Exhibition at the Venice Biennale for Architecture 2016
May 28th to November 27th 2016 Palazzo Mora, room 7 Strada Nuova #3659, Venezia
Ideal Spaces is an art and research project that aims to experience spaces of social and imaginative relevance. To be presented at the Venice Architectural Biennale 2016, it is not only about architecture but about social dreaming and imagination, expressed in ‘ideal’ spaces with their impacts on architecture, art, and human hopes.
We tried to show this via a combination of presenting ideal city spaces, active participation of the visitors molding their own spaces, and symbolic representation. Ideal Spaces is also a high-tech project that uses diverse technologies in new ways, also new techniques and programming developed by us.
Our team, the Ideal Spaces Working Group, has been engaged for many years in that theme of spaces being ‘ideal’ according to how space is practiced, planned, imagined and experienced. Now, we want to present some results of our ongoing investigations.
The exhibition deals with ideal spaces in a double sense: as spaces imagined and as spaces utopian, or perfected. In both its meanings of being ‘ideal’, an ideal space relates to utopian space, an old theme deeply embedded in our cultural memory which has never lost its actuality and appeal. With a look at recent conditions, we need to re-address it more than ever.
Since it is a mythic theme full of hopes and dreams, and at the same time, very practical. Today, the majority of human beings live in urban agglomerations which are far away from being ‘ideal’ but chaotic, accompanied by an actual destruction of space unprecedented in history. In parallel, never before so many technical possibilities of imagining spaces existed, allowing for escape into worlds of fantasy, dream, and game. Space is lost, and at the same time multiplied. But human beings need space, also real one deserving the name, and they need community.
Issues which have to be settled, urgently. One first step in doing so may consist in re-framing them, to look at them anew, from different but nevertheless related perspectives. We did so by taking the theme’s archaic character as a background tale, the myth of a paradise lost and to be regained again, and by actively involving the visitors. Today, the question arises of what an ideal space actually is, or could be.
We want to invite visitors to join this venture, through contemplation and activity. By experiencing historical spaces conceptualized as ideal ones: shown in a large cave, as worlds of their own, and on a cosmic disk presenting them in connection. And by constructing their own spaces, which will allow the visitors to experience their commonly generated spaces together, both as a process and as a result. A paradise is no place of solitude, and it cannot be built by a single person; but is the result of a common effort. All relevant data are kept and will be available for those interested; so the venture can continue, even after the exhibition itself has closed its gates.
If the myth of paradise is an eternal tale about life worth to be lived, who says that such a myth is a lie? Referring to the Biennale’s theme for 2016, as a universal tale, it can open up many universes. Oscar Wilde has said that a map without utopias is not worth to be drawn. Many myths came into reality, and shaped reality.
We want to tell a tale which is finally a mythos: from paradise lost to paradise regained. Expressed in worlds: there is a longing for utopia. Once, there has been a paradise: the one which is now lost, even if this lost one exists only as a wish and has no substantial historical foundation (because there never had been real paradises). This paradise we want to regain through our efforts of creating an ideal world, as an ideal space. We call our exhibition Ideal Spaces.
The theme of ideal spaces is basic for an understanding of ourselves, as human beings. It is an old theme deeply embedded in our cultural memory, and at the same time, it has never lost its actuality and demanding appeal. Since it contains human hopes – and a myth: After a paradise lost as the ancient space where humans were embedded in, the human longing is about a new one, a paradise regained. A new space of relief and of unity, with nature and with themselves, after that old paradise has vanished forever. An ideal space is a one of both imagination and perfection, and we are looking for such a state of being, to experience it anew. It is utopian, and this is not meant negative. The notion of a space as an ideal place to live is a very old, multi-faceted one, and appears as an idea in almost all civilizations, right from their very start. For Western culture in particular, it has been always linked with another idea, that of utopia. Other cultures, so investigators of the issue, too had their utopias; but not in such a pronounced manner as our Western civilization, and not so tightly linked to a paradise myth, they say. Utopia, from the Greek ou-topos, the “nowhere-place” or “non-place”, is a place that either doesn’t exist (yet) but is dreamed of, a paradise to be regained; or it is just conceived as a fiction, as something unrealistic which never can be reached at all. In its first meaning, it is the topic of the ideal spaces we present, also in its secularized variants: to really make the place the constructors of a better ‘utopian’ world are dreaming of, or expressed as a term of utopian discourse, to let it become a concrete utopia.
In that sense, the spaces we present are symbolic spaces, they stand for a world they represent; them being just the snapshots of that world, so to speak, showing some of its parts only. The spectator has to imagine the remainder of the world shown via these spaces, how it might look like, as world, and how it might feel if one would really live there. It is about the atmosphere of such a world, transmitted by, and reflected through its spaces we are showing. We have to experience these spaces shown, and to imagine how a world would be that is made up by them – not as a utopia that never can be reached but as a concrete world.
To construct such concrete utopias, to plan and mold them out in terms of concrete plans and images does inevitably refer to other images, to ones which are rooted in our cultural memory. As said, first and foremost, this holds valid for a paradise myth. The image of paradise is deeply belonging to a Western culture, and even after Christian belief had lost its stronghold, it reappeared in many different forms, adopting many different secularized shapes. A myth can never be fulfilled, says myth researcher Hans Blumenberg, but is approached again and again, for each epoch in its respective versions; no matter if God has been replaced by man, and sacrosanct belief by rational construction.
Aligned to the figure of a paradise lost and regained is a dichotomy, if not a conflict between nature and culture, expressed in many forms which center on the image of civilization as it came to be vs. a natural, unspoiled way of life. Its underlying idea is that of a genuine human condition, a conditio humana, a natural human state as man’s ‘positive’ nature. Also aligned with its mythic backgrounds and basic assumptions about such a human nature, the principal aim related to ideal spaces is to encourage, even to foster the positive traits of that nature. A paradise regained that resembles the original, mythic first paradise where man had been expelled from. As an environment where humans can live in harmony with nature again, also with their own one; and by that, become truly human again.
Ideal spaces as ones both imagined and perfected resemble the places desired for such a nature in its positive terms. That is, each of these spaces becomes molded out as a specific place, a place for a living in line with that nature. That it may prosper, develop further, be saved from negative impacts and evil in general. And that one day, this ideal state of being may be reached, in the longing for the mythos.
Therefore, the idea has to be combined with that of a built environment which encloses a ‘natural’ one, and which even becomes a second nature for humans. An encompassing structure in the shape of an ideal world where nature and culture are united, a real new and ‘ideal’ cosmos even if it is artificial, man-made and not naturally grown.
In exemplary cases, these are the ideal spaces we present in our exhibition. Concrete utopias to be directly experienced by the visitor, shown in a large cave in their historical succession. As Oscar Wilde had it: a map of the world without utopias is not worth to be designed. The worlds we present are ideal ones, in that double sense of worlds having been imagined and of worlds being ideal; places for human beings to unfold, and to prosper. It is about experiencing space, not about history. The array of worlds just shall reveal the manifold and diverse attempts to erect such an ideal space to be, to dive into its atmosphere, into its very nature and essence, to realize its fairy charm and character.
And we present an additional world, an epitome and exaggeration of the mentioned recent urban environments: the Favela, at first glance, the apparent opposite of a good, or eu-topian version of spaces but its overt contradiction, a materialized dystopia. Although the space we present here is not of such kind, at least not exclusively, it is a good final mark for the spaces presented. It reminds on a recent reality, and on what has to be avoided. Not for an ideal conditio humana, but for a human living deserving the name. Since the majority of humans not only lives in cities which became urban agglomerations – in other words, which are no cities any longer, at least not for a cultural, and human animal – but moreover, a large fraction of them lives in favelas.
At the same time, even if it might sound paradox if not cynical, it is a great opportunity. In the approach we present, referring to Alejandro Aravena’s idea, the Favela is a place where opposed to all the ideal spaces shown before, the inhabitants can generate their own ideal spaces, as concrete places to inhabit. The ideal space is no longer pre-given by some divine architectural demiurges, created on a tabula rasa, an empty space to become filled with ideal constructions. But it can be really generated, by those who inhabit them. They can take their own belongings in their own hands, they are no longer fixed spaces which have to be accepted, and which are essentially not to be changed.
Following this practice, we are offering a specific place in our exhibition. We invite the visitors to mold out an ideal space by their own, through common effort. Not a favela, but a world that could become a real one; also quite obviously since the visitors see the results of their activities in real time, presented on a screen in front of them. To generate an ideal environment they desire, a one from which they can expect that it could be really feasible for a living. By molding the terrains and objects of a world as it could be, the visitors can experiment with different experiences of an ideal space generated by them directly. They become their own architects, in making their own worlds. It is an approach that is used in participatory planning of urban spaces, and the visitors have the unique possibility to make their own ones – as they wish it, and as they believe spaces shall look like.
It is a venture not confined to the exhibition since the participants can continue if they wish to do so. They can take the worlds they made at home, so to say, and elaborate them further, also together with others. To gain inspirations of what could be done for their real environments, by translating some of these ventures into concrete terms of living.
The world disc is a montage of the history of planned spaces. It starts in the beginning of time and through the visual interpretations of historical maps and drawings it expands into the present here and now, and will continuously evolve over time through our ongoing investigation of ideal spaces. For this exhibition we started with the idea of branching out the history of planned spaces through history, in the shape of a mythical figure – the tree of life; but ended in a visual representation of the cross-section of a tree and its pattern of concentric tree rings that over time recorded it´s presence. The key to understand and to create a montage like this is to recognize that it does not help us understand a space or its meaning; they just help us to visualize it, and in doing so, they come into play, no matter how peculiar they look, and then helping us imagine our place in the world. Our world disc is based on three layers of representation driven by a data model that also accumulate and store the data for further research. The first layer is the visual representation of world disc itself – our map. On top of that there is a set of transparent rings. Each ring, when being actuated, represents a certain timeframe that relates to the ideal space showed in wall 1. The second layer is connected to the physical objects in wall 2 and will be actuated when someone is interacting with them. When this occurs it establishes connections between the different timeframes/spaces and creates visual traces between them, which makes the participation of the audience visible over time.
Ideal Spaces Exhibition 2016
The epitomized place for an ideal space, its favorited topos also in symbolic terms, is that of the ideal city. The very term ideal, said Matthias Buehler, a leading expert in constructing imaginary cities, is a word with multiple meanings, therefore the term ‘ideal city’ can be interpreted in multiple ways. As a term, ideal relates to the Greek words idea and eidos, to have an ‘idea’ or an inner image of something; in case of eidos, also one which can become very concrete (particularly in its Platonic meaning which became very influential for utopian ideal cities), and which may serve as a pattern or type then – e.g. for constructing an ideal city acc. to a clear and pre-given “inner” image. And as already mentioned, ideal also stands for something being perfected or ‘ideal’ in the common sense of the term: something which is an end state (‘perfect’), in other words. Looking at these two meanings of what ideal denotes, related to cities as ideal spaces, it is of decisive importance when both these meanings coincide or overlap, when a city shall be constructed as an ideal space, covering both these meanings – even in cases where its constructors have ‘no idea’ what they actually are doing. That is, when they are not decisively and explicitly reaching for utopia but nevertheless built utopian spaces, in fact, by generating a spatiality of the “non-place” addressed by critics as Marc Augé and many others: a type of placeless spatiality that in a modern age became the predominant one, symbolized by the ideal of a functional city and by providing infrastructural networks of an encompassing and ‘optimal’ character; and by that, generating real physical but essentially placeless (‘utopian’) spaces on the historical remnants of which we all live.
In these cases, a utopia is generated unwillingly, so to speak: not as a deliberate creation but just as an outcome, as something generated which has emerged as the result of some other attempts to create ideal places where humans can dwell and live properly. As said, the imagery about an ideal space must not always, and not explicitly be utopian. Many of these “ideal” spaces have been built actually, and our modern environments in large parts consist of such spaces. Since in the original meaning of an ideal, an ideal space does not only denote a space perfected, something that has to be achieved as an optimized final state; but also a space which has been conceptualized at all: an inner image, an idea about a space as it shall look like, pouring into plans, concepts, and other concretized imaginations about spatial design; as in city planning, layout of logistic networks, buildings, the construction of spaces for the public, and the like. These are examples which demonstrate that the notion of an ideal space does also include quite practical, non-utopian constructions needed for the purposes of daily life in its concrete terms.
Concepts about an ideal city rely upon the idea of an ideal space constructed, to provide both base and frame for a proper unfolding of the human condition, for an ideal conditio humana looked for. According to our cultural imagery, the proper and genuine place for humans as “cultural animals” (McLuhan) is the city, from the start of human civilization onwards. Thus, a city has to be erected which is ideal, constructed in such a way that the spatial conditions for that animal shall propagate the advent of the ‘positive’ traits of a general human nature; or, expressed in mythological terms: after the first, natural paradise being lost, a second one has to be created, a paradise regained by construction. As an environment and a frame of living, these new paradises shall become man’s second nature to overcome the shortfalls of existing urban environments. For the first time in human history, the major part of humanity lives inside the frames and conditions of such environments; and judged from such a background, the topic of an “ideal” city becomes actual more than ever.
