based on your appearance and the weather). But technology sometimes thwarts even the Japanese. Plans for the enormous Shimizu Pyramid, a housing solution proposal for one million of the space-cramped population that would sit spread-eagled over Tokyo Bay, have been postponed: construction materials strong enough don’t currently exist.
Ultra-modern Jicoo Floating Bar (jicoofloatingbar.com) is a snazzy boat that cruises around Tokyo Bay, resembling the pleasure craft of a megalomaniac Bond villain.
2. McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica
It’s a vision of what human colonisation on another planet might resemble. A scattered community of low-level buildings dwarfed by immense circular fuel storage tanks, which in turn are rendered miniscule by barren mountains that rear up behind the Antarctic’s largest research facility in layers of snow-flecked volcanic ash. The inhabitants of this strange land? Dive-bombing skuas, penguins, and scientists devoted to discovering how our planet ticks – or, perhaps, is ticking away. The station is as autonomous as another planet’s colony would be too, with restaurants, a gym, a hospital, a chapel, and cross-country skiing equipment to borrow.
To discover more about McMurdo Station, watch Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, a documentary focusing on residents’ daily lives there.
3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The time-travelling protagonists of Back to the Future would have oohed no end at Dubai’s audacious portfolio of buildings that seem beamed from decades yet to be. Think soaring tapered towers, metallic dhows and an artificially created archipelago that fans out into the ocean in the shape of a palm: city architecture resonates with tomorrow’s possibilities. But stay tuned. Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020 – where exhibitors will be ensconced in a futuristic-looking souk with mammoth solar-powered sunshades. Expect innovation to keep on coming.
Take the lift to the summit of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to observe Dubai’s bizarre cityscape.
4. Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China
Its name sounds like something from Star Wars. The apartment blocks of the city’s Kangbashi neighbourhood stand largely empty despite being designed to house thousands, and main roads are deserted even at ‘rush hour’. Yet Ordos, China’s best-known ghost town (the expected inhabitants just never came), has a stronger case for being deemed the world’s most sci-fi-esque address. Just beyond the city limits is the Ordos Museum – a sinuous shell plonked on the desert’s edge – housing exhibitions about the region’s culture.
The Kubuqi Desert is west of Ordos on route G109 then north on X613.
5. Toronto, Canada
Dubai of the north? Mini-New York? Toronto’s nicknames are indicative of the real estate boom continuing to shape the city’s skyline. Just being tall and glassy isn’t enough to make an impact in a North American downtown anymore: certainly not in the city with the western hemisphere’s highest free-standing structure, the CN Tower. New construction projects must be at least a little outlandish to impress. Enter the Absolute Towers – twin condominiums of 50- and 56-storeys that twist 209 degrees from base to top – and the Emerald Park Condos, resembling chocolate bars with the wrapping partially peeled back. It’s all building towards Toronto looking like a sci-fi comic.
Leading architects have contributed to Toronto’s iconic buildings; learn about them on a walking tour with Heritage Toronto (heritagetoronto.org/programs/tours).
6. Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm, Sweden
Built as the athletes’ village for Sweden’s failed 2004 Olympics bid, this eco-town outside Stockholm has transformed into a model of low-key sustainability, with water heating half supplied by solar panels and recycling rooms in every building. Hammarby Sjöstad also focuses on aesthetics. It’s a tranquil, lakefront community with canal-side walks, parks and not a flash of showy glass and steel in sight.
Back in central Stockholm, don’t miss a ride on the subway, boldly painted by local artists.
7. New Songdo City, Incheon, South Korea
Take a smidgeon of the Sydney Opera House, a dose of Venice and a chunk of New York’s Central Park. Mix well. The result, say the people behind Songdo in Incheon, South Korea, will be just what they are designing: a city of cutting-edge architecture, bisected by canals and green spaces. Completion is scheduled for 2020, but green spaces totalling 40% of Songdo’s area, many apartment blocks, a convention centre of glitzy prisms and a pneumatic waste collection system negating the need for rubbish trucks already stand vanguard over Incheon’s waterfront.
You can stay at Songdo’s first hotel, Sheraton Incheon Hotel (sheratonincheon.com).
8. Spaceport America, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
Public space travel is likely to be off the ground by the time you read this, though at US$250,000 a seat, it’s not cheap. Visitors to Virgin Galactic’s 62 sq km launch pad facility, in an already otherworldly desert landscape of Las Cruces, New Mexico, can gawk at the monolithic domed space operations centre, and the vast fuel tanks required for stocking up for missions.
Official tour operator Follow the Sun (ftstours.com) embellishes its Spaceport tours with updates on the latest in space technology.
9. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi’s under-construction Saadiyat Cultural District bristles with buildings that seem just-landed from a far more advanced civilisation. Plans feature a Guggenheim (a gigantic mound of cubes and open-ended cones) and Zayed International Museum (which whirls up in a flurry of steel wings representing the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s penchant for falconry). Southeast of the centre, the ambitious archaeology project of Masdar City is intended to be car-free and powered 100% by renewable energy.
Read more about Abu Dhabi’s awe-inspiring architecture at saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae.
Of all Asia’s metropolises, Singapore is most glamorously futuristic: buildings like the Marina Bay Sands hotel/casino complex (three towers joined up top by a sky-park) have become distinctive landmarks. But the most ingenious development yet is more green than glassy. The tropical gardens at Gardens by the Bay feature 18 50m-high super-trees, connected via walkways to two giant, greenhouses that act as biomes for thousands of non-native plants.
Get a flavour of what the gardens offer at gardensbythebay.com.sg.