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Layered Metropolis

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The Wretched Hive below does no justice to the view from the window of your Mega-Corp Star Scraper? No problem. Cover it up.

"There ain't a side of the tracks more wrong than 'under' 'em."
Augustus Sinclair, BioShock 2

The extreme Lampshading of the Skyscraper City, making it even more enormous and overbuilt. A Skyscraper City is when the city seems to consist entirely of skyscrapers that rival the construction of Dubai (and then some) but the Layered Metropolis is when the city planners went even further by adding more streets, and even buildings, very far (or sometimes not that far) above the city. This tends to go hand in hand with Under City and Absurdly Spacious Sewer, due to both the aesthetic and to large sewer systems being a relatively intuitive way of adding a lower layer to a city.

Maybe they realized how inconvenient it might be to take an elevator down a hundred stories or so, cross the street, then go back up the other building's elevator. Or they might have been worried about wiring, plumbing, or public transportation. Exactly how people take the car to these levels or get plumbing that high up will almost never be addressed, and similar questions as those raised by the Skyscraper City are also rarely addressed-such as the population needed, the construction methods, or how any of this is structurally sound.


Predictably, there will be Urban Segregation where the rich will always be a majority on the top, and the lower classes will have the bottom. Which presents an intriguing dichotomy as one neighbourhood becomes slowly and literally overshadowed by another level, and thus more unfashionable. Similarly to the Skyscraper City, if the issue of population is brought up, it will usually be in a dystopian setting where overpopulation plagues the planet or at least big cities.

It is also a sub-trope of Skyscraper City, making it a sub-subtrope to Mega City. It fits very well in Cyber Punk settings. Compare City Planet (which lends itself more to this than the Skyscraper City), Star Scraper, and Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. Has surprisingly little to do with Layered World.

The arcology is an idea for applying this concept in real life. Now with its own page!



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     Comic Books 
  • Nuevea York in Marvel 2099. Street level is a Wretched Hive known as Downtown.
  • Anvard in Finder is a relatively pleasant example of this. Although there are some rough neighbourhoods, nowhere seems to be absolutely hellish.
  • Batman: Gotham was generally portrayed this way prior to Flashpoint, with a few multi-level streets, bridges and sidewalks and the subway having stations on various levels above and below ground. There's also always at least a small destitute community in Gotham's unintended Under City as well.

  • Sunshine and Fire: Trottingham in Sunshine!Equestria. The top layer, built on the limestone pillars holding up the city’s dome, is home to the unicorns and pegasi. On the ground below there is the crowded, dirty shantytown where the earth ponies live. Below that, unknown to the upper crust, there is a network of tunnels and abandoned mines where La Résistance hides out.
  • There is long-running Fanon that's used in quite a few Fanfics that The Jetsons and The Flintstones takes place in this type of setting with the rich, technologically-advanced world of the Jetsons taking placed above in buildings on stilts above the smog-covered, primitive world of the Flintstones.

  • In the Star Wars films, Coruscant is an Up to Eleven and beyond example, which makes it 121 or higher. No, really, it deserves that. The planet is covered in skyscrapers, which are also covered in skyscrapers, which are covered in more skyscrapers, which goes on for long enough that the skyscrapers dwarf the natural features of the planet. And some of the skyscrapers that were built on are actually construction droids for building more skyscrapers. The shiny tops of the skyscrapers are home to senators, rich people and the rest of the upper class. Below them there's the middle-class districts, and the progressively-darker and less-policed lower layers become more and more disreputable, unlawful and crime-infested until you reach the planet's surface, which is so polluted as to be flat-out unlivable.
    • Star Wars Legends had this as a common structure for many city-planets. Another good example was Taris, with nobility and upper class on the top levels, the middle class at the mid-level, the Lower City run by rival criminal gangs, and the Undercity...rakghouls everywhere with a few straggling survivors of exiled residents and their descendants.
  • The cities of the Total Recall (2012) remake follow this trope, crossing with a bit of Bizarrchitecture. Observe. London uses a more conventional approach with flat, layered roads, and actually addresses how cars get between the levels - the hover cars use magnetic "elevators" to get between levels, while standard wheeled vehicles stay at ground level.
  • Metropolis itself — no, not that one; the eponymous city from the 1927 Fritz Lang film — arguably counted; the "workers' city" may have been at what was once ground level or literally dug underground, but either way it was completely covered by the "surface" of the city above, accessible only by elevator. As with Skyscraper City, this would make it the Trope Maker.
  • New York in The Fifth Element is still in the Skyscraper City stage, but it's clearly evolving layers with its multiple above-ground walkways.
  • The city of Gotham is at least two levels in The Dark Knight Trilogy due to using Chicago's multi-leveled streets for filming as mentioned in Real Life below.

