Architectural Utopias

The word utopia comes from Greek and consists of two words ou “not” and topos “place” (Reiner cited in Sevinç, 1963). Outopos is used as Eutopos which means good place in English literature. The difference between these meanings references different ideas about utopia: either an ideal and available social system or an imaginary and unavailable fantasy. Platon , a Greek philosopher mentions a social system which doesn’t exist but available in Republica known as the first utopic text.  Utopias offer new social and political fictions by addressing to the term of topos “place”. ‘Place’ is directly associated with the study of architecture. Architectural utopias envisage spatial fictions in order to criticize social, political or architectural systems in their times and offer a new system. As Goodwin states utopias hold up a mirror to the fears and aspirations of the time in which they were written: in that sense, utopianism is always in fashion (2001, p. 7). However, when some important social events which trigger the rise of fears and aspirations occurs, ideas or studies about utopia explode like the effects of World War II on the architectural environment in the 1960’s. According to Sevinç, after the World War II, it is appeared new expectations depend on industrialization, scientific and technical developments and new problems depend on growth of cities. These expectations and problems bring new discussions and questions to the architects (2005, p. 17). Constant, Archigram and Superstudio which were architect and architectural studios working on utopic design were pioneers of conceptual architecture after 1960’s, and their experimental designs continue to be the inspiration for newly constructed projects.

Firstly, Constant Nieuwenhuys who is an artist, musician and also author has a lot of drawings, sketches, scale models, diagrams, and posters about utopic design. Early period of Constant should be analyzed  in order to comprehend the main reason why Constant dedicates his life to utopic design. Constant was born in Amsterdam, 1920. He read literature. He was interested in art, and the link between social system and creativity. In the interview with Constant, he stated that his article ‘The Rise and Decline of the Avant-Garde’ causes to people think about human behavior and social relationship. In addition to this, he mentioned that there is a change in working activities depending on the time and he orders the changes, hunting, agriculture, industrial proletariat (yapan kisi, 2005, p. 12). Industrial proletariat is different from other working activities because people have to work all day and it can be a barrier to the human creativity. This way of thinking of Constant resembles other members of COBRA.  As Öğdül stated, COBRA is artist’s group which appeared in Paris after World War II founded by Karel Apel, Guillaume Corneille, Asger jorn , Constant Nieuwenhuys and the name Cobra composed of the initial letters of the cities they came: Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam (2010, para. 1). They criticized passive environment which occurs after World War II. What they want to return to is freedom of ideas and imagination. Constant uses the description ‘spontaneous expression of humanity’ in order to sum up their object (Buchloh, 2001, p. 15). Another group which has a significant role on Constant’s work is the Situationist International. As similar to the study of COBRA, members of Situationist International also critized the concept of modern urbanization and the role that humans have in working system after World War II. The idea that they assert is ‘unitary urbanism’ which is outside the control of any centralized authority or dominant economic force (Wigley, 1998, p. 12). According to Öğdül, they Situationists repudiate principles of consumption society, and they want change modern city into dynamic city (2010, para. 2). All this considered, it can be said Constant’s work called New Babylon is a physical consequence of this atmosphere.

New Babylon which is a utopic city designed by Constant Niewenhuys’ in the  1960s, advances an allegory which reproduces a movable station for the contemporary Southeast Asian city.  The concept discusses that the feature of hyper mobility of the Southeast Asian city in order to give conceptual description of a type of migrant civility (Nichols , 2004, p. 29). Parts of New Babylon, both lifestyle of new society and basic elements of city, are determined in a very detailed way by Constant. Comprehending the Constant’s concept and opinion is so simple because different from other utopias, he has continually considered to preserve a link between a single human being and the city ( Dumpe & Minnema, n.d.,  p. 6). Basically, system and human life grow itself around coincidences and spontaneous combustion. He creates a new social model, sectors, social network, topography and technology for New Babylon. New Babylonians who live in New Babylon networks are provided by the sectors which are the main components of the city. The connection occurred via attachment of these units (Wigley, 1998, p.162). Constant wants to create new society, and he thinks that children have a high potential to design newly social networks and relationships because children are not  concerned with ‘time’ and ‘money’ ( Dumpe & Minnema , n.d, p. 11). According to Dumpe and Minnema, Constant’s proposal has not directly connection with topography because New Babylon is a utopic project which is created in the sky(n.d., p. 11). On the other hand, Constant designed new topography on his project and he contacts between the real topography and New Babylon. The concept of New Babylon required new technology because it has lots of points which required new solutions to create. As Öğdül states, people who live in New Babylon can change every material and element such as walls, houses, even atmosphere and humidity of weather, if they want (2010, para. 6).

