Architecture and Dystopia

Organized by Dario Donetti and Alessandro Nova

The 1973 publication of Progetto e Utopia marked the synthesis of Manfredo Tafuri's reflections, already underway by the late 1960s, on the ideological experience of modern architecture. Beginning with the unsettling architectural visions of Piranesi, Tafuri traces the contradictory attempts of avant-gardes to spatially and productively order industrial society. He subjects these utopian projects to rigorous dissection in order to reveal the ultimate exhaustion of their ideological ambitions and to come to terms with architecture's new condition of crisis. Architecture has been "obliged to return to pure architecture, to form without utopia; in best cases, to sublime uselessness."

Only a few years earlier, radical Italian, Viennese, English and Japanese artists had expressed a similar sentiment about the contemporary cultural condition. Calling into question the foundations of the modernist utopia, they transmuted the crisis of capitalism into a repertory of startling images that revealed the disturbing realities of the new consumer society. These artistic experiments would soon inspire a generation of architects who sought to employ the dystopian model as both a visionary and a constructive method of design. This design method would be able not only to operate on the protean architecture of late capitalism, but also to generate unexpected possibilities for urban planning or architectural expression. Among its consequences were the neo-Enlightement taxonomies of Aldo Rossi's L'architettura della città (1966); the pop-empiricism of Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour's Learning from Las Vegas (1977); and the relativistic, process-based architectural theory of Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York (1978), S, M, L, XL (1995) and Junkspace (2000).

Also due to these methodological explorations, the "heterotopias" (FOUCAULT 1967) of the industrial metropolis have quickly evolved in the last decades of the twentieth century into an unrelenting dystopian architecture. Up until the most recent global economic crisis, it took form in great urban agglomerates and in new centers of power.

But is it truly possible to define a unified "dystopian" method of design? Or does this architecture, by its nature, resist systematization? Are the most recognizable architectural expressions of this theoretical framework—characterized by brazen displays of technology and structures of overwhelming scale—merely isolated cases, albeit of particular iconic power? Or do they belong to a wider landscape of antirational architectural projects? And to what extent are these disturbing expressions premised on the utopian tradition or, better yet, the conceptual model of "negative thought"? The goal of this symposium will be to respond to such questions, and to initiate an open dialogue about the legitimacy of this critical category.

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut
Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai
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50122 Firenze
Christine Klöckner M.A.  
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