It is safe to say that architects and planners have always been among those striving for utopian ideals through physical space. Just look at the 20th century, when designers converged around the idea of creating new cities for lives that embraced new technologies. We had the Futurists who were obsessed with automobiles, speed and factory cities. We had CIAM and Team 10 who collectively and individually developed the modernist ideals for housing and urban planning. We had Archigram that developed conceptual creations for cities that walked, were inflatable, and could be packed and unpacked in locations all over the world. We had Superstudio, an architecture firm that developed renowned conceptual works of the “total urbanization” of architecture.
As impractical and experimental as some of these proposals were, they initiated a conversation, not only about the physical space that they presented, but the social implications of their designs. The latest issue of MAS CONTEXT, Improbable, tackles these “unlikely futures envisioned in the past that never became present” and explores how, to various degrees, these impossible and improbable agendas projects came to fruition. Join as after the break for a closer look at the new issue.
The “improbable” is an exciting liminal moment that “opens the door a crack and allows us to peek in”, write Iker Gil and Paul Mougey in the issue’s introduction. Here is a preview of some of the essays in this issue:
Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley, and Mark Pasnik’s essay on the unrealized Boston Expo ’76 explores “the city as a formal testing ground”. In short, it is a telling of how political and social systems, navigated by special interest groups, can mar progress and exploration. The proposal for the project was developed over the course of 7 years, starting in 1963, concluding with a diverse itinerary for implementation. The varied projects speculated on the development of Boston through a “dense matrix of programs” that included housing for minority and mixed-income groups, a new campus for UMass, a transit system, a climate-controlled geodesic dome, museums, entertainment, plazas and parks. It presented a holistic mini-city built on floating platforms in the harbor that incorporated a series of solutions / considerations for dealing with urban problems of density and inequality. In the purest form of irony, those same problems were the cause of the project’s demise. Check out the essay for a look at the proposals and timeline of development.
Ali Fard’s essay entitled “Dissolving the City” looks at the evolution of the understanding of efficient urban dynamics with regards to spatial planning. Tracing the history from the 19th century of garden cities, through the implementation of decentralization strategies in the 20th century, Fard considers how technology, cybernetics and communications have transformed the identity of the city from a strictly defined and highly concentrated physical space to today’s global cities. The physicality of the city has not dissolved, as 20th century planners theorized; in contrast they have grown in size and influence. Fard’s “preliminary notes” leave us to consider how the continued exponential expansion of information and communication technologies will impact how we understand cities and their limits.
Modern Masterpieces Revisited is a compelling project by Luis Santiago Baptista that strips away the rhetoric that we are inclined to cling to when thinking about modern architecture – “the modern traps of nostalgia and utopia” as refered to by Baptista. The photoshopped images of familiar modern buildings like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in NYC or Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye are presented in terms of their true impact. For example, the Museum is set apart from its sleak “slim and high skyscraper” neighbors to represent Wright’s rejection of the metropolis; Villa Savoye becomes a farm to reflect the true pastoral life that it is intended to represent.
Lisa Hirmer looks at another cause of urban decline: the legal struggle that Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan are facing in regards to a new bridge that would connect these two cities. The legal battle is between the private bridge owner, Matty Moroun and the federal government. The irony of this contention is that it has created the “improbable” situation of urban decay in a once prosperous neighborhood, where both parties fight over land rights and security for the bridge’s construction.
The diversity of these essays, in short and long, photographic and diagrammatic, explore the delicate relationship between the impossible and the improbable when considering the balance of our circumstances – our politics, our economics, our social structures and our physical space.
Click here to download a PDF of MAS Context # 18: IMPROBABLE
Contributions by Martin Abbott, Luís Santiago Baptista, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Ali Fard, Jordan Geiger, Chris Grimley, Evangelina Guerra Luján, Sparkle Hayter, Lisa Hirmer, Tom James, Elina Karanastasi, David Karle, Michael Kubo, Eva Papamargariti, Mark Pasnik, Mike Peart, Vassiliki Maria Plavou, Theo Simpson, Nikos Skoutelis, Alexander Trevi, and Stephane Massa-Bidal, who is the guest cover designer.