Architectural thinking always shared a strong interest in utopian and reform ideas. Architects do dream of a better future and their impact on society as a whole. Today Songdo Smart City in South Korea is just one model and exemplar of technology-driven utopia and vision. A green and sustainable metropolitan city based on “smart” technology. But the lines between totalitarian control, technological or artistic disaster and utopian promises of reform and relief of contemporary misery remains – as always – narrow.
In 1813 the cotton mill owner Robert Owen (1771–1858) published a book “A New View of Society”. This was only one title in a long list of utopian and reformist concepts in architecture combining social and architectural. Owen proposed in a “Report to the Committee of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor.”
(1817) a new concept for a “Village of Unity” realized some years later in an ideal community named “New Harmony”. Other utopian and reformist ideas in architecture followed over time not ending with the Bauhaus Manifesto in 1919. Some had more impact on the society, others failed completely or even fostered totalitarian regimes. We will study and reconsider some of those reform concepts from Robert Owen, to Arts & Crafts reformers like William Morris, from garden city pioneer Ebenezer Howard to the German Werkbund members and utopian ideas like Le Corbusier’s “Ville Radieuse” of the 20th century or futurist utopian dreams in Pre-World-War I Italy.
Many of these ideas inspired the imagination of visionary architects however one core question will be analyzed and discussed: Did utopia ever “work”? Did utopian and reform concepts have more effects than merely fostering architectural imagination?