Wednesday 7 May 2014
MANUFACTURING UTOPIA: Report
The Fifth Annual MA Architecture + Urbanism International Symposium was held at Manchester Art Gallery on 1 May 2014 with the theme MANUFACTURING UTOPIA: HAPPINESS IN EMERGING ENVIRONMENTS. In his opening remarks the symposium chair PAUL SHEPHEARD referred to the renaissance quest for utopia (prior to Thomas More's first use of the term) as being represented in Vasco da Gama's voyage to discover Eden. It was an attempt, albeit an inevitably frustrated one, to make the world a better place, although the methods to achieve that aim might fall into hard and soft options, where the former category overlaps unpleasantly with totalitarian agendas. Shepheard predicted that the day's presentations would fall into the 'soft utopia' category in the morning, leaving 'hard utopia' to form the basis of the afternoon.
JOHN GRINDROD contrasted this frustrated utopia with the achievements of British new town of the post war period. Ambition matched with realism was responsible for producing a modicum of the happiness mentioned in the symposium subtitle. Although differences could be explored in detail in Harlow, Cumbernauld and Milton Keynes he asserted that the broad direction of these new settlements was a benign provision of improved living conditions for the working people of industrialised cities. Their resulting form could be seen to reflect the political phases of, respectively, the postwar consensus, the 'white heat of the technological revolution, and incipient Thatcherism (an individualistic utopia).
Declaring herself to be pragmatic rather than utopian ODILE DECQ discussed by way of introduction her practice's work in the context of some installation projects. She then moved on to lead the audience through a mixture of cultural and commercial projects in Paris, Rennes, Lyon, Rome, Tangiers, and Nanjing and her next (educational) utopia the new architecture school Confluence. All were characterised by Decq's strong spatial, material and chromatic sense which creates a very personal vision of architectural possibilities. Perhaps the most beguiling of these was the private commission of a black yacht which recalled the image of the voyage of discovery with which Paul Shepheard had begun the day's discussions.
In the final roundtable, although there was some disagreement about the interpretation of the utopian project, it was agreed that the fascination with the idea of utopia, of an ideal city, was still very powerful. Pippo Ciorra predicted that the 'architect as demiurge' would be evident, under the direction of Rem Koolhaas, in this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, where new urban visions would be displayed to beguile the architectural community, drawing the day's discussions to an optimistic and convivial conclusion that the quest for utopia remains one of architecture's fundamentals.
Symposium report 2013 Symposium report 2012 Symposium report 2011 Symposium report 2010