Peter Cook, Plug-in City

Architectural Experiments: Revolutions in Design

Instructor: Isi Litke
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

“Architecture,” wrote the late critic Michael Sorkin, “is produced at the intersection of art and property, and this is one of the many reasons it so legibly records the history of communal life.” This drawing together of the aesthetic imagination and material relations is also, perhaps, why the radical tradition has looked to architecture to anticipate and dramatize a world that could be otherwise. If the bourgeois revolutions of the nineteenth century found expression in the broad boulevards of Paris and the eclectic historicism of Vienna’s Ringstrasse (Ring Road), alongside this also emerged a radical, utopian counter-tradition that looked to architecture to elucidate, embody, and engender the aspiration for a world beyond capitalism. From Charles Fourier’s phalansteries—a portmanteau combining the phalanx, signifying action, with the monastery, signifying contemplation, to the sprawling municipal housing projects of interwar “Red” Vienna, to the radical anti-establishment, anti-functionalist, and anti-design architecture collectives of the 1960s and 1970s, such architectural experiments aimed to give sensuous form to revolutionary aspirations. At stake were questions about architecture’s relationship not only to material distribution, labor, and access to public goods, but also to questions of autonomy, collective action, and even play and pleasure. How have explicitly liberatory projects conceived of the relationship between the built environment and social consciousness, economic and historical contingency, ecological and aesthetic concerns? How have architectural forms—differently from other modes of art, forms of discourse, and avenues of struggle—embodied the aspirations to an alternative organization of the world?

In this course, we will situate a range of architectural experiments from the European nineteenth and twentieth centuries in their historical, political, theoretical, and aesthetic contexts. Starting with the utopian socialists, we will work our way through the ambitions and contradictions of avant-garde public works, experiments in public housing in Red Vienna, the radical architecture collectives of the 1960s and 1970s, and beyond. We will also devote significant attention to the tradition of unrealized works, from the visionary drawings of Étienne-Louis Boullée to Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealized Monument to the Third International, the extrêmes maquettes (extreme models) of Bodys Isek Kingelez, and the paper architecture of the late Stalinist period. What can such works tell us about the place of the utopian and fantastic—of perceptual transformation—in the work of building alternative futures? Close readings of visual media will be complemented with theoretical writings by, among others, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre, Manfredo Tafuri, Fredric Jameson, Michel Foucault, David Harvey, Susan Buck-Morss, and Kristin Ross.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
February 01 — February 22, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open