To recall Buehler, there exist two major distinctions as regards the notion of an ideal city. In a classical ‘old’ understanding, an ideal city, as a term, refers to the search of urban theorists and others for a reconstruction of, or reaching for the utopian Garden of Eden, for the creation of an ideal place in the metaphysical or religious sense of heaven on earth. The other meaning is an ‘ideal’ city in the sense of making the best out of the actually available resources, circumstances, and geography, as he says, centering on the topics (and goals) of sustainability and of harmony with nature and culture.
These distinctions, we have to add, can be understood as directions of meaning as well, serving as a kind of mental guideline of how to conceive the topic of an ideal space in general. If we include its secularized variants, the interpretation of an ideal place refers to the utopian direction of meaning that underlies the very notion of an ‘ideal’ space, and in particular that of an ‘ideal city’, as a peculiar kind of an ideal space. The other, second direction of meaning is more pragmatic: an ideal city does not have to be the absolutely perfect end state but is ‘ideal’ only in the sense of making the best out of the existing situation, the conditions which actually prevail. For Buehler, “it is imperative to see the second meaning as today’s key driver for multidisciplinary, scientific and constructive collaborations, to isolate and combine all positive urban traits and strive for the best possible global and local solutions.”
But here as well, the image of an ideal state comes in, because what means best? Which conceptions and, behind them, which values and norms, which mind-sets decide on the best? Is it pure pragmatism, money, ideals? Even in case of pure pragmatism, there exists an “ideal” solution to be pursued, one “best” way to arrange things and to perform properly. But pragmatism is a result, not a cause; it is just a general way of how to handle things, not a motivation for handling things in general. As does any other way of how to handle things in general and how to cope with reality, it presupposes a certain mind-set – out of which things are handled in that way and no other, what is conceived as relevant, and so forth. And this finally depends on ideals, on inner images as mental guidelines for how to tackle things in general – in their sum, the ‘world’ – and for which purposes. So, even the most pragmatic mind cannot avoid ideals. If physics symbolically stands for the barely present, for that what is (also physically) in the moment, then we cannot avoid meta-physics. ‘Best’ solutions in this sense do not depend on physics, but on ideas, ideals, pre-conceptions in their literal meaning: on inner images. This is even more true when future is involved: when it comes to having an inner image of something (utopian or not) of how things should be, also in their quite practical terms.
So, all in all, ideal space and meta-physics seem to belong together; in particular when we speak about the future, and here about a future desired, a state of being which is not present yet but which shall become present. This is even more true since those spaces do not just express some architectural constructions; they are symbolic spaces, spaces which are “standing for” additional meanings behind them, meanings which elicited their construction at all – of them as the respective space.
These spaces shall, of course, become real physical spaces then; otherwise, they won’t have been conceptualized. This addresses once more the aspect of imagination: we, the spectators of their images presented, have to conceive them as real spaces, as parts of an ‘as if-world´, of a virtual one that can turn into reality. This is, at the same time, a particular mode of experience: we have to look at those spatial images as if experiencing a real world unfolding; and we can (and may) compare these experiences with those we made in our real spaces we are living in.
The issue of experience and imagination is relevant for all the spaces of our exhibition: those presented as ready-made worlds, those made by the visitors themselves, and those which are symbolized and presented in the world disk, although this might sound paradoxical, the more since those spaces are not primarily about architecture in its common understanding.
But there are about human beings. First and foremost, this applies to the worlds we want to present as “ready-made” ideal spaces, as ideal worlds (mostly of utopian character) which appeared in history. To come back to an ideal space as an explicit utopia or “just” as a space perfected, very often in their history both dimensions of an ideal space coincide, coming close to what has been called a concrete utopia: a space where humans shall live in an ‘optimized’ and planned way; and which has been constructed, or has to be constructed, as a concrete and carefully planned environment, down to its very details.
The ideal space thus comes to be a space managed, once more in several dimensions. First, it is a managed space right from its start, so to say: By its very construction already, it has to be arranged as a spatial pattern which is an ideal environment, a perfect spatial blueprint for the ‘proper’ life of human beings, thus providing the very base for their unfolding. In other words, these constructions shall enable the ‘proper’ unfolding of human nature, as an ideal place to live in. And in these regards, it also has to be a space of management and control, a place of actual conduct for such a proper life, which very often has to be supervised on a daily base to ensure that everything runs according to plan, i.e. in an ‘ideal’ way. This applies even in cases where such a supervision is not performed directly but indirectly, by mutual social control and “right” behaviors; assisted by the first dimension, that of an architectural environment enabling and fostering certain kinds of behavior. The basic intention of such conceptions was to create an artificial cosmos, an encompassing ordo where everything runs according to plan, serving as a frame for the welfare of its inhabitants.
And, as said, this must not be merely, or exclusively, utopian. All of our infrastructural networks rely upon such an idea, for instance, to lay the ground for an unfolding of the individual and to serve the modern (and postmodern) masses of them. The idea was to construct an ideal space of functional networks serving as a base for the needs of many individuals. And the hope was that, in this way, individual unfolding and prosperity could be secured – in Buehler’s words, as the “best solution” to be achieved and, hence, to be pursued in practical terms. Therefore we have the functional city in classical modernity, or the disembodied “immaterial” networks of today.
Another example are the worlds we present in the exhibition, as ‘ideal’ spaces of own rank and being, designed to provide the best frame for a ‘best’ human life to prosper. There should not be forgot those modelled by the visitors themselves, following their own conceptions of what such a frame could look like.
The reign of ideal spaces we want to present starts with the Gothic cathedral. We took the example of Reims, since it represents one of the most elaborated and acclaimed cathedrals. As an architectural type, the cathedral is more than just a church or any other sacred building serving as a place for the holy. This it is, too, but it is not confined to that dimension of meaning. It also has others, and therefore, by being a specific kind of an ideal space, it is the very base of all the other ideal spaces to come, in a symbolic and a historical dimension. The cathedral stands at the beginning since it reflects our general background tale to be narrated in our sequence of worlds, the one of a paradise regained, in an almost perfect, and first and foremost original way: it is the symbol for regaining paradise, in both a historical and symbolical dimension. Although it markedly differs from them, it can be seen as the archetype of all those other spaces to come. Since for our general topic inside the terms of which our general tale is to be told, that of an ideal space, it resembles the very aim of constructing such spaces: to overcome history ‘as it is’, in search for a better, and final one – the one of a paradise regained at the end of all days.
Provided that ideal spaces can be considered as relying on the idea of a utopia, literally, of a place for human beings that is an ou-topos, a non-place in terms of the now-existing real, then the very aim of creating such ideal spaces by construction is to generate exactly such a utopia, in the shape of a eu-topian, or “good” place: A place for humans being ideal in the double sense of a place being imagined (eidos, idea), and of one that is ‘ideal’ in the words’ common meaning, denoting a perfect place to live; or a perfected one, respectively, namely one to be achieved by construction, by acts of deliberate planning and making. It shall be a space that is perfectly suited for an assumed (positive) human condition, and one that can be made: that is constructed, i.e. created, and not just pre-given. Opposed to the original paradise from which humans had departed, and opposed to the new Christian paradise at the end of all days, that is, at the end of a history that has been so far, after the human kind had left his original paradisiacal state –which, too, is a paradise pre-given, made by God, not by man.
If an ideal space stands for a world to be reached one day, for a utopia to come, then one of its deepest roots lies in the Christian conception of history as a progress: from an initial paradise where there was no history but just a unity between man and nature to a second paradise where history ends again. The paradise myth, so investigators of a Western utopia, belongs to our culture as does science and a belief in rationality. Such a Christian perspective became converted into its secularized forms over time, and into utopias. With the conception to overcome history as it went so far with the help of some “final”, i.e. optimized construct as an ‘optimal’ place for humans to live, this Christian tradition is still alive.
The cathedral is a symbolic space, as are all the others we present. But here it also differs from the other spaces to come, and at the same time, it can be regarded as an embodiment of their very ancestor, their archetype because it is their mythological blueprint in the ‘ideal’ terms of imagination. As a symbolic space, it stands for the final ideal space of all ideal spaces, the one of a Heavenly Jerusalem at the end of all days. This is the ultimate good utopia humans can achieve, from a Christian perspective. The major difference of the cathedral as a symbolic space lies in its transcendental character. The other ideal spaces directly represent what they are: images of a future world to come, here on this earth. Opposed to them, the cathedral is a representation in a double sense: it symbolizes a space which cannot be reached in mere physical terms. As a concretely built space, the cathedral actually transcends its own physical existence, by standing for another kind of space, the really ideal one so to say: the space to come at the end of all human history, the one of final redemption, the Heaven symbolized in the form of a Godly architecture, the final city of all.
And the ideal space is a space of abstraction and construction. The second paradise is a constructed, not ‘naturally’ grown entity, as is Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. It might be of divine origin and great, but it is a construction; made by God, not by man, but still a construction. For this archetype already, as well as for its descendants, the ideal world, represented by its ideal spaces which reveal a part of it, is a world of construction, not of nature, after a primordial paradise has vanished forever, and the human kind was thrown into its own history.
Following the paradise myth, we may admire nature, but it is not our space. Ours is the one of a second nature, to address another mythological figure. And in its ideal terms, it is achieved by means of rational construction, as an ideal world that has been built, not grown; neither by nature, nor by history, that other ‘nature’ of man.
The cathedral’s symbolic construction is already revealed by its general orientation: the choir and its apsis are oriented towards the East, the direction where the first paradise was, the Garden of Eden. A cathedral’s Western side, the side where the main façade with its large entrance portals is located, indicates the end of man as a worldly being. West or Occident is the region of death and the end of history, that very last day in history where Final Judgement takes place. Therefore the cathedrals, also Reims, are oriented towards an East – West axis.
Moreover, the entire outer part of a cathedral is constructed to appear as an entity that seems to grow layer by layer like a gigantic world mountain growing upwards. The higher parts ‘stand behind’ the lower ones, as if they would grow out, both from the ground (not to be seen but imaginable) and out of those lower parts. It is a totally different appearance compared to a modern building where one storey comes exactly upon the other, like in a flat line.
On the other hand, the cathedral is also a modern building, irrespective of its ‘medieval’ appearance: it is constructed as a system space, as a systemic unity following the rules of a geometry of modularization and seriality. It becomes most apparent in the interior of the cathedral. Opposed to the Romanesque era preceding it, the Gothic cathedral has to be understood not as the sum of individual parts but as a structural whole, an equilibrium of forces and counter-forces that can be understood as a kind of organism, like a system of loops in later cybernetics. Clearly visible in its interior, the cathedral appears as a dynamic whole, assisted by the pillars with their richly leaved capitals and unfolding vaults looking like trees growing to light. At the same time, there is pure functionality: of the systems of ribbed vaults and pillars in the naves, of the travée system developed from Chartres to Reims to Amiens. A spatial unit made up by a structure of combined vaults, arches and pillars where a vault from the middle or central nave built a unity with those of the neighbouring two side naves.
God is Light. Brought into architecture on earth, it was the cathedral’s effect to embody a diaphane space, of a space that seemed not to exist as a space made up by solid walls but that was transcendent, and translucent; in particular in the cathedral’s central or middle nave that looked as if it was enclosed by light. Assisted by the fact that a medieval cathedral had no rows of benches, light could pour into the entire interior of a cathedral and spread out. What we tried to catch with our reconstruction: the medieval light was not the pure white and sober light of modernity, it was coloured – completely coloured. Of particular importance were the windows with their glass paintings and modular structure, allowing for a colourful light as a means of both architectural shaping and symbolic importance. The construction allowed for a stream of light pouring into the interior of the cathedral that was dampened and intensified at the same time.
From its very atmosphere, the cathedral must have generated a space which was more real than reality ever could be. There is the splendour of the vertical lines, accompanied by an intensification of sensuality and feeling – light and shadow are more intense than in a ‘real’ outside, and a visitor must have felt like already being part of the Heavenly Jerusalem. At the same time, the cathedral was a quite earthly place; there were traders, prostitutes and all kind of people in its interior; the division into holy and profane – held up in modernity – did not exist as a clear-cut separation in the sense that some spaces were totally forbidden for earthly belongings.
As a symbolic space, the cathedral expresses a totality of world view. The cathedral, an investigator states, is the prototype of a closed cosmic order and, as such, a model of society. Although it was a model and a society which became also modern, at the same time. The term modern came up in the 12th century, the time when the Gothic cathedrals evolved. History was understood in such a way that the works of the Old were admired but at the same time, they were a base to be surmounted by achievements of the present. Also, the idea of progress seems to have appeared in the 11th century already. Distraction, innovation, renovation, melioration appeared in the vocabulary from the 11th century onwards, and in the 12th and 13th centuries, the cities in the “homeland” of the Gothic cathedrals, the region of the Ile de France, inside a radius of approx. 150 km around Paris, competed with each other to erect the most magnificent, unique and biggest cathedral.
Reims was founded 1211 and replaced another church that was 800 years old at that time. In Reims, the vertical axis becomes highly pronounced. It had major phases of construction which lasted from 1211 to 1311, in its original Gothic appearance. With an overall length of 149 meters, an overall height of the middle nave of 38, and of the towers at the West façade of 83 meters it is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals. It served as the place of coronation for the French kings until the French Revolution, and its book of gospels used in the ceremony dates back to the 9th century.