The project New Babylon takes fourteen years of Constant and during this time he continues to produce models, diagrams, lithograps, sketches and also movies and Guy Debord who is a co-founding member of Situationist International supported him to maintain his project. In 1959, Constant published his first assay , Another City another Life, about his project which called New Babylon by Guy Debord (Wigley, 2001, p. 144). Then, Constant kept on publishing his essays and he tried  to explain his project by using exhibitions. At first, members of Situationist international encouraged Constant because of what they wanted -both Cosntant and members of Situationist International is same : unitary urbanism and nomadic life. Then member of Situationist international changed their side. Öğdül states that members of Sitiationist International blamed Constant for serving to capitalism, because unitary urbanism was not a goal, it was just a way to create a new system (2010, para. 9). Except for these criticisms, there is also different view about New Babylon. For example, according to Dumpe and Minnema, New Babylon has not clear detail which explains the relationship between ground floor and utopic city. What Constant shows in his project is just ‘collage’ (n.d., p. 11).  On the other hand, Constant’s utopic city ‘New Babylon’ triggers to produce other utopic designs in 1960s. For example , New Babylon is published in Archigram no.5 in November of 1964 (Sadler, 1998, p. exit utopia). Today Constant’s utopic city, New Babylon, has a lot of remarkable points which required many discussions, however for 1960s New Babylon project was so radical and imaginary. Although Constant was criticizet very strongly by others, groups whichc affected by New Babylon shows that Constant made the grade.

In the end of the 1960’s, six young English architects who were going to be founders of Archigram Architectural Studio, had started to work for department of LCC (London Country Council). They had recognized to have some common expressions and they discuss about their common ideas. The architects who had graduated from different architectural schools had encountered a new architectural environment without academic discussions which was different from the climate in schools. Also they had thought that architectural magazines of their time consisted of just same projects and advertisements of civil work. So Peter Cook, David Greene, Mike Webb, Ron Herron, Warren Chalk and Dennis Crompton (six architects) decided to publish a new magazine transmitting their messages directly and clearly like a telegram. Keynes states Archigram from ARCItecture and teleGRAM were celebrated for their transformational ideal unrealistic designs and for the creation of their magazine titled ARCHIGRAM (2003, p. 2) Group called Archigram at that while increased popularity gradually in the course of time. They published total of nine broadsheets between the years 1961 and 1970. Özkuş states, these magazines aim to keep architecture away from its bureaucratic limits and to keep it away from staying in elitist comprehension. Group used provocative graphics in magazines, while they focused on provocative issues (2006, p. 18). Before they published poems, collages and slogans in the magazines, after they channeled their ideas into their projects, whereas they add technological methods to them. Alison claims, Archigram was designing modern architecture with the rise of consumer and retirement society; a design of transmissions developed by citations to commercial, pop-culture, the commencement of informatics computer system and science fiction (2007, p. 281). The studio benefited from main themes for the purpose of examining new world dynamics. Themes used by Archigram were classified by Aykut Gurel ; concepts of change and adaptation newly added to architecture, process of renewal, developing technique to solve all problems and adoption of concept of human agglomerations. According to Winstead, Archigram works on projects about architectural products can be changed in the years of 60’s 70’s when control and choice were important themes. Drawing architectural projects of this type (machine architecture) seemed like commercial in the 60’s 70’s (2012, p. 13). Basically Archigram architects studied on utopian systems changeable and moveable for human agglomerations with the help of technique and technology.

Archigram may be associated with Constant who was the most important name of the group called Situationist International which one of the most important groups of the 20th century. Arslan claims this association, Archigram is continuation of the line revealed by Constant. Expressionism brought by Archigram is projects developed until the final stage of the earlier utopic projects. And Archigram’s design reveals utopic expressionism as architectural fantasy. Archigram cities have no ideology different from Constant’s cities. Archigram cities are not to live in these cities, they are eye-opening and they have no other claims (2006, p. 31). There have been changes (new technology, industrialization, rise of population) in all areas in 20th century. The effects of these changes on society classified concerns, expectations and excitement by Arslan in his thesis. Archigram architects tried to produce solutions to the problems of this century and they worked on designs addressing all these concerns and responding to all these expectations. As Crampton states, they observed development of the cities in UK with concern. Projected population expanded very rapidly in London and generated new large towns around London inserted into the growing population to place most of remaining population (1970, p. 89). English architecture schools have an important place in formation of Archigram. Three of the most important architectural schools in its time are Architectural Association School, Barlett and Regent Street Polytechnic. Some students tried new techniques on their projects and academic discussions occur in these schools in this term. Proximity of three schools enhanced the interaction between students. Thanks to interactive and innovative climate, group of Archigram produced radical designs. Later the group played a role in education of architecture in England. They organized conferences, seminars for students and they lectured in English schools of architecture.

