Urbanism + Utopia: Twentieth Century Visions of Urban Transformation


Spring 2013

Mary McLeod, instructor

“Utopia is never anything but tomorrow’s reality and today’s reality is yesterday’s utopia.”
—Le Corbusier

This course explored ideas of urban planning that emerged in the Modern Movement in architecture in the first half of the twentieth century and their influence on both visionary and realized projects in the second half of the century. After an introduction to theoretical ideas concerning “utopian” thought, the class examined several ideal city plans by architects such as Tony Garnier, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Hilberseimer, the Soviet “disurbanists,” and Frank Lloyd Wright.  The second section of the class examined two divergent reactions to Le Corbusier’s and pre-war modern urban doctrine: first, the new urban capitals whose development was deeply indebted to Le Corbusier’s urban vision, Chandigarh and Brasilia, and second, Team 10’s urban doctrine, including the proposals of the Smithsons and Candilis-Josic-Woods.

While most of the projects since Tony Garnier’s Cité Industrielle, which was inspired in part from nineteenth-century utopian thought, represent an increasing realism and, some may say, a more limited utopian imagination, a new period of fervent utopian speculation emerged again in the 1960s and early 1970s. The last section of the class considered several projects from this period, including works by Situationists, Cedric Price, Yona Friedman, etc. It was during this period that Paul and Percival’s Communitas ,originally written in 1947, also received wide readership. (The class devoted to the Goodman’s brothers work served as a forum for discussion about ideas concerning the Goodman travel award.) The seminar concluded with an investigation of Rem Koolhaas’s urban thinking from the 1970s to the present, and raised questions of whether utopian thought has been replaced by a new “realism” or whether this so called realism is in fact a form of cynicism, bordering on the dystopic.