"Utopian Architecture"
November 19, 2000 3:21 PM   Subscribe

"Utopian Architecture" is where it's at. Unfortunately, despite how many people seem to be interested in it, there's very little documentation concerning the subject. The only books I can think of are Yesterday's Tomorrow (1984, MIT Press), Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugo Ferriss and Impossible Worlds by Stephen Coates, and I don't know of any website on the subject.
posted by Kevs (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A few more interesting ones: Howard's Garden City, Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City, and Le Corbusier's Radiant City. I believe Bucky Fuller (the geodesic guy) did one too, although I'm not sure the name.
posted by Kevs at 3:28 PM on November 19, 2000

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that most people since Jane Jacobs think they're a pretty lousy idea?
posted by Aaaugh! at 4:42 PM on November 19, 2000

A lousy idea is right!

Boasting no crime, no pollution, and no over-crowding, Victory City is a veritable utopia for those who've grown weary of trying to find solutions to today's urban problems.

Yep. I've got a bridge to sell you if your interested . . .

Can you imaging how quickly this thing would turn into an enclosed little den of evil? It'd be like Lord of the Flies all over again.

Of course I don't have any research to back up my wild claims, but I'm pretty sure that Victory City (doesn't that name kinda freak you out?) would turn into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

posted by aladfar at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2000

Victory City looks like an extension of the gated community concept. If you want that lifestyle just move to Singapore...

An interesting idea that is actually being built, albeit slowly, is Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti.

posted by xiffix at 5:03 PM on November 19, 2000

Wow, that Victory City site is extremely amusing. I was going to link to a few of the pages there, but every page is worth looking at. You have to love lines such as:

"Cats may eventually be allowed in apartments if our research on the latest self-cleaning litter boxes (Litter-Maid) prove to be efficient and sanitary."

How much of the $100+ million provided by investors is going towards litter box research?
posted by gluechunk at 5:28 PM on November 19, 2000

Yeah, of course, this guy's plans are a bit obscure. I just find it odd how few resources there are for utopian cities *of any kind*, considering that many architecture and planning schools cite things such as Le Corbusier's Radiant City as having a great effect on modern American city, (although his plan to cover Manhattan in a giant bubble didn't influence us quite as much ^_^)

The guy who does Victory Cities is hilarious, though. This man's been retired for *30* years doing nothing but promoting this city, heh.

About Arcosanti, that is a great project, although the small scale project they're doing right now in Arizona really isn't anything like Paolo Soleri's plans for arcology-based cities.
posted by Kevs at 7:48 PM on November 19, 2000

Seaside Florida is a good implementation of this subject. (that link should work).
I'm very disturbed by the idea of people living in these cities to go to work only to continue living in the city...hmmm, that reminds me of something...communism, that's it.
not that there's anything wrong with communism, I just don't agree with it.
if you move to these "victory cities," what do you have to strive for? you live life for simple pleasures, that's it.
posted by starduck at 8:02 PM on November 19, 2000

I wouldn't consider Seaside to be an example of utopian architecture. It's one of the first projects built under New Urbanist philosophies. The leaders in this movement (and the ones behind Seaside) are Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zybek.
posted by Aaaugh! at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2000

Ugh... Seaside isn't a good implementation of anything but a self-righteous yuppie town that ruined one of the last unspoilt stretches along the Gulf. Maybe I'm just bitter because we used to go to the beach there before Seaside was as big as it is now :/...

The "Victory City" site feels like either a 1950/60s "wave of the future" idealistic World's Fair type vision or a parody of that. Isn't it ironic that, at the same time the country was busy fighting commies abroad and beats/hippies at home, we were so engaged in forecasting a future with pseudo-commune planned cities sprouting up all across the land of the free?
posted by kidsplateusa at 8:26 PM on November 19, 2000

Utopian architecture, as noted, is no longer something that's widely believed in. It led to public housing, "urban removal", and ultimately, the gradual demolition of that same public housing starting with Pruitt-Igoe in 1974.