Reims had been called the queen of cathedrals, and we wanted to present her in her original interior illumination, to capture the atmosphere and symbolic appeal of Gothic cathedrals. The cathedral is unique among ideal spaces but, nevertheless, the ancestor of those others to follow.
Although in another respect: what started with the construction of the Gothic cathedral is a design practice mainly dependent on the construction and function of the tools available, and on the dynamical use of them. Both effects liberate the possible constructions, but at the same time they capture the constructor inside of their own theoretical models and the tools made for realizing the building itself. The other (albeit related) aspect is that with this kind of construction and its inherent properties – which, too, become systemic properties since they are embedded in the method itself, in the very procedure of how to construct at all – an effect comes in that could be called “liberation by formatization”: by using always the same formats, as a constructor, I might be able to create a rich variety of forms; but this variety is only a seeming one since based upon always the same; I may generate diversity by this, but nothing really new and really unique. The variety achieved is that of the format, it is nothing really individual.
What begun in the system space of the cathedral was prolonged, for creating ideal spaces, also in social terms that had to follow predefined functionalities, and geometries. The leading idea became to create an ideal space more geometrico, as an abstraction, and that such an abstraction should provide the real place for real human beings to live: as a real place for a real, and new humanity to unfold.
Functional City Leonardo da Vinci
His concept for a city, says Vercelloni, is not the city of just an imaginary future, but of a future that really could happen: in one word, the true ideal city, as he says. Opposed to the majority of conceptions for ideal cities in that epoch – and that epoch was rich in such conceptions, probably more than any other one before a 19th century to come – it is a city concept that really could work, in very practical terms. In comparison to the mostly visionary approaches of his contemporaries, so Vercelloni, Leonardo’s sketches (despite being sketches only) are masterpieces in city planning, an “urban abstraction of the city”, presented by a regular grid. And out of this, it is concretely imaginable in its structure, one that may change a city’s economics and way of life, and to do so entirely.
This clearly was the case when we look into the future, at the worlds of Tony Garnier or Motopia, because it is the general principle applied that proved to be of future relevance, not the respective cities’ concrete shape. If the Gothic cathedral was an already ‘modern’ construction in terms of methods applied and use of concepts based on formats, then Leonardo’s plan refines these traits. His city, so Vercelloni, is a real city, one perfected through inventiveness, technique, and art. When we look at his ideal city, it is not so much about its concrete topic, in his case to embody a water city, a city where canals play a central role, an urban organism depending, in its very functioning, on the use and proper distribution of water. It is rather about the consequent functional logic of how this city is structured as such. How it is organized at all as a system in consequent, and completely functional terms. Therefore we called his concept not a “water” city but a functional city. In these regards, it is a truly modern city; although it has been planned at the end of 15th century, long before modern functional cities appeared. With their gridded orders and sober zoning, driven by a mind-set to transform the world, at least that part of it conceived to be of relevance, into an object of functional purposes. In prolongation of a Christian view of the world, a mind-set equivalent to the mythical aim of dominating the world: to dominate it completely, and in modern functional terms solely.
The cathedral still is a world of the symbolical; Leonardo’s world is one of the real; which, of course, has its own symbolic then, first and foremost if conceptualized in such a consequent (and also rigid) way as Leonardo and the later functional city did it. In fact, and exemplified in the case of Leonardo as one of the early forerunners, it is not about a water city. It is about a world as a function. In this function, all the elements which are thought of making up, in their combination, a world of relevance become ordered accordingly: as an expression of merely functional purposes, like in a machine. A figure to reappear when other worlds are looked at; or, more general, a figure to order real life belongings (e.g., those of a city) in such a way that they become the expression of a technical system. Ars and techne, art and technique belong together, and the art of making such a system consists in making it as functional as ever possible, and to do so as completely as ever possible.
In terms of world-view (also understood in a very literal sense), one can focus the whole venture outlined here. What had started with the Renaissance paintings of ideal spaces, e.g. those well-known and beautiful city prospects in the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, namely to design an abstract space on the base of a so-called linear – that is, centralized – perspective depending on the individual view, as Panofsky says, now can get enlarged in its intentional scope: As in case of da Vinci’s city, it can become a blueprint for a real world, and not only for a world of imagination. Abstraction, Summers states in his Real Spaces, is not only the (passive) process of comprehension, of condensing something real existing into a concept, but also an (active) process of posing the condensed – the abstract plan, the blueprint of how the relevant things are ought to be – onto the real, as on a plane. A space is produced, not merely conceived. And it is an abstract space, a space of an intended consistency and (finally) homogeneity. Of course, one could say, the cathedral is an abstract space as well; which it is, but – and here is the difference – not as a concrete space of living. One could stay in a cathedral, but not constantly live there. This is what the Renaissance paintings with their prospects of ideal cities first are imagining: abstract living spaces that could look like those depicted, virtual spaces of the concrete, so to say; and what Leonardo then proposes for a real world: how such a space really could look like.
Abstract space, Lefebvre says in his Production of Space, is not homogenous; it is made homogenous. It is a space as an imagined, ‘ideal’ one how a real space shall look like, it is not the real space of a real world in all its variety and ‘chaotic’ diversity. It is a true ideal space, in terms of conception, as well as an ideal to achieve: in reality, then, from Leonardo to later functional modern cities. It is a world as a system, centrally ordered, and it is the world of an essentially technical system; in case of Leonardo, not only due to the use of the linear perspective, but due to the will of creating a functional cosmos, a frame of life for a new human condition – as for instance expressed in his “water” city.
One has to understand this in order to understand the world he sketches, as well as all the other worlds to come, with the exception of the favela. And it is a system of reflection, in both a directly technical and a symbolic meaning. Brunelleschi who is said to be the ‘inventor’ of the linear perspective (in the first quarter of the 15th century) demonstrated the principle with the help of a mirror because then, he said, things can be seen clearer, with less “noise” so to speak – that means, translated into terms of a world of the view they can better become abstracted. The central linear perspective does not only depend on the standpoint of the individual constructor – like the view of God, making His world – but moreover, it is a first resemblance of a world as a network. This came much later as an explicit idea, at the transition between modernity and the epoch to follow (‘post’-modernity would be incorrect since meanwhile we are living after post-modernity even), but which lies embedded in such a construction of relevant worlds according to central perspectives. The grid of construction underlying such a linear perspective is a net laid upon the world, in the double sense of abstraction: to draw away from something real, and to impose on something real. As an observer denotes, this is architecture and, as for its mind-set, first and foremost modern architecture. Taken literally, he says, archi-tecture is the main texture to be laid, that inner principle creating a unity out of the complex, i.e. of original diversity; it is a process of reflection, a synthetic (literally composing) logic that owns an inherent distance to matter (a Christian theme), that is basically something different than the original material – of world, of people, of particular spaces as for instance city spaces, of whatever.
Seen from such a background, it makes sense that the Renaissance was the epoch where an explicit dichotomy between nature and culture first was explicitly stated, acc. to Panofsky. What began with the system space of the cathedral now becomes applied to real worlds: worlds which are, as spaces, first imagined and then constructed, following certain central perspectives – of construction itself, but also of view of the world. As the observer mentioned (M. Burckhardt) concludes, the real world can get emptied with such a perspective, it can turn into a cenotaph. Just one highlight: after the end of the Renaissance, in a so-called absolutist era, Simon Stevin was the first to construct a really uniform, architecturally completely normed city. As a deliberately performed program, not subcutaneously as many of his precursors did: for instance, in the fortressed ideal “cities” of Italy and France after Renaissance – which were planned spaces, but no cities; and settlements looking as if they were a city, but not an ideal, just a completely planned one. He asked: why should all the houses look different at all, why not to unify them consequently? What is diversity needed for?
To epitomize and to exaggerate a bit, this is the central question for a modern mind, even long before modernity, a mind consequently trying to achieve a world as a function. At the same time, as said, it is an individual look upon the world, despite all formatization: it depends from my specific standpoint what my point of view is; as a creator, how my world then will look. In the tale of the Christian myth of creation narrated by Renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandola, after having finished all of His creation, God posed the human being in the midst of the world: You can go wherever you want, and you can build your house wherever it seems feasible for you. Whilst all the other creatures have their predestined place, He said, you do not.
The world might be emptied and abstracted by rational means of construction, but now it can be filled with everything, with every kind of individual creation. With this, also a hiatus opens up between quite non-individual rational formats and individual expression. Since these individual worlds can become formatted; as are those of da Vinci or after Renaissance, of Simon Stevin: obeying always the same logic, and (hence) all looking similar. As the cathedral already did, but now extended in scale, as real worlds where humans have to be; as real places, no longer as primarily symbolic ones.
What later unfolded as a conflict between format and individual, in particular in modernity, here was already embedded; in the Italian Renaissance, an era roughly covering the 15th and first half of 16th century. This is even more true since an orientation towards the human measure, in architecture as well, was an explicit aim of that era, a programmatic element of a so-called Humanism coming up in Italy. Next to avoiding Gothic forms, that barbarian arte tedesca as the Italians called it, that “German manner” (despite the fact it came from France, in case of the Gothic cathedrals) conceived by the Italians as exuberant and unordered. This had to be avoided by a new architecture, one that had to orientate itself towards an Antique or, what those humanists, artists and architects believed to embody, an “antique style”, a way of constructing all’ antichità.
Summarized and brought to its point, it is the conflict between individual expression and rationalized forms, a conflict to unfold increasingly until it reached its climax in a modern age: mass-states made for individuals, rationalized and mass-produced means for ‘individual’ needs and freedoms, dictatorships and mass-destruction of individual human beings. The liberation of the rational form is not necessarily, and surely not eo ipso, identical with the liberation of the individual.
Da Vinci’s City
This happened in case of da Vinci’s ideal city, also in social terms. The city he proposes is an almost completely rational construction, if one refrains from its decorative elements. It is the ideal space of an artist-engineer, but first and foremost of an engineer. Although there are only sketches existing, one can easily imagine how the entire city was like. Probably, his plan refers to Vigevano, a town nearby Milan, or to Milan itself. Leonardo worked for the Sforza regime controlling the entire region and also was probably responsible for some irrigation projects made there, at the end of the 15th century, to increase agricultural production and to improve sanitary conditions within cities and towns, with the help of regulated water supplies.
His ideal ’water’ city basically consists of a two-layered grid: The lower level is that of the infrastructure, a rectangular grid of mainly roofed canals and associated ways, the upper level is that where the city in its true sense is placed: the space of the streets, piazze and representational buildings making up, in their composition, a visible and inhabitable cityscape, a space where one can really live; opposed to that infrastructure below, the infra below the ground of where a real city life takes place. At every 180 meters, the grid of the street system above crosses that below, and probably, both these levels have been connected with spiral staircases and ramps at those intersections. But to establish a functional connection between these two levels (Leonardo surely had thought about that) of such a stratified world is not so important when compared with the other characteristic: it is a two-classed society which is expressed here. In Leonardo’s own words, the upper level, the one of a city in its true sense, is reserved for persons of higher social rank; and the lower level, that of infrastructure, belongs to “normal people” (Leonardo) and vehicles of transport. The modern idea of an infrastructure appears, of a structural network of functionalities lying below (infra) the visible surface – which is the one where ‘real’ city life takes place, compared to the other life in that city, that of services and their normal people. Social space, Lefebvre says, is “the space of social practice, the space of the social relations of production and of work and non-work”. Here, it becomes expressed very clearly. With all his ingenium, an engineer decided not only on canals and streets, but also on how to fix social terms; an early precursor of what later – then, in modernity – has been called social engineering: to achieve desired social relations as a system (like those of other functions) to be managed and controlled.
But this is not the only remarkable aspect, in Renaissance terms, not the only ‘perspective’ or ‘prospect’ of the world presented here. It is the inherently endless character of its very construction that amazes, because this looks so modern. From its construction, the space of such a world needs no confinement. Opposed to its precursor in terms of time as well as of water regulation, the ideal city of Sforzinda planned by Filarete for the very same regime, that of the Sforza, the space Leonardo imagines is virtually endless. Whereas Filarete’s city was a cosmic circle (and thereby confined eo ipso), the city space of Leonardo can extend in any direction if money, work force and political decision allow for it.
Moreover, as an abstract space, it can be constructed everywhere – and thus, anywhere –, it is not bound to specific localities; it needs water and therefore some sources in its vicinity (e.g., rivers), all right; but even this can be managed by the help of the proper techniques. Although of quite concrete social outcomes, from its very conception, it is an abstract space to be imposed anywhere. The very city, as a space, is constructed in such a way that we always have the impression to see only a fragment, a more or less small section of it – because at every meters x, the next structural element can appear, ad infinitum. The next canal, intersection, street or staircase; or whatever repetitive has been planned, whichever modules are reappearing in a certain order of appearance.
This makes it looking so modern, irrespective of time-specific adornments like elaborated capitals or the prevailing rounded arches. One can take it symbolically: even the most elaborated and derived from that, most ‘individual’ capital vanishes in its sheer mass of repetition. Even the most individual element loses its power of individuality if it becomes repeated in a virtually endless manner.
