Architectural thinking always shared a strong interest in utopia 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 is the promise of this techno-utopia. But the lines between totalitarian control of a society, technological or artistic disaster and utopian promises of reform and relief of contemporary misery remains – as always – narrow.

This becomes obvious from the very beginning of the long-lasting history of utopia. In Thomas More’s book published more than 500 years ago to report “Of a republic's best state and of the new island Utopia” as the full title promised, the author delivered a counter-image of a well-ordered society, based on religious tolerance, rational laws and the absence of private property and the death penalty. This was intended as a humanist’s counter-image of the deplorable conditions of his own epoch.

Much later 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 utopian ideas. 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 but one core question will be analyzed and discussed critically throughout the course: Did utopia ever “work”? Did utopian and reform concepts have more effects than merely fostering architectural imagination?