The following is the sketch brief for my forthcoming studio at UIC SoA that kicks off next week. The project is an extension of the research conducted as part of A Clockwork Jerusalem for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, extending the same ideas and trajectories into the utopian experiments of New World settlements and communities …
The European emigres who settled what they termed the New World bought with them ideas and dreams. They imagined America as a new Eden, a place within which they might construct new worlds, New Jerusalem’s whose form, organisation and lifestyle could be a direct expression of a deeply felt ethos.
Architecture, planning and design were the medium through which these theocratic, millennialist, socialist, theosophist, behaviourist, and techno-rustic communities would take shape, the physical form of the dreams of new kinds of world, a golden thread that leads from early religious settlements to Warhol’s Factory.
In Europe many of the same sentiments of moral, religious and social reform went on to form the basis for post war architecture and planning.
In America, these extreme communities remained (for the most part) outsider forms of planning. They often fell apart, imploding sometimes only months after their founding.
(But not always. Sometimes their idealism became so deeply ingrained that it seemed entirely ordinary)
Of course, the European trajectory also (often) fell apart, bequeathing us a landscape of huge projects that are currently in phases of renovation, renewal, demolition, transference from public to private and so on.
What both the European and American traditions show is architectures fundamental social and idealistic drive. In other words, architecture always needs to write its foundation myth. (And that this is destined to fail)
The studio will first research historical examples of utopian settlements.
It will compare and contrast these outsider-architectures with canonical forms of architecture, and will project forward the possibilities of idealist communities into the near future.
What, the studio asks, are our own eras forms of idealism? Are the tech campus’ of silicon valley – the sci-fi orchards of Fosters Apple HQ and Amazon bio-spheres for example- the inheritors of this tradition? Are the fractured and intense communities of lifestyle (say the phenomenon of the paleo-lifestyle, the strange resurrection of a myth of caveman times as an ultra-contemporary way of life) possible starting points? What are todays (and tomorrows) cults and dreams? What might baby boomer rest homes look like?
What about that generation of hipsters for whom authentic, artisanal life is the dream?
In an era of market led development, can we both learn lessons about demographic, choice, difference while also forming critiques of its narrow limitations? Can we be both ironic and optimistic simultaneously? In the desert of idealism that now characterises the American (and most other) cities, can we reinvent forms of architectural dream within the fabric of the city? Or can we condense atomised culture and bring together combinations of interests to form new kinds of community?
The studio will explore design scenarios such as: What would Shaker furniture look like if it was the expression of punk rock rather than religion (after Dan Graham’s film Rock My Religion). Conversely, what would a Shaker Stratocaster look like?
This approach – of remaking, appropriation, hybridising references from worlds alien to one another – will be core to the studios design approach. We will learn how to appropriate outsider forms of drawing – such as Shaker ‘gift paintings’, etchings, psychedelic art – as architectural representation.
We will bring this entire carnival of ideas back in to the fold, unearthing the utopian and idealistic history of American settlement and repurposing it for a 21st century urban future.