To conclude, also with a view on other worlds to come, a last aspect shall be addressed, one already mentioned: the change of a real world’s shape, of a real space in its totality, for an ideal space of abstraction. Imagine how a world would look like – as a space – if it would look like the one that Leonardo had sketched. And the plain fact that worlds of such shape and atmosphere, without tempering adornments as are capitals etc., became the spaces we are used to and conceive as “normal” does not mean that they are. To refer to the Biennale’s motto, tha fact that they became actual universes does not mean that we have to accept it. Just so, and without any doubt.
Symbolically expressed in Leonardo’s famous drawing of the human proportion, showing a man with his arms stretched out, the human being should become the measure of all things. Don’t let us forget this.
The World as a Plan Karlsruhe
The city was founded 1715, in an era called absolutism. As the other worlds from da Vinci to Babel IID, the city of Karlsruhe is made in a tabula rasa-mode, constructed on the bare ‘natural’ ground of nature and history alike, that is, without having to consider anything that has been built up or grown up before. Instead, a new model for a new way of being shall be installed; first and foremost, of being human, as a designed space for a designed human condition. This is what the city of Karlsruhe has in common with the other worlds. But in addition, by being an ‘ideal’ space, it represents another old utopian idea: that of the ideal state.
We have to understand the idea of the state in order to understand the construction underlying Karlsruhe; because it is not about the city of Karlsruhe as a specific city in time and space, but about the principles underlying its construction, as a symbolic space.
The Western relation of the utopian to the heavenly always remains problematic, investigators of Western utopian thought Manuel and Manuel say. The two strains of Western utopia, the “Judaeo-Christian faith in a paradise” and “the Hellenic myth of an ideal beautiful city built by men for men” without the assistance of the gods were deeply embedded in European consciousness, they say. How to harmonize these two strains? The conception of a heaven on earth that underlies Western utopian thought presupposes an idea of perfection; but we are mortals, living on this earth. So, they conclude, it needs a simulacrum of the transcendental here on this earth.
The best simulacrum would be the one that is the most encompassing: a literal state of affairs where everything of importance is regulated, cast in the frame of an organizational architecture assuring this. In these regards, two central aspects have to be addressed: that of nature, including human nature, and that of the best organization.
From the mid of the 15th to the early 18th century, Manuel and Manuel state, the utopian constellations, on the one hand, still were united by their total commitment to Christianity; and on the other, they had a common driving purpose, namely the transformation of the Christian world. The main line of this utopia, they say, reaches back to Alberti and Filarete in the Italian Renaissance, also with the rediscovery of the symbolic radial form of the ideal city, and it runs from Thomas Morus to the seventeenth century, all of them initiating “the modern utopian world.” This is reflected, inter alias, in Leonardo da Vinci’s modern plan for a modern world, not only as a utopia; since an ideal space, a space both conceived and perfected, does not necessarily have to remain utopian in the word’s common meaning but can be realized, also in quite secularized forms. What started with the “aristocratic Christian fantasy that is conscious of two levels of social existence”, expressed in the two-layered city of Leonardo (Manuel and Manuel), can be enlarged – not just applying to singular constructions of ideal cities as cities, but in a more encompassing manner of an organizational architecture regulating human affairs: as a state.
From Plato to Thomas Morus (whose construct is said to embody the first truly modern utopia, as a state), from Francis Bacon via Campanella to many others following, the prime matter of an ideal space is not physical architecture, not even the city. It is the invisible, ‘immaterial’ one of the state: a ‘perfectly’ planned, organized, regulated and controlled system of affairs serving as the frame for human conduct, with all its necessary functionalities. First formulated in explicit terms in case of Plato’s utopia, the underlying conception is that of a constructed environment. It is serving as the relevant world for a relevant human condition, as an environment encompassing –in its non-physical aspect as well – ‘abstract’ terms: a state, a literally embracing state of being. Seen from such a background, it has its reasons that many ideal cities were not so much expressions of a city – of a utopia as a concrete place, no matter if just imagined or actually built – but of an ideal state. Plato’s utopia is located in an imaginary city, but what he is after is an ideal state, not a single ideal city. For Morus, it was an island anywhere, as well as for Francis Bacon who combined the ideal of the best state with that of best science. A milestone: human organization and science help, in their combined impact, to tame nature, both that of humans and that of the natural forces. Parallel to the rising of ‘absolutist’ states, a rise in the so-called natural sciences took place, of measuring, controlled experiments, physics and taming of natural forces. It was the era of a “mechanistic” philosophy and world view.
Irrespective of whether they follow a destined Christian version (as in case of Campanella and others) or they are secularized – in Morus’ utopia yet, everybody could have the religion he or she wanted – the relevant world for human affairs is a world as a plan. It is epitomized in an organization which is truly embracing and rational, serving predestined functionalities to be followed in management’s daily conduct (to keep the construction alive): the state. Seen in this perspective, and as regards ideal spaces, architecture is not primarily about cities but about organization, the embracing architecture for human affairs. As Thomas Morus already said, describing his utopia: If you know one city, you know them all because they are all similar.
There is a long line of tradition, with intermingling strains. For Plato already, it was evident that nomos, the law, should direct human nature and not physis, the natural in its original state. Absolutist thinker Thomas Hobbes formulated that the natural state of human beings is a war of all against all. In this condition, humans would behave like wolves, he says, fighting against each other. Expressed in terms of the imagery underlying our exhibition, it means that the ‘natural’ state of being human is not a paradise but anarchy; a mess of constant struggle, fight, violation and conflict that has to be avoided. Thus it needs cultura in form of a state, an embracing order regulating all relevant human affairs under the conduct of an embracing and strict management. As mythical figures and imageries, anarchy, state and utopia (Robert Nozick) belong together. The basic idea presented here is that the best state of being human is a regulated one, and the ideal form of doing so (and of course, of living so) is an ideal management of affairs, both guaranteed and symbolized by an ideal state. In terms of a mind-set it means: You cannot leave humans and other ‘natural’ entities the way they are, but they need to be governed. Here, an additional aspect comes in: already Morus’ conception of the good society “did not require a conception of a perfect man”, as Manuel and Manuel state. But, as could be added, it would require just that of a proper organization. Opposed to medieval conceptions, it needs no final state of salvation, but just a state one where the best in humans “is elicited by appropriate institutional arrangements.” For Morus, “utopia was a society that provided for the natural desires and authentic needs of man on earth”, to arrive “at the optimum state of commonwealth in this world.”
In its ideal terms, seen as a conception, a state is equivalent to the attempt of imposing a universal, institutionalized order valid for all relevant belongings, and for all its inhabitants, the ‘subjects’ of that state. As a construction, a state is an abstract space independent from specific localities. Of course, it needs territory, concrete people etc. to do so, but this does not inflict the principle: to embody an abstract, embracing order. In contrast to other “place”-bound constructions we look at as ideal cities in our exhibition, a state, as an ideal space, is primarily the space of abstracted human relations. A state is a question of organization and management, first and foremost, and then (afterwards, so to say) one of concrete physical belongings: of territory, individual people, cities and so on. As an ‘ideal’ space of own rank, a state, in its first instance, is a mode of organization.
In its practical terms, the state as an idea is very old. It goes back to the Mesopotamian origins of Western culture, representing, in its diverse practical outcomes, the idea of a machine, acc. to Lewis Mumford, of a machina mundi for a regulation and centralized (‘managed’) conduct of all relevant human belongings; and according to him, it does so until modernity. Historian Paul Kennedy who investigated the rise and fall of empires from the onset of a ‘modern’ Western Culture around 1500 A.D., the time when Leonardo planned his city, says that since 1450, warfare between European states and the evolution of the modern nation state were closely linked. Before it could turn into a myth of the modern state as Jacques Ellul termed it, the modern state stood for the will of unified, and simplified organization, summarizes historian Ch. A. Bayly, “the longing for embracing power and territorial supremacy”; in the name of the people, of ‘the nation’, or independent from them, he says. This is because the state, as he concludes, was an idea, in its practical terms as well. These are important aspects for the following: A state, as a will to organize in an embracing manner, does not really need some proven justifications; and it centers on organization – a unified one unifying all issues of relevance, and a simple one, clear-cut, bringing things to their core. There is no matter which things: human relations, relations to the outside world, material, financial or human resources. All this has to be performed and managed according to a predefined set of rules and regulations. The world of relevance becomes ordered, it is the world of a stately cosmos.
In both its practical and ideal terms, the simplified and unified organization Bayly mentioned also means a formatted one. What the cathedral started with the use of modules for construction, but for a symbolic and future world order, what da Vinci exercised in case of a city as a concrete inner-worldly order can be enlarged now to cover entire territories. The relevant ‘ideal’ space becomes a formatted one; in its essence, it is an abstract entity, an aspect to reappear in the worlds following.
In its practical terms of historical development, the need for such kind of ordering became more and more apparent since da Vinci’s time. In the course of the 16th century, single cities became more and more obsolete as a constitutive political entity, says Ruth Eaton, also in Italy, the homeland of Renaissance. During that century, governmental power was passed over into the hands of less and less individuals reigning over more and more increased territories with more and more human subjects. Amongst others, one result of this was that the concept of an ideal city became that of a military fortress, reflected in the many drawings of ideal “cities” of that time with their star-shaped patterns. These are no longer ideal cities but just planned ones, Kruft denotes, being just some units of a larger organizational unity called “the state”. These territorial state-unities then became the “absolutist” state of an absolutist era – indicated by its naming already, a final since absolute state of being, an ideal space as such, both in terms of imagination and (even utopian) perfection.
Of course, the states of the absolutist era were not the fully developed “nation states” of the 19th century and after, but this is not our point here. It is the idea of an abstract ideal space instead, that of a rational organization, a kind of spatiality that could be erected anywhere in physical, ‘real’ space, also inside a formerly natural environment. As regards the aspect of nature, in 1717, two years after Karlsruhe, an ideal city was planned in the New World, in Azilia, today’s Georgia. Constructed by Robert Mountgomery, self-acclaimed margrave of Azilia, it was a construction that gave rise to an “entirely new ideal”, says Günther Feuerstein: “The dream of the city – the New Jerusalem – and the dream of the garden – Paradise – are to be unified here.” It was an idea that became a guiding ideal in modernity’s course, that of the garden city as, inter alias, reflected in Motopia.
But as regards human nature, it needs more than just some ideal spots scattered in the landscape. It needs a construction really embracing, a state. Yet Mountgomery claimed to be a margrave, the head of a territory and not just of a city, even if this territory is just wilderness at his time, full of Indians and forests. In mythological translation: just bare ground to be cultivated yet. When Karlsruhe’s founder, the margrave Karl Wilhelm, had his dream sleeping under a tree in the forest – the area of his future city – he, too, dreamed not just of a city but of a residence, the future center of a state.
An Artificial Cosmos
The circle and the straight line, says Motopia’s constructor Jellicoe, are the basic elements of defining a geometrical landscape, that means, in its final (and mythological) terms of understanding, a world as artifact. In the case of Karlsruhe, both elements have been combined.
The ground plan of the fan, which became so characteristic for the city, rests on an older structure, a radially ordered system of passages of a hunting ground, a so-called hunting star. From its overall outer appearance, the entire structure of Karlsruhe had the shape of a circle, embracing both nature and culture, with the actual urban part stretching also outside the inner circumference, ordered in a fan-like manner with 9 of the 32 diagonals and then transforming into a grid. Symbolically, an artificial world is made on the base of a natural ground, and this world is ordered in a cosmic closure. In the midst of the circle, in the very center of the former hunting star, stood the tower of the emperor’s castle, the very center of the entire structure. The 32 streets that make up the entire construction virtually meet in the center of this world, indicated by the tower. Also symbolically important, the two symmetrical wings of the castle, unfolding in equal length from its central part with the tower, were opened towards the city. The castle’s back side is looking at nature. Later it was partially transformed into a so-called English park, i.e. into an artifact looking as if it were natural. In his description of that ideal space, Vercelloni emphasizes its circular structure. It is first and foremost a symbolic expression, he says, and only secondly a real city: The castle is the center of the domain of power and, in addition, the very center of the surroundings, “in their real as well as in their symbolical meaning.” According to him, the combination of different perspectives is interesting, also in a symbolical sense. As an additional figure, a square is inscribed in the circle; and we cannot help thinking of Vitruvius’s and Leonardo’s human being inscribed in the circle and square, Feuerstein says.
The circle as a whole is organized differently in its different segments, with its urban parts ordered in a fan-like manner. Their radial streets continue beyond the circle’s outer circumference, virtually stretching into infinity. The circular line, says Vercelloni, is the ideal limitation of an ideal plane, with the circle as a symbol for consolidating power and possession. At the same time, a prospect of infinity remains, and one can easily imagine that the fan could stretch out for some more miles than it is actually doing. So, absolute order and confinement is combined with infinite longing, a symbol for a stately system having a clear center, being precisely ordered and reaching everywhere. When one takes geometry from its literal meanings as measuring of, or measure for the earth, it is a geometrical world unfolding here.
