Utopian retrospect

In the 60’s, a wave of visionaries had big ideas of developing an ideal way of living through creating perfect societies in big cities. The famous Corbusier pioneered with his project named “Ville Radieuse”. Its intentions of being realized in the middle of Paris were never carried out, as it meant the demolition of huge amounts of built areas. It did however spark ideas of similar projects such as Walt Disney’s EPCOT and Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia, both designed in the late 60s. They all shared the fact that they were built on empty plateaus, or “clean slates”.

Visions of these places was to build an ideal society. Their mission consisted of correcting the chaos of existing big cities with an aim of creating well-functioning systems for people to thrive in together.

Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse vision of perfection was a city strictly divided into districts where business, entertainment and residential areas are separated. In the residential areas the goal was to accommodate the maximum amount of natural daylight, a minimum of noise and immediate closeness to recreational facilities. In his vision he also wanted to provide efficient communication networks and reduce urban traffic, which was largely considered as an enemy.

Largely inspired by Le Corbusier’s methods were the “Pilot Plan” of Brasilia developed by Costas and Oscar Niemeyer. If you cross Brasilia by plane in the night you’ll see concentrated neon lights in the shopping area, while other areas are diffusely lit, because of the segregation of uses, vehicles and people. The city is built in the form of an airplane, hence the name “the pilot plan”. Every block in the city has local facilities for everyday use and a primary school within 800 meter of every home.  The city was initially built without classical architecture, without slums. Rational planning, heaps of space and clean lines makes the layout, and the city was to be traversed by car.

Closeness to facilities were key aspects for all these plans. The initial idea was to fulfill the 5-10-15 rule. 5 minute commute to the things you use every day, 10 minutes to the places you go once a week, and 15 minutes to places you go the once a month.

Another ideal for these visionary plans was the separation of cars to the rest of the city. The plans were made to optimize mobility within the population. Also it was made to reduce the noise pollution in residential areas.

Recreational areas were highly prioritized as the visionaries recognized peoples needs also after work or school. Daylight and green areas with room for culture were means to the solution. However, when carried out in practice, these plans didn’t develop into the dreamy places they were meant to be.

Aftermaths of the plans of Ville Radieuse was that it was criticized for ignoring residents’ habits. As was Brasilia which didn’t provide public spaces for urban encounters in it’s strictly planned layout. Today two and a half million citizens live in the capital of Brasilia, that’s five times the originally planed mass. The consequence is an insufficient transport system, segregation and neglected public spaces. The same issues of healthy living, traffic, noise- and air pollution as well as transportation are still issues for urban planners today.

Ultimately, I think that these plans failed because they put a common stamp on all the needs and motivations of their users. As the scale of the plans grow, they also lost their room for change and diversity. Symmetry and predictability make up for efficient cities at a macro level, but the micro communities all over the cities might suffer from it. We can’t carry many times our own weight, we’re not ants. We also don’t thrive in monotone surrounding, and we have a big need to be heard. I do however think that extensive planning to achieve long-term infrastructural goals are necessary for a sustainable future. My initial thought is however, that planning for ideal societies from blank slates have to happen a smaller level than the macro-level these visionaries set out for.

The end game for this research is for now to find the place for interaction design within this vision of a development for a ideal society built in a more isolated environment. To get there, there initial questions I want to answer is:

How have big projects from scratch started, and what failed?

How are similar more recent projects like?

What are common working methods between urban planners, architects, designers and political deciders?

What is co-creative design contributing to this perspective?

How did they present the projects for everyone to understand and carry it through?

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