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Patrik Schumacher 2002
Introduction to: LATENT UTOPIAS - Experiments within Contemporary Architecture. Springer Verlag, Wien/New York

Iintroduction in forthcoming book: LATENT UTOPIAS - Experiments within Contemporary Architecture, Ed. Zaha Hadid & Patrik Schumacher, Springer Verlag, Wien/New York 2002

Latent Utopias focuses on current experiments with radically new concepts of space that are proliferating on the back of the new electronic design media available today. This proliferation of possibilities requires the profession to "play" and experiment. In this respect the mode of production of the architect is assimilated to artistic processes. The final purpose, meaning and fulfillment of these experiments lies beyond the scope of the architect/designer and requires the creative appropriation through its audiences. We believe that the proto-architecture that emerges under these circumstances requires public exhibitions as forum of exposure and testing ground.
The works presented by the various architects/designers will therefore aim for engaging/interactive forms of installation, and construct experiences rather than merely delivering information. The featured projects venture into the realm of radical abstraction. Initially the results might seem bizarre. What is the hidden meaning and potential purpose of these creative practises? How does this "neo-avant-garde" relate to the old questions of progress? Is it possible to unearth a utopian potential here?

Every time needs its utopia(s). A society that does no longer reflect its development is uncanny, a monstrosity. However, utopian speculation is rather dubious today. In recent years the very notion of progress and the ambition to project a future has itself come to be regarded as monstrous. Utopian thinking seems naiv, dangerous hubris.

The history of (built and unbuilt) Modern Architecture has been paraded as villain and quoted as a symbol for the vanity of failed utopian claims. But however one judges the radical concepts (concerning the structure and morphology of the modern, industrial city) that were formulated at the beginning of the 20th century - they have shown an unbelievable anticipatory power. After 50 years of world-wide adoption, the projections and principles of the modern heroes can hardly be discussed as "mistakes", even if the socio-economic transformations of the last two decades - achieved on the back of the material advances of the modern period - mean that the social ideals, desires and requirements with respect to the architecture of the contemporary city have since developed in radical anti-thesis to the modern utopias.

What are the new needs, demands and questions that contemporary society raises for architecture? Are there protagonists that take up this challenge within their creative practise? There is no easy or immediate answer here.

In the last 10-15 years the discourse of the architectural avant-garde was driven by the principle of negativity (creative destruction). Concepts like de-construction, dis-location, de-coding and de-territorialization have been dominating the scene. Apparently positive concepts like plurality, multiplicity, heterogeneity and virtuality are in fact defined in opposition to the key concepts of modernity and signal the end of universality, predictability and of any notion of a (future) ideal order. It no longer makes sense to try to articulate the Zeitgeist. Every architectural concept or trope is relative with respect to divergent perspectives and interests. Every architectural form multiplies in the kaleidoscope of multiple, temporary audiences. The total social process has become far too complex to be anticipated within a single vision and utopian image. Other strategies are called for.


The unpredictability of emergent socio-economic patterns spells the impossibility of straightforward goal orientation in planning and design. In the face of this predicament there is a necessary strategic retreat from the immediate program of progress. The flip-side of this impossibility of straightforward progress is the necessity (and the freedom) to experiment. This is providing the rationale for an unheard of proliferation of new formal possibilities.
What one is left with is the (nearly) random production of the new and "other", without yet being able to make the claim to provide measurable improvements. A phase of pure mutation is introduced whereby the selection and reproduction of the new material points beyond the capacity of the individual author towards a collective process of appropriation. In various fields of research and professional work, not least in architecture, it the necessity to incorporate random mutations into strategies of innovation has been asserted in practise and starts to be reflected in theory.
The role of chance discoveries in the progress of science and technology is long since proverbial without systematic acknowledgement on the part of epistemology. Even today the notion of random pursuits rings anti-thetical to notions of strategic conduct or rationality. Nevertheless, in the history of science as well as in recent design methodologies, a new notion of rationality crystallises. Groping experimentation, the incorporation of random play and a margin of underdetermined, uncontrolled investment are now seen to be necessary ingredients of any strategy aimed at innovation.

The radical architectural projects presented here are not offering themselves as utopian proposals in the sense of elaborated proposals for a better life. They do not claim to have a meaning in this sense. They pose questions and withdraw the familiar answers. They are open-ended mutations that at best might become catalysts in the co-evolution of new life processes. (Of course there is also the risk to remain alien to everything and everybody. That risk has to be taken.)

Experimentation is not necessarily to be confined to the design process, but might continue in the building itself. Who is to judge and deny a priori that a strange building will not attract and engender a strangely productive occupation. Such speculative investment might become accepted as intervention research. What to many yet appears as an assemblage of disjointed trials might soon cohere into a worthwhile development.
A decoded architecture - made strange - offers itself to inhabitation as an aleatoric field, anticipating and actively prefacing its own detournment. Latent utopias are hiding within this domain of strangeness.

We do not answer the question of the new needs, demands and purposes that the new architecture might adress with respect to contemporary society.
The answers have to be discovered within the various formal experiments that are proliferating today. Utopias can no longer be constructed on the basis of explicit intentions. They can only emerge as latent tendencies that might come to fruition when a social practise discovers a vital potential within those strange spatio-material constructs thrown into the public domain. Exhibitions are a vital part of this process. The latent social content of the new, strange, abstract spaces that are on the drawing boards of the current architectural avant-garde(s) may be teased out by publicly staging scenarios of another "everyday life".

Z.H. & P.S.


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