Seaside is emphatically not from the same tradition. Seaside is "neotraditional", which seeks to do right what all the other kinds of architecture, especially utopian architecture, did wrong: foster communities, suppress the ill effects of the automobile, while avoiding the emptiness of the traditional suburb. Seaside and Disney's Celebration do have their utopian aspects, in the sense that architects believe that community and architecture are intertwined, but both concepts -- with significant differences in approach -- are much more oriented toward building around the way people live instead of forcing them to live a certain way in order to create utopian, modern urban humans. In other words, perhaps small-u utopianism.

I don't think this impulse will ever go away. Architects know that when they build badly, they suck the life out of cities and communities, destroy the economics that makes urbanization possible, and create empty communities that are hated by their residents and whose teenagers flee as soon as they are able. If they build well ... ?
posted by dhartung at 8:29 PM on November 19, 2000

For those of you less familiar with the planning history, here's some reading material by an architecture grad student. For a more accessible read, try Witold Rybczynski's City Life.
posted by Aaaugh! at 8:43 PM on November 19, 2000

Am I the only one who's having flashbacks to William Gibson's The Gernsback Continuum at this point?
posted by webmutant at 10:30 PM on November 19, 2000

Co-Op City is built along these same lines and is one of the most depressing places on the planet... An hour there will convince you this kind of sterile, high-rise building is just not right.
posted by m.polo at 6:38 AM on November 20, 2000

Hey, I went to Arcosanti once when I was a kid, ten or fifteen years ago. It was really amazing, even though it was fairly skeletal at the time. Its a really crazy place, but if you want to live in the middle of the friggin desert I can't think of a better way to do it. What most influenced me during my visit though were the numerous drawings of huge arcologies that covered the inside of the place. Are such things possible? I have always believed that soon Manhattan will become crowded enough that they will start building buildings right on top of the streets and the whole island will become one large building, and that will be it. Anything as preplanned as Victory City will never work because it is so sterile that no one will want to live there.
posted by donkeymon at 7:33 AM on November 20, 2000

I dunno; I wouldn't mind living in Todos Santos.
posted by harmful at 7:52 AM on November 20, 2000

Incidentally, the DPZ folks are disappointed that even when their designs are intended to be for a wider range of incomes, they always end up being one of the highest-priced developments in the area. They're that desirable.

The same rough problem has afflicted Chicagoland's Prairie Crossing, which has somewhat different aims. But everyone there loves it.
posted by dhartung at 8:42 AM on November 20, 2000

I've been off this kind of housing since I read J. G. Ballard's "High-Rise".

One thing that I don't think comes across very plainly in the Victory City thing is that it's a plan to house *332,000* people in 3 square miles. I find that figure staggering. It looks like a Bruce McCall parody of a housing project, but it's actually a . . . words fail me. Arcosanti would fit in its broom closet. It's insane.
posted by rodii at 8:54 PM on November 20, 2000

Wow, I thought I was the only person to discover this place. Victory City is pretty horrendous, but that just makes it funnier. There's lots of good reasons to wonder about utopian cities, tho, because there might be cities in some pretty strange places in the future, and they might have to be totally self-sufficient. Now, maybe living on an orbital platform (or a colony ship or in an underwater city or on Mars etc) would turn out to be misery itself, but it's a great thought experiment to consider what it would take to make these things work. All victory city attempts is efficiency. It's just that it's staggeringly unimaginative. You'd need a lot more than efficiency and social order to put a city (or even a town) anywhere besides a nice piece of real estate on earth. But maybe the general consensus will be that such far out concepts are too awful to consider for anything except short stays for work. Me, I'd like to see people living in *well designed* cities all over the solar system. Too much Larry Niven etc for sure :)
posted by bgulanowski at 9:16 PM on November 20, 2000

Oh, I forgot, for a real interesting take on living in a future city with no outdoors, you have to read Asimov: the Caves of Steel. Also a good mystery with robots, including the robot which inspired Commander Data from ST:TNG. Not even remotely useful in terms of architecture or planning theory, exactly, but a great portrait of living in ultra-dense conditions made possible by technology. Check out http://www.luf.org/bin/view/GIG/TmpSummary>The Millenium Project for more utopianism than anyone could possibly stomach. Although their Aquarius sea city is actually very attractive.

posted by bgulanowski at 9:36 PM on November 20, 2000

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