In addition to the structure presented so far, there is a longitudinal axis in the North/South direction, running virtually through the tower and cutting the circle into two halves. Represented by this long axis as it is called, once more we have the combination of confinement and infinity. The long axis, according to Delfante a rather apparent symbolization of absolutist power, equals the new central perspective of a baroque or absolutist era. A line stretching into infinity is like the infinitesimal mathematics of that epoch and, at the same time, as Delfante states, it is an expression of a balance between nature and culture, “reason and nature” that only much later appeared again, he says, with the ideal of the garden city. It was an era that began with constructing the void, in Vidler’s words, the absolute space of absolutism, also in geometrical terms. Following Leibniz, it was the application of a mathesis universalis; translated from its etymological roots, a universal purification to recur in modern zoning, endless grids, the overall shape of a world as function. It is the space of Descartes, empty, abstract, to be filled with anything one wants – in prolongation of Renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandola’s tale, albeit with a different outcome. It became the space of Enlightenment then, at the end of the 18th century, a space easy to describe, Vidler says, and a base of modernism. The Enlighted space is “geometrical, rational, gridded, and above all transparent, universal and seamless, equally illuminated and illuminating.”
The plan of Karlsruhe also influenced the plan of d’Enfant for Washington D.C., a new capital city in the New World for a new state, and Bruno Taut’s drawings for a New Jerusalem, a new world to be built. Karlsruhe, said poet Heinrich von Kleist, is built up like a rule, clear and full of light. And when one enters the city, he said, it is as if an ordered intellect would speak to us. The founder regularly met with companions to discuss and to decide relevant issues. They met in the tower, the cities’ geometrical and symbolical center, shaped as an octagon, since its Christian times being a symbol for a harmonized cosmos, the ideal space in itself. The margrave and his companions (many of them are said to have been freemasons, as the founders of Washington) formed an order of knights, and the nine streets of the fan first had their names. The entire construction of Karlsruhe, Jens Möller states, has to be interpreted as a kind of cosmological system, the ideal space of an ideal state referring to the myth of the city of the sun as Campanella, Leonidov, Bruno Taut and others did it; like the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is an epitome for a final state of being. At the same time, the radiant streets symbolize the power of an absolute state, also in its practical and earthly terms. And also in these regards, the streets of the urban fan are parts of a triangle having its apex in the castle’s tower.
Space as a Symbolic Scenario
The founder is buried in a pyramid, located in the market place, the center opposite to that of the castle, also in political terms. The market place is part of the mentioned longitudinal axis in its built parts, an axis stretching from the castle to one of the city gates in the South, a distance of about half a kilometer. It has been called via triumphalis, a naming adopted from antique Roman forerunners. In Christian liturgy, it was the axis running from the cathedrals’ West portal to the sanctuarium in the East, i.e. was a passage with a high symbolic content. Conceptualized by Friedrich Weinbrenner, who was put in charge in 1797 as the inspector for planning, it became the cities’ central axis, an ensemble of a symbolically ordered sequence of places and buildings ending at the southern gate. Weinbrenner, who had studied Rome’s classical architecture, placed ‘Roman’-style buildings alongside that street as well as in other parts of the city. Beginning south of the “long street” running in the West/East direction, the central spatial elements of the via triumphalis are first the market place with the pyramid, flanked by two Roman-styled buildings with arcades, located in the East and West. They are followed by the town church in the East, which is built like a voluminous temple with Corinthian columns in its front; and opposite to the church, in the West, the Roman-styled town hall. Both church and town hall have towers, counterpoints to the castle’s tower. South of them comes a rounded place with an obelisk in its midst, a symbol of the constitution; and then the southern gate, a voluminous construction in the style of Roman architecture setting a decisive end point.
The entire ensemble is unique and carefully molded in its overall aesthetic appearance, with prescribed heights of profane buildings ascending from the gate to the castle. On the other hand, the via triumphalis is a new element in the former baroque architecture, Delfante says, integrating new ideas into a former structure which, nevertheless, is not violated. With the market place, the church and the town hall a deliberately planned counterpoint to the castle as the symbol of the former absolute power is set.
Traces of a modern mind-set are coming up, the burghers having not just a symbolic building, their town hall, but a political counterbalance as well. Since 1718, the citizens could elect a mayor by their own, they had their own parliament, and a civil legislation. The letter of privileges (issued by the margrave) granted more freedom to the burghers than comparable instruments of that time did; the new settlers were liberated from serfdom and compulsory labor, received ground and materials free of charge to build their houses, had their own civil justice, later on their own constitution (the most modern in the German domain at the beginning of 19th century) and the right of making proposals to the margrave. In 1822, the first state parliament was installed, in a building designed by Weinbrenner, having real political functions.
Summarized and seen in its total, the ideal state is reflected in its residential capital. Everything was ordered under a central government (even the houses for the burghers were normed), but at the same time it should allow for freedom and development – an ideal state of being, indeed. It is an ideal space that can further unfold, which is not confined to the narrow boundaries of a prefixed entity that cannot change any more. But it remains ordered. For instance, Weinbrenner developed model plans for an explicit enlargement of the city area; that is, translated into terms of a world view, even growth had to happen in an ordered and preplanned way, directed down to the detail.
As we all know, such an ideal of a universal order was swept away by modernity. But the ideal remained, clearly visible, for instance, in the city constructions of Le Corbusier and others with their “longing for unity”, as Vidler says. They lost the idea of a state but this is still a mandatory premise. For a modern mind in particular, the existence of a state became so self-evident that it is not even thought of, as a premise. The modern utopias of Garnier, Motopia and Babel IID, yet the utopia of da Vinci presuppose a functioning state, providing the embracing entity in the conditions which they are embedded in; otherwise, they would not function at all in their claim to represent concrete utopias.
The Industrial City Tony Garnier
Architecture, said Oscar Niemeyer, co-architect of Brazil’s modern capital city, should have the aim of improving society. Normally, he says, the architect works for the rich, for governments and enterprises; in the very same way as in former times he did for kings and dukes. He did, and he does so despite the fact that the poor are living under absurd conditions, in miserable spaces and compressed into favelas or comparable structures. Under these circumstances, architecture is nothing but an excuse. Instead, the architect is fulfilling its task only if he comprehends his profession as a political deed.
Finally, such an architecture must be concerned with cities. For an occidental self-understanding about a general human condition or conditio humana (to express it in classical terms), living in urban contexts makes up what McLuhan called us, namely to be cultural animals. Since Aristotle, the human being is a zoon politikon, a being that lives in the polis, the city. Although the basic conditions of city life have changed drastically since Aristotle’s times, urbanity and being human belong together. In particular today when, for the first time in human history, the major fraction of the world population does live in cities, and not on the countryside any longer: a situation that reveals its full acuteness when the favela is regarded. City life and being human seem to belong together, and it is not without reason that all the ideal spaces we are showing are the ideal spaces about cities, and not of idyllic landscapes, natural panoramas, beautiful parks or the like.
Although right from its start, living in cities seemed to have been an ambivalent venture. On the one hand, it was a precondition for generating surpluses, growth and security; on the other, it was accompanied by the effects Niemeyer wants to change. It is reflected in old images embedded in our cultural memory, condensed into their respective mythical settings: Kain was the founder of the first city, and Gilgamesh – founder of the first city in Sumer, one homeland of the origins of civilization in the Old World – had a friend Enkidu, a being still bound to nature; but Enkidu died – the bonds to nature vanished. And Gilgamesh remained, bound to the city. As regards those images and the basic mythological figure underlying, also for the construction of ideal spaces we show here in our exhibition, city and culture seem to belong together, ever since. According to those images of our cultural memory, there is nature and culture; which became nature or culture, also as regards the nature of humans. The human nature is to live in culture, and not in nature; an image that will recur, as a topic, again and again in the ideal spaces we show, either overtly or hidden. So, is the city really an ideal space? According to recent findings, too, a ‘natural’ state of living might have been the better one. But this first paradise is lost, we are living as civilized beings, after Kain the latest. Civilization, epitomized in the classical works of Lewis Mumford (who was also a member of a committee for city planning), is equivalent to some kind of machine; and this machine is bound to cities, with all its positive and negative effects for a human condition.
This is the general background tale for all utopian attempts of creating ideal cities, as ideal spaces, also for the one to come, Tony Garnier’s ideal city. In his times of city life, the second half of a 19th century characterized by capitalist cities with smog, poverty, extensive urban growth, slums and mass production, to live in cities really became a problematic issue, except for some privileged people at the top of social hierarchy. In other words, the old mythic image recurred with all the impact of quite concrete belongings. As an investigator states, since 1850, an urban transformation of unprecedented scale took place, changing “both the prince’s capital and the merchant’s town of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into the modern metropolis.”
Garnier was born 1869 in Lyon, an industrial center in those times, as son of a designer working in the local silk industry. He studied at schools of art at Lyon and Paris, won several prices in architectural design and held a scholarship in Rome where he started to develop the idea of his ideal city. His mind was about a modern city, one of industrialization. Of course, this was not a new idea. Before him, Fourier, Owen and others were concerned about the situation the majority of a capitalist urban population had to live in. And even before the full onset of the capitalist era, at the end of the epoch preceding it, Ledoux elaborated an ideal city, devoted to the primary aim of production, with his concepts for the Royal Saline in Chaux, France (at the turn of 18th to 19th century). But Ledoux’ city was one of total control, a machine perfected according to the ideal of a centralized management: the ideal space of an encompassing actual as well as symbolic regulation, realized by means of its aligned symbolical architecture. Strictly seen, it was not a city at all but a production site with attached dwellings, an ideal cosmos of centralized production. As for Garnier, also for Ledoux it was about architecture, management, and morals, as Vidler says. But in Ledoux’ case, this was confined to an economic system of manufacture (before capitalist production), planned and executed for a relatively small ideal factory community.
Garnier had other intentions. Convinced that the cities of the future have to follow the pressures of industrial development and, opposed to his forerunners, influenced by Socialist ideas, he investigated the needs of the city’s functions in much detail. In other words, in a way that it could really function, in its daily terms of practical operation. His project was very concretely modeled, planned as a real city and not just as a production site with attachments, for an estimated population of 35.000 people. It had a destined location in the vicinity of Lyon – was a “concrete” utopia, as later Socialists said – ,should be built up exclusively with the modern materials of that time, namely with cement and concrete, allowing for new forms and shapes; and, last but not least, should have a clear separation in functional zones. It was one of the first “functional” cities, a typically modern concept of an ideal urban space that held sway then in different concepts, amongst others in those of Le Corbusier. Garnier’s conception of a Cité industrielle or Industrial City, in large parts ready in 1904 yet but published 1917, can be regarded as a milestone in architecture, according to experts – in its overall conception as well as in the language of its architectural forms. It is one of the first truly ’modern’ cities, both in terms of functioning and as an ideal.
The Cité industrielle, something completely new at its time in both architectural and conceptual terms, is the space for a socialist society. Recalling the old ideal of the polis, it is a state- or city-socialism that gets expressed here, but adapted to radically new conditions. Formulated by Zola whose novel Travail (Work) was one of Garnier’s guidelines, the realization of the socialist world order would be in collaboration with the arts, and referring to old images, mythically coining is his sentence about the achievements of such a collaboration: “The earth must become, through cultivation, like an immense garden, and labor, through its organization, a vast concert.” Nature and culture are united again in a genuine second paradise, for all humans willing. Before it has been left over to individual progresses of technologically perfected spaces for individual consumption, spaces to unfold during and after modernity, this could be an aim worth to be pursued. First and foremost when looking at its principal alternative, the capitalism-molded cities of those days; and when looking at the favela, not just of those days alone.
Garnier was not only ‘modern’ in a way a modernist movement wants to have him, says Vidler. He also incorporated classical forms into his city, next to his innovations: A city of which Le Corbusier said that it was “an attempt to establish order, in conjunction of utilitarian and plastic solutions.”
It was the search for a new, ordered unity the main protagonist of Travail, an engineer, had in mind when looking at the forges of the old city of production: to purify that sink, that ancient prison with its iniquities and cruelties, “finally to heal mankind from its age-old corruption.” To overcome the civilization machine as it went so far, in particular in its recent capitalist shape. And the engineer, etymologically the person with ingenium, mindful inventiveness, “would rebuild on that very spot the City of Truth, Justice and Happiness, whose white houses he already saw.” Besides its strong resemblance with the City of God, in Garnier’s plans, this new future city is placed next to the old one; which surely is more than just a matter of plain topography. The new city was a white purist utopia, Vidler resumes, a modern Acropolis. Even the old town was equally transformed, its general aspect “was that of an immense garden, where the houses had been naturally spaced amidst the verdure, from a need of fresh air and free life”, Zola denotes in his blueprint for a Cité industrielle. Private property does not exist, nor do prisons, police stations, or churches. All remnants of a dreadful past are eradicated, so that the new world can start to begin, in all its splendor and magnificence; a real ideal space for an ideal, since really liberated, human condition.
The new city itself appears as a kind of carefully planned artificial organism, each sphere of life being separated from the others and yet connected with each other, to achieve a consistent structuring of different functions; for instance, by the combination of housing areas with schools, or by the separation of different forms of transportation. As such an organism, the whole looked as if embodying a cosmos, and, at the same time, each part of the city was designed in such a way that it retained the potential for further growth; each part could develop independently from the others. It was a cosmos, although not a rigid one as the ideal space-cosmoses of Garnier’s forerunners still were (with the remarkable exception of da Vinci’s world), including all those Phalansteres and ideal production sites since Ledoux. The new ideal world, expressed in Garnier’s city, is still of an ordered coherent unity, in that sense still a cosmos: of an ideal space as home for real, i.e. really liberated human beings. But it is one that came to life, allowed to modify, and to develop. As in case of da Vinci, the idea of a modern system shines up, an order of functionally closed circuits; but which are flexible, also in spatial terms.