  • On Gor most major city-states are filled with towering "cylinders," with narrow unrailed bridges between them to go from cylinder to cylinder without having to descend to street level first.
  • London has become this in Mortal Engines thanks to the great engineer Quirke, who transformed it into the world's first mobile city. The 7th tier houses the engine district, while St Paul's Cathedral sits on the uppermost tier.
    • We see more and more Traction Cities in the later books of the series, and they all make use of this trope — with the number of layers a city has also showing its overall wealth and power. Only the smallest, poorest towns have a single deck. Definitely goes hand-in-hand with Urban Segregation in this setting.
  • Trowth, from The Corsay Books, is an architecturally improbable example rather like a Lovecraftian Steampunk channeling-suicidal-amounts-of-Perdido Street Station version of Coruscant, spurred on by an architectural war. Yes, really, it all Makes Sense In Context. It started when one noble family built a tall, spindly tower with a view of the river, which offended another noble family who made a squat ugly tower in front of the tall spindly tower as an insult. It escalated into war, until a new front opened up when one architect built bridges over a major thoroughfare that went through his property. Soon, people started building on top of the bridges, to the point that it became a massive, towering, constantly constructed city.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Minas Tirith has seven levels, with a stone promontory jutting out from the topmost to overtake the rest of the city. It was built this way to be extremely defensible, with multiple lines of defense.
    • Parodied in Bored of the Rings with Minas Troney, which was built on seven levels for no better reason than its builder having water on the brain, in a shape similar to that of an Italian wedding cake. The Urban Segregation resulting from this design is Played for Laughs.
  • Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, is a planet so coated with layers and layers of city that most of its inhabitants live their entire lives without ever seeing sunlight. The prequel The Currents of Space has 2-layered cities with the top level for Sarkite masters and bottom level for Florinian serfs.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion in Cylinder van Troffa where the Framing Device is archeologists uncovering one. Buildings have been built upon cement-filled buildings.
  • Discworld's Ankh-Morpork is a city built on a foundation of mud and silt, which means it's constantly, gradually sinking. As the old city gets buried, new city gets built on top, leading to entire buildings and even streets being preserved beneath the earth. The city's resident dwarves make good use of all the available space. It's said that, traveling underground, one can reach anywhere in Ankh-Morpork as long as they have a hammer (to knock down walls) and a good sense of direction (to walk in a straight line), and the ability to breathe mud.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons campaign world of Eberron the city of Sharn is like this. Because it sits in a Manifest Zone that enhances anti-gravity magic the city's towers have been built to incredible heights and cross-connected at various levels. Just to make the sure the rich really do stay on top, the very wealthiest live on a floating neighborhood above the towers.
  • Warhammer 40,000's Hive Cities, which have been varyingly described as mountains hollowed out to make room for entire cities, or in cases such as Necromunda, overpopulated and horrifically violent kilometer-high skyscraper arcologies the size of cities, or just as cities so mind-bogglingly ancient that millennia of growth and construction of new buildings has progressively buried the old parts of the cities under layers and layers of urban growth. The upper parts of these cities, clean and crime-free and above the smog layers, are home to the Hive Cities' ruling classes. As one goes down, the lack of light, lack of utilities and increasing amounts of sewage and refuse leaking down from above make things progressively more squalid, until one gets to the filthy, crime-ridden Underhive at the bottom of it all, full of criminals, Chaos cultists and horribly mutated people and animals.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Ravnica. The entire plane is a metropolis, built up over thousands of years. As older buildings collapsed, newer ones were built on top of them. The lower levels became the "Undercity," an area of ill repute that now mostly serves as the upper city's sewers where it isn't overgrown ruins. Still, the city grows and expands. There aren't even proper natural features any more, the lands typical to Magic are only there in spirit, each represented by different architectural features.
  • Exalted had cities like this during the First Age. (In the capital Meru, all servants lived underground.)
    • It's also a common structure for the Alchemical cities of Autochthonia.
    • Malfeas, the Demon City is described as consisting of innumerable layers that generally float separately from one another (although they're connected in places by certain roads made from the voice of a powerful demon). In his rage and frustration, Malfeas has a tendency to crash his layers into one another; they'll often be merged together by this process.
  • Mort Central, the setting of most SLA Industries campaigns, actually manages to hold three varieties. First, the city is built on top of the ruins of a previous city that is now mostly underground, which the citizens of Mort don't like to talk about. Understandable, given that it's full of decaying infrastructure, carnivorous pigs, carriens, human psychopaths, and horrifying monsters, men in Powered Armor, terrorists, and things that the standard police rifle is less effective against than a BB gun... because, ironically enough, it IS a gauss BB gun. Second, there's Downtown, a warren of walkways, streets, and buildings extending deep underground that's similar to the Kowloon Walled City. Third, there's also several skyways full of shops high above the urban sprawl of the city.
  • The city of Fasar in The Dark Eye is a medieval version of this, with the fortified towers of the rich and powerful linked by a network of narrow bridges so their owners won't have to mingle with the common rabble below.
  • Pathfinder: Korvosa is a bit of an odd example, as its slums — the Shingles — are above the nice districts. The Shingles were born when many of the city's poor were left homeless by urban renovation and new zoning laws, forcing them to move into already crowded older districts of the city. Lacking space, many settled on top of preexisting buildings, eventually creating a shantytown of rooftop shacks and makeshift new upper floors connected by a maze of catwalks and rope bridges and often several layers deep. The Shingles extend over large parts of Korvosa, are home to much of the city's poor, beggars and criminals, are infested with minor monsters and are the reason most of Korvosa's populace avoids going above the second story of buildings in several of the city's districts.

