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The Crisis of Utopia: The Gap Between Social Intentions and Pictorial Aesthetics in Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Adam Hargreaves
London South Bank University London UK
The emphatically visionary panoramic renderings of Le Corbusier's Ville Contemporaine of the 1920s demonstrate perfectly the crisis inherent in our historical pursuit of Utopia. His urban plan constitutes an image abstractly imbued with a desire to connect disjointed fragments of the modern world – a desire perhaps fuelled by the idealistic (and egomaniacal) hope of re-establishing an order upon which a meaningful existence could be based. What may be summarised as the crisis of Utopia is metaphorically captured in this representational dilemma: in the dialectical opposition between the social intention of the project and its graphic depiction. The disparity that exists between the word on the page and the picture on the wall can be seen as a demonstration of the fateful nature of both the pursuit of the ideal city and Le Corbusier the man.

The scope of my research arises from an impulse to investigate this crisis in order to better understand how and why mankind has obsessively pursued – and attempted to realise in built form – the paradigm of an abstract space of ideas within the real space of lived experience. The ideal city, ever unattainable, never loses its capacity to instigate change. Despite this, it inevitably exists as a tragic, emptily rhetorical preoccupation that cannot truly marry with the desire to bring about reform, however well-intentioned on the part of its creator. Much Modernist planning was, then, a vehicle geared towards the concrete embodiment of urban ideals: the apotheosis of a liberated society. Many hoped that something somehow lost might exist again. If we consider Utopia to be a process as well as a goal – as much a moral paradigm as a programmatic model – we may well argue that the virtually unpopulated Ville Contemporaine was never meant for people. Its intention was figuratively poetic rather than literal: a demonstration of a dream rather than a truly drawn city.

Adam Hargreaves

Matthew Barac
Paul Davies
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