Although Utopia makes reasonably frequent appearances within humanities and social science teaching, it remains at the far periphery of architecture education. Thus, any essay proposing the relevance of utopic pedagogies for architecture education, and its subsequent professional practice, must come to terms with the strange absence of Utopia from the heart of the curriculum (and from the concerns of most architecture students, educators, and practitioners). With the pervasive omission of Utopia in mind, in this article I will first offer an overview of how and why Utopia has become anathema for architecture education (no doubt associated with the failures of orthodox modern architecture during the post-World War H years and the explanation of this failure as down to Utopia), followed by counterexamples drawn from my own teaching, in which Utopia is as much the subject as the object of architecture and urban design education, in equal measure for history, theory, and design. If the postmodern conviction in architecture is that Utopia equals totalitarianism and defeat, my argument is that without Utopia, architecture and urban design have no vocation other than to adorn capital and its processes (which of course explains its disappearance: Neoliberalism confirms Utopia's irrelevance, or does it?).
Part I: The Absent Presence of Utopia
Although Utopia makes reasonably frequent appearances within humanities and social science teaching (at least as a topic, even if only to be denounced), it remains at best at the far periphery of architecture education. Thus, any essay proposing the relevance of utopic pedagogies for architecture education, and its subsequent professional practice, must come to terms with the strange absence of Utopia from the heart of the curriculum (and from the concerns of most architecture students, educators, theorists, historians, and practitioners).
It is with such a pervasive absence in mind that in this article I will first offer a brief overview of how and why Utopia has become anathema for architecture education (something to do with the failures of orthodox modern architecture during the post-World War II years and the explanation of this failure as down to Utopia), followed by counterexamples drawn from my own teaching, in which Utopia is as much the subject as the object of architecture and urban design education, in equal measure for history, theory, and design. If the postmodern conviction in architecture is that Utopia equals totalitarianism and defeat, my argument is that without Utopia, architecture and urban design have no vocation other than to adorn capital and its processes (which of course goes far in explaining Utopia's absence: for architecture at least, neoliberal currents in procurement and practice appear to confirm Utopia's irrelevance).
Even so, in many ways, even at its most conventional, architecture and urban design education is inherently progressive in the sense articulated by the pedagogical theorist David Halpin (2007). On the one hand, the studio basis of design education, steeped as it is in ancient models of craft, originating in the medieval guild traditions of the direct transmission of knowledge between masters and novices (although now ideally mediated by a healthy dose of postmodern doubt), inevitably encourages modes of inquiry that are "student-directed" rather than "teacher-initiated" and as such emphasize "learning" rather than "teaching" (Halpin 2007, 244). On the other hand, this potentially progressive aspect of architecture education is only minimally theorized either in the literature on architecture pedagogy or performatively by architecture educators in their teaching practice. The professional nature of architecture education has a great deal to do with this. Subjected as architecture degree programs are to the regimes of professional accreditation (intended to protect the professional title of architect and consumers of architect's services alike), there is a tendency toward a relative standardization of curricula across schools, which is partnered with a general overemphasis on technical and representational skills, over and above the cultivation of social imagination and, its correlate, architectonic expression.
When architecture education does focus on "imaginaries," rather than employability in the form of ready insertion of graduates within conventional--market-driven--practices, the register is primarily fanciful, related more to unbuildable projects unburdened by the demands of use, or the complexities of individual and communal appropriation of the built environment, than to the real possibility that the world could be remade beyond the limits of what is apparently already possible. If there is a utopian aspect to such paper-palace fantasies, it is in an abstract rather than concrete utopian sense (after Bloch's distinction between the two).
In this regard, Halpin's attempts at defining utopianism and its value for articulating what might constitute progressive education has obvious direct relevance for how the radical nature of architecture education might be theorized and practiced more explicitly. Equally, his definition suggests how Utopia's vocation for reimagining the given could be reembraced in architecture education to revalue the inherently (or at least potentially) utopian vocation of architecture. According to Halpin, "Utopianism ... is a distinctive vocabulary of hope [that] teaches us that society, including its physical sites of social and political practice, are both imagined and made and that we can accordingly believe that they can be reimagined and remade" (2007, 243). Potentially, at least, architecture has a capacity for articulating Utopia's "distinctive vocabulary of hope," both visually and materially, by providing it with a concrete syntax by which the elements of this vocabulary might be organized to form meaningful sites of progressive potential, which reveals architecture as also potentially a semantics of Utopia as well.