  • Bezoar City of Hard Reset is a vast, towering Cyber Punk example of this. As Yahtzee pointed out: "There's one level where you're in a subway station and a few corridors later you're on a rooftop!" They did sort of hint at it with how tall Bezoar is implied to be, at certain points the wind whistles by fast enough to suggest you are a very... appreciable distance from the ground that you most definitely can't see. Yet, when you look up? There's still a lot more city to go.
  • Tokyo of Binary Domain has been made into one-if only because of global warming. It actually does address why this happened (Global Warming) and it is probably the only example with a giant sewer tower meant to help with the plumbing of the upper city.
  • Hengsha of Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been described on the page for said game as "a true urban planning nightmare that would make an oil rig look like the Taj Mahal by comparison." The bottom is dark and full of squat, ugly, blockish buildings and neon that simultaneously look both planned and unplanned and there are also streets above the streets there. The Upper City bears an odd resemblance to The Ark of Brink. It is the complete opposite of the Lower City, with every bit of ground not occupied by enormous skyscrapers occupied by parks. However, unlike a typical example, there's little segregation between the poor and the wealthy. Most people work in the Upper City and go down to the Lower City to bars and clubs. Additionally, while the extremely wealthy may live in the Upper City and the Lower City is home to the Alice Garden Podsnote  the Lower City is still home to plenty of nice places to live.
    • Deus Ex: Invisible War also has more than a few, including Seattle and Cairo. Unlike in Human Revolution, the upper and lower levels are more rigidly divided along class lines.
  • Xenoblade has Alcamoth and the Frontier Village. The former is an advanced muti-level city that floats above the Eryth Sea, which is located atop the Bionis' head. However, the Frontier Village is a whopping 9 level monstrosity, connected by stairs and rope bridges, that's so big that you can literally fall to your death! The same is true, if you fall from the upper ring, or either of the observation decks, of Alcamoth.
  • Final Fantasy VII's Midgar. In all sectors (numbered 0-8), an upper plate separates the ground-level slums from the other districts. This plate also blocks sunlight (what little there is of it) from trickling down into the slums. Agents from Shinra Inc. activate a support structure's Self-Destruct Mechanism between both layers of Sector 7, causing a section of the plate to come loose and crush everyone beneath before sending an earthquake relief force on the plate. Ironically, Reeve later moves the entire population of Midgar into the slums to protect them from METEOR.
    • An additional secret level, only known as Deepground, is located below both Midgar and the Slums, only accessible via the Sector 0 reactor. (Dirge of Cerberus)
    • The military port city of Junon also has a small village under it, near the elevator to the city proper.
    • Final Fantasy XII's Rabanastre is divided into two halves following its occupation by Archadian forces. "Lowtown", as its name suggests, lies beneath the streets and is comprised of storerooms, now converted into residences.
      • We see where the imperials got the idea when we visit Archades. The city overlooks the junk-heap of a slum called "Old Archades", and the city proper is divided into ascending layers. The higher your home is, the more of a hotshot you are.
    • Academia in Final Fantasy XIII-2 has multiple levels of streets and platforms to walk on. The different levels are connected by conveyor belts. The ground is not even visible.
  • Woodruff And The Schnibble Of Azimuth has the great vertical city of Vlurxtrznbnaxl. The citizens live in different parts of the city according to their socio-economic status: the poor live on the lower levels, the rich and powerful live on the higher levels.
  • Dark Souls has many examples of this type of design, fitting with the Bizarrchitecture that the series is known for.
    • In Dark Souls I, Lordran is built this way, with Anor Londo (the city of the Gods) at the very top. Going down we get; Sen's Fortress, the Undead Parish/Undead Burg, then the Depths, then Blighttown, then the Great Swamp. At this point it diverges and goes down to Ash Lake on one branch (which is also the support structure for the whole world thanks to the Archtrees holding the "ground" up), and the Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith on the other branch. New Londo is on the same strata as Blighttown, the Darkroot Garden/Basin are on roughly the same strata as the Undead Parish and the Undead Burg, and the Catacombs/Tomb of the Giants are on the same strata as the Demon Ruins. The Painted World Of Ariamis and the Undead Asylum avert this as the latter is located far from Lordran and the former is contained within an enchanted painting in Anor Londo.
