The figure of Utopia is tied to that of the Urbis – notions of the ideal city, the radiant city, cities of equality and equity – litter the landscape of the built environment. What starts as a set of allegorical musings by philosophers, or speculative eschatologies on the part of the medieval church, tumble into physcial existence during the renaissance and the subsequent enlightenment.
In the old world, and the new, ideal cities and societies emerge. They take on mythological and structural cues from their parent cultures – from the ideologies of their leaders – from the apocalyptic or end-times visions of their prophets. The idea of the perfectability of a human habit and habitat – the idea of a good place – drives and destroys civilisations. The mental models and extant experiments infiltrate and alter the fabric of all cities, all architectures, all spaces.
The grand Utopian project reaches a high- water mark with the simultaneous figures of the high-modern, planned metropolis – and the cybernetic systems that promised predictability, simulative capacity, and perfect control. And then things go precipitously south. The moment is (erroneously) enshrined in the western architectural canon by the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe – but we can see similar sentiment around the failure of the project in aspects as mundane as the built compromise of Brasilia, to the innate horror of Kampuchea’s Year Zero.
By the late seventies Utopia has become an unspeakable word. For a while, practitioners continue to engage with the idea, producing works tinged with irony and self awareness. Then even this vanishes.
We no longer discuss Utopia.
But things that remain un-discussed often have a habit of festering.
In the twenty-first century, the spectre of Utopia has re-emerged – although it is never addressed by name. Notions of control, of goodness, of political restructuring – are implicit in autonomous eco-cities, in narratives of complex systems, in the off-shore polities of the sea-steaders, and in the rapidly expanding territory of space-settlement and resource extraction.
This studio examines how the ideas articulated in these emerging fields might alter (or unsettle) current notions of the city. The studio takes Space-X’s developed plans for Martian settlement as a leaping off point – students will develop a network of unique, but interlinked, settlements that will test – to their breaking points – the unspoken and unspeakable aspects of this new Utopian impulse.