“The Plug-in City as a total project was the combination of a series of ideas that were worked upon between 1962 and 1964. The metal cabin housing was a prototype in the sense that it placed removable house elements into a ‘megastructure‘ of concrete. The discussions of Archigram 2 and 3 built up a pressure of argument in favour of expendable buildings: and it was then inevitable that we should investigate what happens if the whole urban environment can be programmed and structured for change” (Cook, 1999, p. 77).  Mainly Plug-in City contains large regular structure and movement-tubes as mentioned by Peter Cook. Units of project as sustenance components, business components, home components studied separately by Archigram architects in magazines. Then the design of plug-in city defined as a complete project. These units are planned for obsolescence. Also units can change thanks to cranes included in the system when units are exhausted. Archigram used radical techniques on presentations of the project. Peter Cook said about their presentations, “The axonometric is usually assumed to be the definitive image, for obviously classical reasons. It is ‘heroic’, apparently an alternative to the known city form, containing ‘futuristic’ but recognizable hierarchies and elements. Craggy but directional, mechanistic but saleable, it was based upon a drawn which placed a structural grid on square plan at 45 degrees to a monorail route that was to connect existing cities. Alongside ran a giant route way for hovercraft…..But overriding all this was the deliberate varietousness of each major building outcrop: whatever else it was to be, this city was not going to be a deadly piece of mathematics” (1999, p. 78). The plug-in city utopian design of Archigram suggests changeable and expendable cities with all of components of systems to adopted development of cities. Plug-in City refers to radical ideas of Archigram clearly. But their project the best known is Walking City. Ron Herron’s Walking City published in fifth magazine of Archigram in 1964. Idea of walking city is huge mobile robotic structures directed by artificially intelligent. As Blake states, Walking City suggests new world limitless and migratory lifestyle for the sake of the people. Archigram suggests new construction moveable on land and sea inspired by hovercraft, since fiction comics and NASA’s towering. According to their ideas, cities should not be connected to a permanent ground in accordance with fast-paced urban lifestyle of society (1968, para. 1). Herron has described the concept of the Walking City such as business quarter, offices, housing, public and private services in his sketches. Archigram mentioned utopian systems adapting to changes just as in project of Plug-in City. Cities will be able to respond to user requests through these various programs and nomadism according to architects of Archigram. Blake, editor of Architectural Forum said,  “By means of this nomadic existence, different cultures and information is shared, creating a global information market that anticipates later Archigram projects, such as Plug-in City” (1968, para. 4).

Another radical group was Superstudio whose movement was inspired by Archigram’s experimental projects founded in 1966 in Florence, Italy by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia who had gone to the same school at the University of Florence. In the near future Roberto Magris, Piero Frassinelli and Alessendro Magris who were going to be the current members of Superstudio were involved in the group. All members of the group came from the same architectural environment due to living and studying in Florence. As Lang and Menking explain, a conclusive and significant alteration occurred in the design and architectural world by the late 1960’s; the increasingly exhausting crises in Modernist architecture recognized that its most laconic last acts had died precisely in Florence (2003, p. 13). Superstudio movement reacted against modernist idea by illustrating the nightmare enveloping all cities. As Lang states, Superstudio was the pioneer of the most radical movements contrary to the position of architecture, criticizing lack of energy and resources resulting from excessive desires of the consumption society (2003, p. 7). Also the founder Natalini wrote in 1971 a manifesto which explains the main idea of the group, “…if design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of bourgeois model of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities…until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can live without architecture…” (cited in Lang & Menking, 2003, p.20). The conceptual projects developed by Superstudio under these radical ideas did not include an alternative urban suggestion unlike Constant or Archigram. This stance of the group is coherent with their main idea which is rejecting design until being natural. They prefer to demonstrate problems to the society by telling just the opposite of their ideas or overstating the situation they reacted to. Therefore their works could be named ‘distopia’ catastrophic place. In this way they could save their protest view to the current situation without accepting necessities of the time.