Although twentieth-century architecture may well have begun with a utopian impulse, it was arguably far less pervasively utopian than modern or postmodern histories of architecture and conventional narratives of its failures might lead one to believe. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing still, attempts to make sense of the shortcomings of twentieth-century modernist architecture have explained its deficiencies as an inevitable outcome of the putative utopian aspirations of modern architects and theorists. However, the circular logic that equates rejection of orthodox modern architecture with a rejection of Utopia (and both for the better) affirms a species of overconfidence in the veracity of interpretations advancing such a view. But what if modern architecture was never quite as utopian as imagined?
What if modern architecture, at its heart, has always been far more Fordist and Taylorist than implicated in proposing and establishing settings for the socially progressive transformation of existing conditions (Coleman 2007, 2011a, 2011b)? Despite the mostly uncritical assertion of the utopianness of modern architecture by architects, historians, theorists, and critics, and following them, students and sectors of the general public as well, I would like to make a counterassertion (which is at the core of my pedagogy) that not only was modern architecture not as utopian as presumed but its failings can actually be understood as resulting, at least partly, from a poverty of utopian imagination: modern architecture was never utopian enough. Neither Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), nor Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), nor even Walter Gropius (1883-1969), nor Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was a utopian in the ways usually ascribed to them by authors including Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), Colin Rowe (1920-1999), and Robert Fishman, among others (Fishman 1982; Jacobs 1992; Rowe and Koetter 1978).
While it is possible to argue for the relative utopianism of Howard, Wright, Gropius, or Le Corbusier in particular (which I have done elsewhere), it is at best aspects of their respective plans or some specific examples of their buildings (other than Howard, who was not an architect) where some suggestion of Utopia might be found, despite the discomfort each would have had with such an association. In many ways, Ernst Bloch and Manfredo Tafuri encourage the reading of twentieth-century modernist architecture as less utopian than conventionally assumed that is advanced here. Thus, strangely, the absence of Utopia from architecture, including from its education, is as much as anything founded on a myth, in many ways understandably spun by Karl Popper in The Poverty of Historicism (1957 [see 1961]) and The Open Society and Its Enemies (1962 [see 1966]), which laid the foundations of the anti-utopianism that has persisted ever since, including in architecture.
It is with the understanding of the rejection of Utopia in architecture developed above, and the dubiousness of the justifications for this, in mind that I would like to turn briefly to a consideration of perhaps one of the most convincingly utopian architects of the twentieth century. The German architect Bruno Taut (1880-1938) and his German literary collaborator Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915), especially in the former's Glashaus (Glasshouse) pavilion (1914, temporarily erected at the Cologne Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition), and as developed in his 1919 essay "Die Stadtkrone'" ("City Crown" ) and in the latter's 1914 novel Glasarchitektur (Glass Architecture ), elaborated on the possibilities of architectural transactions with Utopia, even though modern architecture quickly became mainstream as it moved from the periphery to the center of culture (Bloch 1986, 736-37; Coleman 2005, 88-112; Ersoy 2011).
Cast as a proponent of Expressionism, Taut has been largely relegated to the edges of architecture culture because of the movement's association with excess and exaggeration. Nevertheless, at least in the period of the Glashaus and "Die Stadtkrone," Taut's theory and practice might best be understood through a lens of science fiction, a perspective certainly encouraged by his association with Scheerbart. The story of transcendence through glass advocated by both is utopian in a literary sense of imagining a much improved human condition achieved through processes of transformation that have been developed in great detail (Ersoy 2011).