What has been the mere “aesthetics of the microcosm” as Vercelloni characterized the Garden City-approach – which always, and inevitably, is also the aesthetics of retreat – now became enlarged into a functional whole: the Cité industrielle, he says, is the first in European history that has been planned as a rational as well as (still) human unity, a “real ideal city of the age of mechanization.”
Garnier’s Ideal City
Both rationality and considering the human are reflected in the city’s overall structuring, a zone for industry, housing, and a sanatorium-area. Industrial plants, having their focal point in metallurgy, are located in the periphery, in a plain in close vicinity to a river nearby, as well as the harbor and a railway station. The industrial complexes are designed in such a way that they can be extended spatially if needed, as are the other areas of the city. Also in the periphery are agricultural areas and the electricity plant, the city’s energy supplier, also for the tramway which connects all areas of the city.
The housing area is elevated, as is the sanatorium-area which is located slightly above it. There are different types of houses, mainly single or double-houses, and collective houses 4 floors high. The principle of their spatial arrangement is based on formats: on areas of 150 x 30 meters, whereby each of these areas can be divided into squared parcels with a side length of 15 meters. It is an arrangement of consequent rationality, based on formats, which nevertheless allows for a high degree of variation – a hints to the next world to come, Motopia, where this became fully elaborated. The space between the houses is accessible to everybody, because Garnier wants the people of his city living as if they were in an extended park, without any barriers of privately owned ground. No patios are allowed (in order to avoid social separation), and each house has enough light and air. In addition, such a structure allows a pedestrian to walk through the entire city, independent from the formal system of streets. It is a grid with streets of 20 meters width in the North/South direction, and of 13 to 19 meters in the East/West direction. One can only imagine how inspiring it must be to walk through a gigantic garden spotted with houses, to see the people there in front of their housings, chatting with each other, the children playing, the sight and smell of the flowers.
The city has a large axial street in the East/West direction, heading towards the city center where the public buildings are. Following a consequently functional logic, Garnier divides them into 3 categories: places for administration, archives (incl. publicly accessible libraries), and places for sportive or cultural events including museums, and theaters. The central building is the maison commune or assembly hall, having a kind of modern arcaded Stoa and a clock tower.
What Garnier intends is a moral issue, finally (explicitly stated by him), and not primarily a mere architectural one: the creation of a new society by means of a new architecture. As one author said, it is a humanism modernized. In the old ideals of the Greek polis and the Renaissance, the human was the measure of all things; and this was revived again, but now adapted to the conditions of an industrialized society. It is the conception of a harmonious city, also adapted to the surrounding landscape, which has been conceptualized for human happiness, a city of reason inside which “every functional aspect is, at the same time, an expression of a humanist mind-set.” At least in social terms, it is the closed cosmos of a new, socialist human being. According to the motto of the Biennale 2016, to create an urban universe that is in accordance with the human (Delfante).
Garnier’s ideal space is that of a new society based on community, work, and respect, of a socialist society deserving the name. He push the program of his city into one sentence, posed on the wall of its central building, the maison commune: the human law is to work; but also, the cult of the beautiful and mutual benevolence is sufficient to make life splendid. Land is in public property, alimentation and health care services are provided by the state, and prisons, police and courts of justice are not needed because there is no place for them, due to the peaceful and just societal conditions. In fact, it is a closed and harmonized social cosmos unfolding here, located in an ideal city for an ideal society. When living here, a Heavenly Jerusalem indeed becomes obsolete. Instead, it became a modern Acropolis without gods, wars, or social injustice. Anatole France, living in the same epoch as Garnier did, proposed to revitalize Antiquity for a modern world, in order to renew the latter. Despite all way-breaking modernity that is expressed in his city, says Ruth Eaton, it is the very combination of classical with social harmony which is present in all of his works.
It is a “new aesthetic for the society regenerated by labor”, and the close resemblance to Zola, Vidler states, already appears in the central location of the maison commune, the communal house. On the outer walls of which sentences from the novel had been placed, according to concept, to be visible for all the city’s inhabitants: For epochs of peace, one reads here, “rails are needed, rails and yet more rails, so that all frontiers might be passed over and so that all people united, might form a single people, on an earth entirely furrowed by routes“. These were the steel ships of the future, one reads, bringing richness and abundance to all; not the present steel ships of war, but those of solidarity and fraternity.
And there will be a big feast, in the rural surrounding outside the city but near to it. It is held in a vast field “where the high corn sheaves stood, like the symmetrical columns of a giant temple, the color of gold under the clear sun. The colonnade stretched to infinity, to the far horizon…”
There is a problem lurking, in the midst of such a peaceful, and final society in its cosmic closure. What it shall have to do with progress, that colonnade stretching to infinity? For a self-sustaining society, progress can become very dangerous. And this society is self-sustaining because it has everything it needs – seemingly. But: the routes earth has to be entirely furrowed with have not been those of fraternity in progress, but of networks for the use of individuals consuming in progress. So, what happened?
What Tony Garnier tried, admirable as it is, never has been put into praxis. Even if it had been, the question remains if it would have worked; because one can either rely on progress via continuous production and on growth, or on a closed cosmos – which his world was, at least in its social terms. But perhaps this does not have to remain a contradiction. Perhaps we succeed in combining these contradictory forces of a closed cosmos vs. growth and progress, even more so since we have realized some devastating results of the latter – the point in history where Motopia enters the scene, at the beginning of the 1960s, according to its creator a point where humans have alienated from nature and now live in two worlds, a biological and a mechanical one after having succeeded to lift themselves, with the help of mathematical sciences, above their former animal state. At the same time, humans still remain to be animals, bound to their physical existence, as Jellicoe, the creator of Motopia, states.
This generates conflicts and frictions, and it raises an old topic anew: what could be an ideal surrounding under these circumstances, in our terms, an ideal space suited to this new human condition? Motopia tries to answer this, as does the world to follow afterwards, Babel IID. We need some solutions because we have been overwhelmed by the forces of a technical civilization, as Jellicoe says. According to him, this holds particularly valid for the car, by its essence, a technical instrument that allows the human being to perform something very unnatural: namely to propel it at will to distances and at speeds that certainly have never been nature’s intention. All the historically grown cities had one thing in common: They were planned for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, and even the railways were confined within certain limits. The human being had time to adapt itself to that new instrument, the car, but not its surroundings.
Contexts of Construction
What applies to the car applies to modern human surroundings in general. Man, says Jellicoe, today finds himself bewildered by circumstances which he alone has created, and by his own free will. For a pedestrian in its wider sense, a naturally moving human being, for the most time in human history, humans remained subsidiary to their natural environment. Feeling, rather than intellect, has created a deep faith in a world beyond the visual world, he says, expressed inter alias in the cathedrals. At the same time, the outlook towards nature was that of a conqueror. A symbol of this was the ordering and regimenting of nature into classical and geometric shape, as expressed, for instance, in the formal layouts of the Renaissance or in Baroque constructions.
As regards these ideas, there seems to exist a dichotomy deeply embedded in a Western culture: in its Greek terms, between physis and nomos, the naturally given and grown (also historically) and the human-made law, the geometries of order imposed. In his attempt to draw a human history of nature (as he calls it), Moscovici summarizes that type of world building as follows: the human creations come equivalent to the creation of a new nature, that of the constructed; at least in its occidental mode. Expressed in Christian terms of world understanding, it is about a myth of a second creation – performed by humans, not by God.
‘Culture’ stems from cultura, from colere, to actively take care and to meliorate something naturally given: to remove original nature, and to tame the remainder. Colere relates to colonia, colony, to first occupy and then settle on a territory. Compared to other cultures, so a recent summary, in the Occident, nature has been constructed as a peculiar ontological dispositive which serves as a base for the cosmogenesis of modernity. It is not about a distinct objectivity of ‘nature’, but about a “naturalistic and exotic cosmology”, even more so as not only outer nature has to be tamed, but also the inner nature of the human being as it appears in its ‘natural’ uncivilized form.
The first major step that has been taken by Western civilization with regard to a modelling of human environments, and of city and country alike, says Jellicoe, was a separation of geometry and biology. Geometry, he says, was at the beginning of all: “In the beginning, and out of chaos, geometry preceded biology as a phenomenon of the universe.” According to him it was the relation between geometry and technique that liberated humans, also from natural bonds. This is the new condition, the new conditio humana applying to us, and referring to the old connection between art and technique, ars and techne; it is a context of the mechanical arts.
From our very basic occidental understanding, technique itself is an activity adverse to nature, long before the advent of cars. According to Aristotle, technique is exactly what nature is not able to deliver. Mechanics originally meant mechane, a term used for all kinds of machines, first of warfare, then for means to tame natural forces (irrigation channels and the like) and, with building, the making of walls; with architecture, in other words. In Latin, ars as technique had to do with arms and the making of weaponry. Also embedded in our cultural memory is the idea of a machina mundi, a world machine. First, it was reserved for the world as such made by an act of divine creation (for Plato, and Christianity), then it was widened in its conception to encompass also nature, and to understand nature as a kind of a mechanical system, by abstracting it from its real belongings in all their variety and diversification. The concept of a machina mundi appeared in the epoch of the cathedral, with the upcoming of mechanical clocks. The basic idea was to conceive a world that is not only made but which follows certain laws, and that these laws are reasonable. Later on, such an approach to the real could be applied in a literally ‘mechanical’ way to natural phenomena of all kind, and then to the construction of worlds of own rank and being, also to the ‘ideal’ spaces presented here, in the cathedral’s shadow.
If nature and culture are opposites, then there must be a solution; because we neither can get back, having irreversibly lost our original ‘natural’ state, nor can we keep on with our alienation. In line with the myths of progress and a second paradise, but first of all driven by our technical-scientific praxis and its progresses, there is only one direction left: the future. That we will succeed, with the help of technique, to create a new environment adapted to the new naturalness of the human being: to be not only a cultural, but a technical animal. The hope is that human nature shall unfold inside these newly built spaces of culture, and that it might be possible to create spaces which reconcile nature and culture, even if this might sound utopian.
Both in its anthropological and architectural dimension, the utopian ideal space is an absolute space. There must exist the possibility of an absolute architecture, says Pier Vittorio Aureli, reviving the issue. In this respect, the term absolute is meant not in its conventional sense of ‘purity’, he says, but in its original Latin meaning as something that is “resolutely itself after being ‘separated’ from its other.” This is the point of an ideal space as a utopian construction. Having started with the cathedral in our exhibition, it is a characteristic feature common to those spaces: an Interior, the ideal space in question, is separated from an Exterior, a proverbial rest of the world. It is the topic of the cosmic closure that reappears, belonging to the utopian construction of ‘ideal’ spaces.
The most consequent way to do so is to construct such spaces in a consequently rational and simple way, more geometrico, according to the laws of geometry. This means they are clearly structured, follow always the same logic applied, are thus are easily understandable and of an absolute clearness. To summarize, for our occidental culture, there were two ideal conceptions: the idea of an organization as a kind of mechanism, a machine; and the Christian idea of a city of supreme reason. The Christian tradition with its guiding idea of “a single, all-powerful but disembodied God who had a safe distance from human desires”, says Madanipour, had paved the way for the idea of a city of supreme reason, which was essentially a disembodied city, the heritage of a Heavenly Jerusalem. It was an ‘abstract’ space and, out of this alone, one which is utopian in a literal sense, place-less; since disembodied, a construction abstracted from the individual, inner-worldly real circumstances.
Jellicoe wants to achieve this with a grid, an abstraction that can be imposed virtually everywhere. The grid or checkerboard system has been used in all cultures and at all times as the preferred instrument to order space, it was in no ways confined to a Western civilization. Historically, as a technique the grid served two main purposes: facilitating orderly settlements, i.e. colonizing; and modernizing, putting in order what formerly, before the application of the instrument, has not been orderly. To refer to the original Greek conception of nature as physis, that what has the powers to grow out of itself, unfolding itself, the grid is a deeply ‘unnatural’ structure. The Romans used it extensively, the Renaissance and the Modern Movement as a matrix for the planning or re-planning of cities, for remolding what before has been unorderly grown (physis) and what has to be colonized therefore, to become re-structured in a literal sense.
With a look at the outcomes, is not the instrument as such but the way of how to apply it which has specific importance. And this is no matter of technique but a cultural issue, because it depends on the mind-set in question, the specific system of beliefs, habits and guiding ideas. In case of Western culture, it depends on the ideas of a second paradise (the Heavenly Jerusalem) and of an encompassing rationality, an idea rooted in that of a machina mundi. It culminated in the belief that a cosmos, a world of order, can be constructed, and that by no means it can be a ‘naturally’ grown one, at least not as regards the relevant belongings of human beings. Following ideas the Romans already had in modern times it was a machine driven by the need to provide infrastructural means, literally what lies beneath the visible surface, in order to assist individuals. Epitomized, the basic concept underlying such a machine was to create a relevant cosmos as a network, as grids of functions to finally serve individual purposes – of mobility, of sanitation, of energy supply. In its overall effect, it led to the non-places described by Augé and others, those anthropological conditions of a “super-modernity” under the aegis of which we still live, and to an urban sprawl of unprecedented magnitude, inter alias caused by the extensive use of cars, this modern auto-motive device in literal terms. To tell the whole story, it was before the advent of the internet, that other disembodied structure of individual auto-motion.
