The Shapes of Utopia

\’you speak of that city of which we are the founders, and which exists in idea only, for I do not think there is such a one anywhere on earth…\’ -John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera (1874) Utopia\’s fall from grace in the modern period is crucially tied to architecture\’s failure in giving shape to dreams of a new society wrought from social and political transformation. Its memorable articulations appear in a venerable philosophical and literary tradition, and include Plato\’s Republic, Augustine\’s City of God and Sir Thomas More\’s utopian city of Amaurote. Its significant disarticulations materialize in Foucault, Tafuri and the dismal outcome of modernist projects like Pruitt-Igoe. Utopia divulges the oscillation of a concept associated alternately with arcadian pasts or ordered futures, naive idealism or repressive totalitarianism, phalansteries or simple living, mental escapism or technological promise. And the etymological variants-Eutopia, Outopia, Dystopia, Heterotopia, Extropia, Ecotopia, etc.-reveal an interdisciplinary complexity, which forces upon architectural form the intractable fabric of social realities, possibilities and disappointments. This seminar takes a synoptic approach by considering both key writings and architectural experiments. We begin with a selection of foundational texts, which posit an architectural matrix for the construction of a more perfect world. We then turn to those architectural proposals, from Ledoux to Le Corbusier, which attempted to reify the guiding principles of an improved social order. We conclude with theoretical and architectural critiques emerging in modernism\’s wake.