Modern Megacities Put in Perspective by Charles and Ray Eames

Modern Megacities Put in Perspective by Charles and Ray Eames

By Luke Hopping
Charles and Ray Eames's seminal short Powers of Ten dared a generation of students to rethink the scope of urban planning. Since then, as the world's city-dwelling population has skyrocketed, its become standard practice to conceive of cities in terms of gargantuan metropolitan areas, not unlike in the film. Eames and Llisa Demetrios, the grandchildren of the iconic architects, will discuss the film's impact on scale at Dwell on Design Los Angeles next month. In preparation, we took a look at a few of the world's most impressive megacities.

Today more than half the world's population resides in a city, an all-time high that's trending upward. Some 38 cities are estimated to contain more than 10 million people, designating them "megacities." Unfurling outward, climbing higher, converging into one another, metropolises from Mumbai to Mexico City are competing for space in a way few midcentury architects could have forseen, but not Charles and Ray Eames.

Mexico City, population 22,200,000. Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere.

Already legends in the field of architecture and design, in 1977 the husband and wife team adapted a book by a Dutch educator into a short documentary, Powers of Ten. The film—in case you missed science class that day—shows the human environment slowly receding as the camera zooms out over a park in Chicago into outerspace. In a matter of seconds, the Eamseses put the city in a radically new perspective. 

Shanghai, population 25,400,000. It's estimated that Asia alone will have 28 megacities by 2025.

Though the film does not predict the rise of massive urban conglomerations, it was an early glimpse of the city as the sum of its parts—a kind of precursor to Google Maps. The Eamseses enabled a generation of aspiring designers to visualize a metropolitan area as sweeping as the issues confronting it.

Mumbai, population 23,920,000. Mumbai's built environment has increased fourfold in less than a century.

Eames and Llisa Demetrios, Charles and Ray's grandchildren, will discuss Power of Ten's legacy at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles next month. 

New York City, population 20,300,000. New York City was the world's first megacity and remains America's largest.


Seoul, population 26,100,000. The densely populated South Korean capital is the world's most high-tech megacity, with wireless access available nearly everywhere in the city limits for a small fee.

São Paulo, population 21,390,000. São Paulo is one of two megacities in South America. The other is Buenos Aires, with a relatively modest population of 16,500,000.

Tokyo, population 37,900,000. The world's largest megacity has over ten million more inhabitants than its second most populated, Delhi.


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.