In accordance with such an occidental tradition of making a relevant world as a machine, what Jellicoe tries now is to overcome the effects generated by the idea of a machina mundi by applying that very idea – epitomized in a gridiron basic structure to be imposed, as cultura, on a ‘world as it is’ and to incorporate a new, park-like nature in its terms – referring to the concept of an altera natura, an “other nature”, an idea that recurs to Cicero and originally denoted a garden. Again, it is not about grids as such but how to apply them. Jellicoe gives Greek examples of using grids in city building that were consciously adapted to their natural environments, in order not to supersede them but to still achieve a unity between nature and culture. To use his words, they were the cities of the pedestrian, not the modern ones of his time, driven by the infrastructural needs of a car-based individual mobility and the sheer masses of individuals.
A short overview on the historical context. What the 19th century has left in terms of cities, Jellicoe says, were agglomerations fragmented in either Victorian terraces or slums, the real and symbolic figure of the favela to come. And a 20th century that tried to solve this with a garden city movement was bypassed by the works of Le Corbusier who, standing as a pars pro toto, applied the grid in a vertical scale as well with his vertical city designs, performing a spatial concentration – in case of our exhibition, as then epitomized in the Babel IID-approach. As in that case to be presented, the solution was thought in vertical concentration, to avoid extensive land use and deterioration of human environment. But it remains doubtful if his constructions and unities of habitation that tried to pose huge, concentrated blocks in a park-like artificial landscape – thereby transforming the garden city-idea and the old archetypal idea of an altera natura – were suited to answer the problems of the individual. The terraces of the blocks are so high that they dominate everything, interlocking in their pattern of continuous flat roofs with the roads beneath them; and all this leads to overt simplification, he states. It is the artist’s aesthetical view upon a world from above, disembodied as the one of Madanipour’s divine creator, but not the one from the ground of a truly human being, that one of the pedestrian who actually has to live there.
It was the perspective to become so frequently criticized, in modernity’s’ further course, that of the God-like architectural view planning from above: a perspective following the needs of how to organize masses in coherent and abstracted functional systems (e.g., that of the city) – of individuals, materials, goods, energy, and information. And to map them down as processual flows, in networks of organized processes – to capture movement, according to Sigfried Giedion that guiding idea of modernity, inside the terms of fixed structures of organization. And on the other hand, it was a perspective in line with an old occidental tradition; and in its terms, to build a machine able of capturing the movements of life; an “absolute architecture” able of doing so.
To overcome matter and the frames of an existence bound to physical space and time can be seen as a deeply Christian issue; at the times of Jellicoe and in terms of individual movement, this was best assured by the car. The point in his construction of an ideal space, an artificial cosmos in itself, was to overcome the human and environmental side effects that had been elicited by the negative conditions of the extensive use of cars. A gridiron plan, he says, does not per se have to be identical with monotony, as was the typically modern grid of Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, an “ultimate geometry” which would mean “the decline of individual man and the rise of a competent civilization similar to that of the bee.” That a grid could be also used in other terms is shown by the examples of Chandigarh, a capital city for an Indian district made by the very same architect, Le Corbusier; and other examples (also from other cultures) where the grid is used more flexible, not in a rigid equidistance of its lines that remain always the same. What amazes is the fact that he uses exactly this pattern for his own utopia.
Motopia as Ideal Space
The straight line and the circle, Jellicoe says, are the rudiments of all geometrical patterns of landscape. It was the combination applied to Motopia, a regular gridiron pattern consisting of lines and circles. For Motopia, planned for a total population of about 30.000 inhabitants, he adopted a gridiron plan because, in his opinion, it combined two advantages: First, it is the engineer’s simplest layout for a town, through history and even today. And second, its regular circular structures provide internal architectural courts that are in contrast to the open space of the rectangle, i.e. of Motopia’s overall structure. The internal court, he says, is the center of its neighborhood; it contains the essential shops, the public house, infant’s school, and so forth. Moreover, the quadrants of the rectangular grid provide additional individual spaces, shaped as naturally looking areas of greenery and water. They make up a contrast between individually shaped segments and an anonymous, abstract overall structure. Tall buildings are confined to the periphery of such a structure to ensure the impression of a continuous landscape. The horizontal structures, the lines of that grid, are at some parts standing on pillars, so that one could walk from one of these natural segments to the others. They are large enough to contain even “luxuriant indigenous forest trees”; some of them have lakes, and no landscape of a segment repeats another one. One can live in Motopia a full and happy life without a car, and in good weather, one can walk in any direction.
This applies as well to the town center which is located at the periphery, at the entrance of Motopia, a single huge structure one mile in length. It has been located there because it also has to serve a surrounding population five times that of the town itself – as a “concrete” utopia, Motopia is located in the vicinity of London – and it was essential to keep this service traffic from using the roof roads of the horizontal structure (we will see). The center has roof parking areas and allows for outside approach by road, rail, and helicopter. Its principle of design is that of a linear shopping street, and it has to be seen as a Stoa, as its historical precursor, the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora of Athens; also the Stoa of Motopia is a center for meeting friends and for leisurely discussion, and it is the complementary to the individuality of the home.
The latter one has been posed in the insides of the horizontal structures. There are the dwellings of the inhabitants (in addition to those in the circles), the social “cell, the home which must be individual to each family and which must have absolute privacy.” These basic social units, apartments varying in size and all modernly furnished, are provided for middle-income people. They often have balcony gardens resembling those of the hanging gardens in Babylon, Jellicoe says. And, seen from below, standing on the ground of one of these natural segments described above – according to Jellicoe, the preferred position that world should be looked at from – this gives an impression of the horizontal structure’s silhouette (the structure making up the grid) that “is unusual and rather tranquil and beautiful in the summer light”, he says. Traffic noise from the roof roads on top of these horizontal buildings is fenced off from the apartments by technical means, as well as is that coming from the mews roads below the roof roads. In their entirety, these horizontal buildings of Motopia shall lead to an intensive, and direct contact to nature via the balconies, small gardens in themselves, and them looking upon a designed ‘natural’ garden in the respective segments.
The social idea of Motopia was a separation of mechanical and biological man, Jellicoe says. The only public transport is provided by water buses which travel on a canal system connecting the different lakes. Car traffic is confined to the level of the rooftops, those “roof roads” mentioned which are placed on the tops of the lines of the grid; and to the level beneath it where the cars can park. The latter is the mews road, a one-way street with specific parking space for one car per dwelling – the dwellings of the inhabitants are located inside the lines of the grid as well – and additional space for visitors. From the mews roads, large enough to allow also for delivery vans, ramps curl up to the transit streets of the roof roads which are located at the top of the horizontal buildings making up the grid in its total. In fact, the intended separation is achieved by placing car traffic on the top of that world, on its very roof, so that it does not disturb the world below which embodies an altera natura in a new dimension.
Interestingly, in the models available to us (which are from Jellicoe’s original work) showing Motopia from a total view, there are no balconies, no hanging gardens. That very element which shall provide the tranquil impression Jellicoe mentioned is missing. Another interesting fact is that the very center of this world has been located at its rim, due to the affordances of infrastructural noise. Despite it shall refer to classic ideals of a zoon politikon, it became primarily a service and traffic station.
The new, modern political animal is not political any longer but lives detached, in individual units as an individual unit. Motopia has to be seen as a symbolic space, also for modern desires. In its symbolic traits, a space which could stand for many others. Utopias, says Jellicoe, have the advantage of crystallizing the ideals of the time. Motopia, he says, is such an idea. What the garden city movement tried, in fact a return to nature, and in its consequence, “the idea of the village was extended to areas covering several square miles” has been superseded by his construction, in responding to the needs of a modern mobilized mass society. In his words, his construction also satisfies the modern longing for coherence and unity – that what got lost during modernity’s course – and at the same time, the possibility of growth. Also his town, he says, could expand almost indefinitely, due to its gridiron pattern.
But first and foremost, according to our view at least, it expresses a dichotomy, if not a paradox: that between a pronounced individuality, symbolized very clearly in Motopia’s individual ‘natural’ segments vs. the abstract anonymity of an overall format, that of the grid. This is the modern frame for all variety present, and for all individualities to occur: a rational logic of the merely, and purely functional that literally (as expressed in his town) could expand everywhere, without limitation. What da Vinci had started with his functional city now became extended, formatted, and multiplied.
In Motopia, the idea (and ideal) of a relevant world as formatted functional network – the new machina mundi of modernity – is fully elaborated in its symbolical form. Therefore we concentrated in our presentation on showing this, and not to show his Stoa, or to invent hanging gardens. It is the juxtaposition between individuality and frame, format and life that fascinated us. Even nature has got its functional value, namely to serve as a resort. The ideal space to live in is (a) a completely constructed one and (b) it is constructed in the most simple and rational way, namely as a grid. As Jellicoe said it, it is a world of the engineer, endorsed with natural elements. As in case of Tony Garnier, engineers, people with ingenium, are destined to save the world. But in Garner’s case, it was still for a whole society if not for the human kind, and it had a clear political intention; in Jellicoe’s case, it is for the individual and for the sake of nature, that ontological dispositive mentioned. Political intentions do not occur. Either because they are clear in themselves, or because we refrained from having some.
The symbolic expression is of importance. Inside this rational frame of a system (the grid) that could be virtually world-encompassing, nature and culture are united in a final way: next to the inhabitants, the natural elements are the quadrants inside the grid. Aligned to this, the original individual being of a primordial ‘natural’ world became encapsulated in these segments. Nature is finally tamed, made obedient to human desires.
At the same time, the idea of the individual – next to the others addressed, a further central idea for modernity – is realized in a typically modern, that is, rational way: there are individualities because each segment actually differs, in its inner shaping, from the others around it. Nevertheless, all these individualities became tamed, they are encapsulated in this gridded world. In both a symbolic and practical way, the original idea of colere had been brought to its logical end.
In the same decade when Motopia was finally released (the 1960es), a series of conferences took place in Delos, Greece, amongst others with Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. It was about networks and the possibility of designing maps of webs passing through any kind of particular space. One can enlarge this vision, referring to one of the worlds presented so far. What had been started with the cathedral, namely to construct an abstract space that refers to another abstract one to come (Heaven), and to do so by means of consequent abstraction, in the engineer’s way, so to say, can be completed now. In two directions: of a consequent disembodiment and de-materialization, epitomized in The Net; and since humans are still physical beings with physical needs, of creating the final network to live in in physical terms.
Constantinos Doxiadis, another participant of the Delos conferences, proposed to construct a literal world-encompassing network able to inhabit the entire world population; at that time, an estimated 19 billions of people (to be expected in the very next future). How to organize these masses? By a gigantic grid covering the earth’s surface, consisting of lines of cities, nodes of intersecting units, and natural paradises in between – nature and culture united, as in the case of Motopia, and principally designed in the same manner, but prolonged into infinity, destined to cover the entire planet. In his Ecumenopolis (as Doxiadis called this megastructure) the new oikos, the housing domain of humans and their households, became all-encompassing. In the words of its creator and in line with “the new biology of technology”, it was “a global city as a physical image of an invisible order.”
Doxiadis’ world remained a physical construct, irrespective of its utopian dimensions. But now, we do not have to confine ourselves to physical space. The real ideal space now is everywhere, since the advent of The Net. Not just symbolically, but literally, in its quite actual terms of existence. An observer of the conference denotes that invisible networks seem to threat visible means of defining space. “Indeed, the idea of a space occupied by networks or superimposed by them has been replaced by that of overlapping networks within which physical space only appears as a fragile artifact or effect.” What the Situationists of the 1960s still tried, to surrender the confinements of physical space – its ‘absolute’ architectures of power, control, capitalism – by superimposing their own individual flexible networks on it, the settlements of a New Babylon as they called it, it is no longer needed. As a liberated individual, I do not need any concrete physical space, except for reasons of bare material existence; instead, I can rely on webs of invisible networks. Or posed metaphorically, as a mythical aim, the Heavenly Jerusalem became obsolete as a city, as a fixed space for fixed communities – since meanwhile, free individuals interact with each other by means of an invisible, essentially immaterial infrastructure. In its technical terms, such an infrastructure became known as “The Net”; in its mythological terms, it comprises much more.
Motopia was just a precursor.
Is a really utopian construction. From its overall appearance and style, it could be even placed out of this earth, on any planet anywhere. It originated in the 1960s, the same era when Motopia and other technical cities were designed. Essentially, it was dedicated to the same goals: to overcome human misery in the contemporaneous metropolitan areas. The very aim of future city construction, Babel’s creator Paolo Soleri says, must be to relieve man from such misery and constraints. In his constructions (of which Babel IID is only one), “the best hopes for contemporary man have been fulfilled and the urban medium has been cleared of slums and cleansed of ills and grievances.”