But architecture is concrete and mundane and, as Ernst Bloch (1986, 737) observed, so fully imprisoned by existing cultural and economic conditions that it can do little more than replicate what is, absent of any possible utopian vision extending beyond the limits of the given. Perhaps, but Taut and Scheerbart were serious about their project in a manner that separates them from techno-utopian Futurist visionary architects such as Antonio Sant'Elia (1888-1916). Sant'Elia, although a Futurist closely associated with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (18-1944), and Taut are often co-located as proponents of architectural Utopia in books on the topic (Borsi 1997, 47-48, 118-23, 130; Eaton 2001, 164, 166-67, 169, 179, 182-83). While this point might seem trivial, it helps to shed light on how and why Utopia and utopianism have ultimately been banished from architectural thought and practice but especially from its education, a problem brought into stark relief by Franco Borsi in Architecture and Utopia, when he says of Sant'Elia's Futurist designs that "'none of those images questioned the nature of society, institutional models, or the human condition" (1997, 47). If not, then one must be left to wonder on what basis the work could be identified with Utopia. And yet, Borsi's identification of Sant'Elia's designs as utopian, followed by a description that makes it impossible to see them as such, is as typical of books on architecture and Utopia as it is of considerations of Utopia in architecture education. (1)
However one might feel about Taut, it would be difficult to ignore his preoccupation with the nature of society, institutional models, and the human condition, making his claim to Utopia that much more convincing. At any rate, apart from the apparent shared infeasibility of Sant'Elia's and Taut's designs (at least his City Crown and Alpine Architecture projects), which has come to be understood as a key factor in identifying architectural utopias, the work of these two architects could not be more different. Crucially, it is a difference with relevance for how Utopia could influence architecture in a convincingly progressive way, not least by returning a preconception with the social and the political to the core of its concerns.
For Sant'Elia, mechanization and technology were ends in themselves. Consider Marinetti's obsession with speed, warfare, and destruction as dissociative, aesthetic preoccupations, outlined in the "'Futurist Manifesto" (1909) and echoed in Sant'Elia's "Manifesto of Futurist Architecture" (1914). Whereas Taut's preoccupation was with transcendence, the Futurists emphasized destruction, which has become one of the key identifying characteristics for elucidating the supposed certain failures of architectural utopias. Large (dehumanizing) scale and an apparent ahistoricity are others. Nevertheless, if for Taut transcendence was the aim, he welcomed technology if it could help, and why not? The value of this distinction lies in aiding understandings of the difference between technological utopianism and utopianism (Coleman 2005, 6, 73-81, 234, 254). In this sense, technology was a convenience, not an end. If Taut arguably represents the most convincing example of explicit utopianism in modern architecture, this perhaps also goes some way in explaining the banishment of Utopia from architecture education: his ecstatic, universalizing socialism would inevitably have proved just a bit too much for mainstream architects, trained within the capitalist or communist systems alike. (2)
Even if Taut may be the most utopian of twentieth-century architects, any treatment of Utopia in architecture and its banishment from education must contend with Le Corbusier, at least for a moment. Le Corbusier is so frequently demonized as the dark lord of utopianism in modern architecture and urbanism that the questionable accusations against him barely warrant repeating (Dalrymple 2009; Jacobs 1992; Smith 2001). More nuanced versions of the story of the rise and fall of twentieth-century modern architecture cast Le Corbusier as split between the remarkable subtleties of his individual buildings and the brutally reductive excesses of his city plans, in the sense that the former exist in the realm of art, while the latter apparently breaks upon the specter of Utopia (Maycroft 2002; Rowe and Koetter 1978). Either way, the division of Le Corbusier in this way neglects the interrelation of his individual buildings and city plans alike. On the one hand, it is sure that many if not all of Le Corbusier's individual buildings were conceived in the spirit of Utopia (though rarely if ever explicitly stated), and on the other, his city plans never represented blueprints for direct, unmediated, or unreflected action (Coleman 2005; Leatherbarrow 1993, 59-64; Rowe 1996).
At the very least, Le Corbusier's city plans were imagined potential wholes of which his individual buildings formed a theoretical or imaginative part, even when constructed. Equally, his city plans were thought experiments, fields of mental play, rather than contract documents (Coleman 2005; Leatherbarrow 1993, 59-64; …