    • Lothric in Dark Souls III has this, with the Grand Archives located at the very top, followed downward by Lothric Castle, the High Wall of Lothric, the Undead Settlement, The Road of Sacrifices, Farron Keep, and then the Catacombs of Carthus. After the Catacombs the path branches, with one branch continuing further down into the Smouldering Lake and the Demon Ruins after it, while another continues upward to Irithyll of the Boreal Valley and then either upwards more to the ruins of Anor Londo or further downwards into the Irithyll Dunegon and then the Profaned Capitol. The Very Definitely Final Dungeon The Kiln of the First Flame is entirely removed from the rest of the areas in the game, as is Archdragon Peak, averting this trope.
      • Both DLC areas for the game also use this, with the Painted World Of Ariandel from Ashes Of Ariandel having the Church at the top, followed downward to the Corvian Settlement with the Snowfields on the same level, and then dowarad again to the Champion's Graveyard and the ruins of Priscilla's boss arena from the original Painted World Of Ariamis. The Ringed City starts at Dreg Heap, which is on the level of the main game's Very Definitely Final Dungeon, and then goes downward until reaching The remains of Firelink Shrine from the first game which serve's as the Demon Prince's Boss arena. After that you get taken further down into the Ringed City itself, which has you travel down into the Abyssal Swamp in order to reach the Church of Filianore, or going downward some more to reach the boss arena for Darkeater Midir which may also serves as the origin point of the First Flame. After waking Filianore up, time catches up with the City and the area you were in (which was suspended in the air by a considerable height) suddenly is at ground level and forms the arena for the Final Boss.
  • Beneath a Steel Sky has it the opposite way. Upper levels for the poor, bottom level for the rich and privileged.
  • In the E3 presentation of Halo 2, New Mombasa was an enormous structure shaped like a baobab tree stretching up into the clouds. Extruding from it were arms large enough and strong enough to hold several skyscrapers, streets, and even freeways on it, meant to show just how over-populated Earth had become. In the end, Bungie went for a more realistic angle with the space elevator.
  • Stage 3 of Thunder Force V, "Human Road", takes place in a multi-layered city.
  • Project Eden has the rich living at the top and the poor living below them. Things get worse the further down you go, the ground far below is home to mutants, cannibals and scavenger tribes. Large numbers of buildings are abandoned and crumbling.
  • The Hierarchical Cities in BlazBlue, with the NOL's cathedral-like offices at the very top, all the way down to unfortunates with high Seither tolerance, such as the Kaka Clan and Arakune at the very bottom.
  • The game 80 Days has the city of Agra be an example of this. It's also a walking city that prowls the Indian subcontinent. On top, it looks like what the Real Life Agra must have looked like in the 19th century. You may end up seeing the other layers which are full of Steam Punk machinery that keeps the city running and thousands of workers maintaining it.
  • Inkopolis, the main setting of Splatoon, is a bustling Tokyo-esque metropolis that rests on top of Octo Valley, a twisted mess of debris surrounded by giant monitors showing pictures of skylines.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has a downplayed version of the trope with Roer Industrial City, which is a two-story city, but they're separated only by a short escalator ride. An NPC notes that layering the city allowed for twice as many buildings to be built in the same area of land.
  • Streets of Rogue is set in an layered Wretched Hive of a city; the player has to ascend from floor to floor via elevators in order to eventually reach the Mayor at the top.
  • League of Legends feature the sister city-states of Piltover and Zaun, though the typical geographical layout with this trope is inverted — Piltover (the top layer) rests on ground-level coasts, while Zaun (the bottom layer) is built on the sides of underground cliffs. While the two cities have a closely symbiotic relationship, Piltover is a thriving and clean Shining City with constant innovation in magic and science, while Zaun is its heavily industrial undercity where crime, pollution, and mad science run rampant.