The recent urban contexts, he says, can be represented in a map – a map of despair, as he coins it. He quotes the catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, a man coming from the domain of the cathedrals but concerned with evolution: Man can be understood only by ascending from physics, chemistry, biology, and geography. Man is, first of all, a cosmic problem. And in this respect, Soleri states, we cannot remain inside the frames and terms of understanding: that megalopolis and suburbia are the only tenets, because next to the concrete misery they generated, they are utopian by their inner contradictions and their detachment from life.
He refers to Doxiadis’ vision of a world as a network and says: this is a frightening world map because the natural, although still existent, has been confined to holes in the mesh of cities, or, more precisely, of that mega-organism that formerly consisted of cities. Those holes are large but, nevertheless, they remain holes; such a world becomes nothing but a human backyard, he says. With a look at todays’ conditio humana, which is that, for the first time in history, more people are living in cities than on the countryside, this proved to be a prophetic saying. “The teeming human ants are everywhere, and everywhere are human ants. Nor will the holes be spared. They will not be pockets of farmland or wilderness. They will be dotted by sub-colonies and will be invaded weekly by waves of schizophrenic vacationers and seasonally flooded by a tide of discouraged suburbanites given to temporary nomadism.” Modularization and fragmentation will supersede any attempt to bring relief to such a world within its own terms of meaning, he continues, and with its own instruments and principles. “The Athens and the Florence of the Golden Ages will be stamped out in thousands of copies – ten thousand of them for a mass of one billion, one hundred thousand for a mass of ten billion, and so on.” It was a particular trait of a general human condition which, inter alias, was responsible for such a utopian concept in the bad sense, one that generated a ubiquitous loss of place, as well as for the present day situation of Soleri’s time: the erroneous assumption that humans were beings of the surface, of merely covering the earth. Now, we have flooded it.
This is the point where Soleri’s concept settles upon. We have to reconfigure ourselves, he says, and to abandon such an assumption – also in quite concrete terms since, finally, it is about concrete belongings related to humans as concrete beings who have to live in concrete entities, namely cities. Until now, he says, man has generated a technosphere; but what would be needed for the future is a homosphere, a sphere of living really adapted to, and suited to, a human condition that is sustainable. And in these regards, miniaturization became the “conditio sine qua non for the development of the social, collective animal contained in the towns and cities of the world.” Therefore, the maxim must be “miniaturize or die”. Man has to concentrate in order not to vanish; as in case of the cathedral, to focus on one spot again, one relevant place or topos. In terms of Soleri, he has to miniaturize.
This has to be reached by the general approach of arcology (the word a mixture of “architecture” and “ecology”), an ecological architecture that is, at the same time, multi-levelled and topographically concentrated. It is an architecture that builds one-structure systems (in his words), condensed and large but not sprawling over the earth’s surface, opposed to the constructs of a recent modern urbanity. The aim of his new architecture is to retain an unspoiled countryside and, therefore, to attain a maximum population density.
How to achieve this? Summarized, and in the case we want to present here, by a new Babylonian tower. This, too, has a Christian root. The tower of Babel, epitomized sum of the sin on this earth in its metropolitan struggle and symbol for the hubris of man, was juxtaposed to the other city, that of final redemption, the Heavenly Jerusalem. And in its original version, the Babylonian tower, too, was a symbol for the cosmos, in mythological translation, for an ordered world directed by laws. A myth, Blumenberg says, can never be brought to its end as long as it is believed in. Myths are tales with a high degree of durability and a very limited capability of variation as regards their narrative core, he says. Both these features make myths suited for tradition: their durability elicits the stimulus to be recognized in terms of images and rituals, and their adaptability continuously elicits new attempts to probe them by new and own means.
Soleri’s construction appears as a somewhat strange mixture between both these mythical spaces, a Babylonian tower and a Heavenly City. It will be a focal structure, in his words, the unmistakable expression of man the maker and man the creator. And it would be surrounded by nature, “an uncluttered and open landscape”. In symbolic terms and for a homo faber molding his own environments, it is a new Babylonian tower, and a new cathedral at the same time – secularized but mighty, reconciling nature with culture as well as reconciling the old contradiction between Babylon and the City of God. In a way, it resembles the idea of a machina mundi, a world machine. This is an idea which explicitly came up in the times of the cathedrals and which can be refined now. In the words of Soleri, his construction equals a large-dimensioned sheltering device that contains all the elements which make physical city life possible, by fractioning three-dimensional space into large and small subspaces, a construction which makes its own weather and its own cityscape – a technical second paradise posed in the midst of natural surroundings.
Soleri believes that a societal pattern is influenced, perhaps even dictated, by the material pattern in which it is situated. And it is interesting to see what he thinks about a genuine human condition in these regards. For human beings, he says, the natural landscape is not an appropriate space for the complex life inside a society. Translated into mythological terms this means that humans, at least civilized human beings, are not an appropriate part of nature. Instead, so Soleri, people must design the cityscape in their own image, namely as a physically compact, dense, three-dimensional package, not as a thin layer of organic matter. To refer to te above said, not in that erroneous assumption about humans: that they are just beings of the surface of the earth, allowed to spread out everywhere.
Out of his manifold constructions (all in all, 30 cities or “arcologies” planned by him), we took the city of Babel IID as an example, destined for 550.000 inhabitants. Its focal elements are three towers surrounded with supporting structures. The central tower for example is nearly 2 kilometers high and, at the base, 3 kilometers in its overall diameter. The base contains industrial plants and central service facilities, but also parks and promenades at its outer rim. The central cone of the tower measures 1 kilometer in diameter and consists of housings and other facilities. Its construction is based on modules which can be varied, depending on different functional and spatial conditions. It is built up following the concept of an organism whose skin is a mosaic of thousands of minds, embodied in specific and different persons, as Soleri says. The homes of the inhabitants are open to both nature and culture. “The home is then positioned as connector between two environments, as participant to both – the outer a vast sweep of the land, the inner circumscribing the neighborhood.”
The inhabitants may gaze at the landscape, at the natural surroundings outside their mighty cityscape. But according to his own words about a human condition this remains to be just a view, and nothing more; because the inhabitants are not a genuine part of nature. The connection between the two environments he intends is not a real one, in other words, nothing but a gaze at the outside, that other domain of the world which is not human. In symbolic terms, the Tower of Babel – or the new Cathedral – looks at its surroundings.
It seems to embody an ultimate structure. In the original meaning of nature as physis, that what grows out of itself by own powers, the alternative to such a mighty world mountain would only be unregulated growth, disorder in wider sense, the chaos of the unplanned. This is represented, both as a reality and as a symbol, in our last world to come. Although even here, something other is beginning to emerge. We will see.
After all these ideal spaces, it is time to return to reality again. To do so, we have chosen the antipode of those spaces presented so far, their nearly absolute negation: the favela, a Portuguese word from the place where they first were named so, in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of 20th century. According to recent estimates, nearly half of all city dwellers in the developing world, about 1 billion people, are living in squatter settlements, i.e. in slums, or favelas. Slums or ‘favelas’ are a distinguishing characteristic of today’s megacities, as a recent report concludes, and cities like Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Manila or Hong Kong would be different places if slums were not part of their landscapes, it says. We have to compare scales to judge that phenomenon properly. A census of 2014 reported that more than 54% of the total world population lived in urban areas – for the first time in human history, more people live there than in the countryside, the reversal of a classical relation – and that by 2050, an overall increase of urban population by 66% is to be expected, worldwide. According to United Nations reports, more than 90% of this increase will take place in Asia and Africa. All in all, the world’s urban population is expected to surpass 6 billion by the year 2045; that is, not in a distant future, or a medium-termed time range, but in historical terms right now, in the very next decades. In 2014, total urban population has been estimated to come close to 3.9 billion people. If it holds valid that an estimated 1 billion of these live in slums or ‘favelas’, it would mean that a quarter of the entire urban population today will live in these conditions; and that at least for one fourth of the urban population, this is the ‘normal’ conditio humana today – of a being that had been characterized to embody a cultural animal and, first of all, a zoon politikon, an animal that lives in city-conditions – and has to live there, in order to prosper; and not in those of recent slumming.
This re-issues the entire topic of an ideal space or, more precisely as concrete human conditions of dwelling are regarded, that of an ideal city. Are such constructs confined to the happy few, the privileged people – as for instance in the new ideal cities which are built as “smart” cities, i.e. technologically perfected spaces with full internet devices etc., an urban agriculture as a new form of reconciling the old dichotomy between nature and culture, and free plus healthy individuals expecting an old age? What about the rest of a worldwide urban population for whom the second nature has not become culture, but culture in the shape of an overcrowded civilization existing in marginal conditions? Does it make sense to speak of “ideal spaces” any longer, in the context of such conditions?
The topos of the favela has been addressed in Janice Perlman’s The Myth of Marginality, a first in-depth account of life in the favelas three decades ago, and violence, drugs and arms became outstanding problems during that period, next to the others already existing: poverty, lack of infrastructure, sanitary conditions and crowding.
What is needed, so an investigator operating with favelas (J. M. Jáurequi), would be other spaces than those which are still predominant, namely spaces designed in a new way: as contemporary piazzas, surrounded by places of rendering, trade, manufacture, services and cultural events, functioning as “potential attractors on the border between formal and informal”, linked by public transportation and “including nature fragments capable of rebalancing the green mass-built mass relation.” The goal is to establish “urban scale shaded Agoras” to allow for producers and expositions of various kind, even for some kind of popular university, he says, “by forming innovation and production centers based on the characteristics of each social group.”
What he mentions we tried to figure out, in the design of our favela world. And what he mentions refers to our general theme of an ‘ideal’ space. Since grossly speaking (and not meant in a cynical way), what he proposes refers to an old idea existing before all those spaces we show: It is the idea of the polis, with the agora, the “market place” in its wider sense as its center. There, opposed to an exactly predefined “ideal” spatiality pre-given for those to live in, a right balance between the formal and the informal was in place (at least according to our ideal of a polis), between an order pre-given and a ‘spontaneous’ order emerging due to the real needs of real life processes. What does this mean? Seen in this respect (and this, too, is not meant cynical), having a glance at this old mythic ideal of a polis, it does not need a perfect predesigned space, as “ideal” place to live; instead, such a space may develop, driven by the needs and desires of those who actually inhabit it. Seen in such a respect – and only in a such one – what we tried to present as the last world in our reign of worlds presented so far is a novelty, a juxtaposition to the classical utopia: the classical utopia was designed by a (hopefully) benevolent creator, was posed on the tabula rasa, the empty space as an abstraction of how things ought to be. What Jáurequi proposes and what the curator of Biennale 2016, Alejandro Aravena really tried to make was to provide a space where the inhabitants, translated into the concrete, those human beings actually living there are deciding how it shall look like.
Or, translated into the terms of the symbolic: We don’t have to start with the worst case imaginable to start with, at the first glance, namely with a slum, the apex of human deterioration as regards actual living conditions. In our presentation of worlds, we have chosen the slum as a stylistic figure as well, a symbol of a dystopian space full of “bad places”. Next to our other intention: namely to show, at the end of all spaces presented, one which really exists, and which is the epitome of an endangered human condition. The human being, although it is a zoon politikon and a cultural animal (to refer to earlier sayings about being genuinely ‘human’), has to live in such circumstances; 1 billion living in slums is not just a fact, it is a sign for a general human condition to be expected for a large fraction of a worldwide population.
To draw a very general, rough sketch: due to the side effects they generated in the course of their unfolding, it were the myths of growth, progress and functionality, addressed in the foregoing, which led to such circumstances – in the final, when combined with capitalist circumstances (to abbreviate different historical processes). It were certain myths of order which generated their very opposite, in terms of a view of the world, and of actual relations. These myths stand for (a), the typically modern belief that a relevant world, i.e. the total of ‘made’ spaces where humans have to live, can be made: can be constructed, at least in its relevant parts; and (b), that such a world can be designed as a system of networks of functionalities, i.e. as a system which is essentially technical. It is a myth that became applied full-scaled to city space for the first time in the Renaissance, as we have seen. In other words, it is one which has a long-reaching mental anchorage in our ‘cultural’ memory, based on the belief that the world can be dominated, and that this is possible in literal technical terms. Or, as the anthropologist Levi-Strauss formulated it, it is equivalent to a magic ruse to ban the Being: through transforming it into a set of functions, a system of control.
All this has to be doubted in the face of such developments.
But: We can see this world presented here in its positive terms as well, despite its exaggeration as a stylistic means. What if we would be enabled to erect utopia, the eu-topos or “good place” by our own, without the dictatorship of predefined and pre-given orders? What would be if we really could decide by our own which places we want to live in – not as an internet escapism, but as a real physical space? What would be if we, in trying so, refrained from the myth of a second paradise? By not trying to achieve some final end state but one that is allowed to evolve, that remains flexible and vivid? Wouldn’t this be a great idea?
Of course, this might sound naïve, and most probably it is. But, as Oscar Wilde said, already in a 19th century full of metropolises and their slums: A map without utopias is not worth to be drawn. Or, expressed in the words of a novelist from the 20th century, an “age of extremes”, as Erich Fried had it: Someone who wants the world to remain as it is does not want it to remain.