“Superstudio’s nihilistic operation springing from a reconstructed post-war Florentine society, reflects the flip side of the Italian ‘dolce vita’” (Lang, 2003, p. 31). As Ginsborg states, Italian mass culture was partly the result of Mussolini’s fascist regime but the mass consumer culture emerged because of the post-war government’s laws designed to support private investments to the exception of all else (cited in Lang, 2003, p. 32). As results of this strategy, with no controls placed on land uses, speculative buildings spread and service facilities were inadequate. Cities began growing randomly without controlling and changing rapidly under the demands of consumption society. Italians adapted to the new consumer oriented lifestyle which means breaking traditional habits and being alienated. While the Italian society was modernizing, Florence’s government was resisting modernization. As Lang points out, Florence’s political government outstanded non-traditional modernization; the university also contribute to keep same cultural heritage, and the more innovative faculties were isolated, moreover deprived of attending in the city’s architectural and urban development…the dense of dissatisfaction and sense of criticism that was unique for the Florence youth have to be considered to understand Superstudio (Lang, 2003, p. 33). The School of Architecture was restrictive and still emphasized beaux art era principles for students. Also the students were not integrated into the school’s decision making progress. However this younger, emerging Florentine generation took control over their own education by arranging classes, doing discussion sections and organizing occupations and protests. Finally the students won the battle against the university. As Lang states, “In Florence, the spring occupation of the rector’s office included among its student ranks several of the future members of the Superarchitecture generation” (2003, p. 39). Under these circumstances in Florence, Italy Superstudio reacted to not only the modernist idea which contributed to the invention of alienated society and standardization but also traditional system that the universities perpetuated.

“We were chasing after the utopia of a free world and a life free from work, a life without objects. Projects including the Continuous Monument and the twelve ideal cities employed the idea of negative utopia. Others, such as the histograms, pointed out a path of rationality and minimalism, while still others, such as Fundamental acts, were an exercise in existential meditation” (Natalini, 2004, p. 25). The group’s initiation to the world of architecture was due to Superarchitectura exhibition they arranged with another radical group Archizoom at 1966 in Pistoia, Italy. As Lang and Menking state, in the period between 1966 and 68 the root of their theoretical and imaginative concept came into existence (2003, p. 95). In this period they worked on the histograms which project was going to last until 1970 and developed the idea of square block they were going to use in many projects of them. As Natalini points out, “The square block is the first and the ultimate act in the history of ideas in architecture. Architecture becomes a closed, immobile object that leads nowhere but to itself and to the use of reason” (1971, p. 122). According to Woertman, the square block was attempted in every reasonable scale, from design artifact to the whole city as an organism. Finally this etude caused to decelerate architecture as dead in the Fundamental Acts, another study of Superstudio (2005, p. 150). The period between 1969-73 represents the group’s most provocative and renowned projects, the continuous monument, twelve ideal cities and fundamental acts demonstrated by using of innovative techniques like collages, storyboards and literary narratives. As Lang and Menking state, the continuous monument which is the most known project of them includes translucent grid structures covering entire districts of the world, wrapping buildings and all cities, creating a monument to end all monuments (2003, p. 13). Natalini the group founder explains the intimate idea of this project, “…when we started working on the continuous monument, two of the main trends were ‘technology can solve every problem’ and ‘monuments will return because of their powerful meaning’. We thought we could combine these two interesting ideas and see what would happen. We tried to describe a monument as big as a highway, a monument as efficient as the most invention of technology, in order to show the result of such a thing” (2005, p. 79). The last period between 1974-78 was a second phase for Superstudio movement. Natalini explains, “In 1973, we felt our mission in the avant-garde had run its course. We had not won the war, only a few battles. We believed that the time of destruction was over and it was now time for reconstruction. With our friends and with university students we began to attempt an anthropological refoundation of architecture, examining simple, everyday objects and extra-urban material culture” (2005, p. 26). In 1979 Natalini decided to become an ordinary architect and left from the group. Then, in 1986 Superstudio disbanded.

To sum up, all these groups criticized the study of architecture in their times. Constant criticized both modern architecture and modern society. His utopic city consisted of new architectural methods and new life style for society. In contrary to Constant, Archigram does not have any critics about society, they proposed new cities can answer to dynamics in 20th century. Superstudio criticized not only architecture but also society. What superstudio produce is not neither a new system like Constant propose nor a new solution like Archigram propose. It is just criticism. Utopias which produced by these radical groups seems like be out of the practice of architecture, however their experimental designs effected new generation who are in architectural practice.   (*)

(*) the article written by Beyza Terzioğlu, Kübra Paksoy, Sevda Şeko


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