  • Centralis in The Cyantian Chronicles consists of several large discs attached to a central "stem", the discs are capable of moving to prevent soil erosion or even detaching and flying off using Anti-Gravity.
  • All cities of Solar System in Schlock Mercenary as explained in the commentary for this strip. 1 trillion people (not necessarily humans) inhabit the system, of those 200 billion live on Earth. Arcologies occupy only 10% of Earh land (and a bit of oceans), but they are several kilometers high and deep. Population density is measured in people per cubic rather than square kilometer. This is the 31st century, with cheap annihilation energy and superstrong construction materials.
  • In Sunset Grill most major cities are like this. The city of Kieselburg has the classic rich live on the top, poor live on the bottom Urban Segregation. It's got so many layers that neighborhoods are measured by how many tiers tall they are.
  • The (allegedly) Shining City of LeveL; the highest of its nine "tiers" is built out of Hard Light.

     Web Original 
  • Metamor City is built like a layer cake with four skyways suspended between the skyscrapers on top of one another. And the original Metamor Keep has practically evolved into an Arcology.
  • Since land is scarce in Skies Unbroken, at least some cities, like Gloria, are built that way, with docks and The City Narrows on lower levels and nice stuff upstairs, while the land around the city gets used for intensive farming.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in Sherwood. The Upper City where the wealthy and powerful live is a Ominous Floating City, while the poor scrape by in waterlogged slums below.

     Western Animation 
  • The titular Motorcity is the grimy and gritty remains of old Detroit, with shiny and futuristic Detroit Deluxe constructed directly on top of it. As in, Detroit Deluxe is built on top of a gigantic metal shell that completely covers old Detroit.

     Real Life 
  • This building in Singapore looks like a miniaturized version of the above mentioned Hengsha. One can't help but think the design may become more popular over time as space in metropolitan areas becomes a premium.
  • Kowloon Walled City is certainly worth mentioning. Not so much layered as it was a giant solid 8 story mass of questionable architecture. A base stretching 126m by 213m, housing 50,000 residents. Evacuated and bulldozed in 1993.
  • Portions of Chicago are built on double-decker or triple-decker streets; the lower decks are at the original ground level and are used for loading docks and through traffic. Wacker Drive, the longest street in this system, features in The Blues Brothers and The Dark Knight, and the Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live Fame is located on lower Michigan Avenue. Above, the "L" tracks that loop around The Loop add yet another layer.
  • Seattle had a downplayed version of this during the rebuilding project that started after the great fire of 1889. The entire downtown area was regraded to be about one floor higher than it originally was. Businesses in area stayed open during the project, meaning that many of them had sidewalks both above and below, creating a two-layer urban environment. When the project was completed, the original first floors were turned into basements and the second floors became the new street-level floors. Some of the old infrastructure still exists and serves as a tourist attraction.
  • It was proposed that much of the City of London should be rebuilt like this after the bomb damage of World War II, with cars and service entrances at ground level and pedestrians getting around on elevated walkways. The Barbican area roughly bounded by Aldersgate Street, London Wall, Finsbury Pavement, Chiswell Street, and Beech Street was significantly reconstructed like this, and the notoriously labyrinthine nature of the network of walkways, bridges, and high-level entrances to buildings helps to explain why it didn't spread wider.
  • The Township of East Pasila, Helsinki, Finland, has been designed this on mind. The cars run on ground level, while the pedestrian and bicycle passageways are on the upper levels.
  • The capital of Estonia, Tallinn. The Vanalinn (Old Town) consists of three tiers; the historically bourgeoisie inhabited Lower Town, the noblemen's Upper Town and the military and administration center, Toompea Castle, on the upmost tier. The city wall separates not only the whole Old Town from newer townships, but also the Lower Town from the Upper Town, while Toompea Castle is the citadel on its own. If we take into account the newer townships, that would make altogether four tiers.

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