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The Architecture of Late Capitalism and Beyond

Kunst und Architektur
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1010 Wien
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IKA Lecture Series Winter Term 2015|16
Visionary Cities: Utopian Urbanism and Science Fiction
Nic Clear | Endowed Professorship for Research in Visionary Cities
All lectures will be held in English.

The Gold Mine Labyrinthe 2014, © Nic Clear

Contemporary architectural magazines, websites and blogs are full of images showing us buildings that promise that the future we had always dreamed of is already here. The skies are always blue, the streets are always clean and the spaces populated by photo-shopped models drinking cappuccinos.

However we should not allow ourselves to be seduced by the Sci-Fi look and processes of these projects, which owe more to the desire to create futuristic looking architecture as a marketing ploy. The real technologies that drive this architecture are the technologies of global finance, management and procurement.

In this final lecture the current aspects of architectural production will be assessed in relation to recent developments in science fiction film and literature and the series will end with a series of speculations on the technological drivers that will form the agenda for the rest of the 21st century.


When discussing Science Fiction and Architecture it is usual to look at the architecture ‘in’ Science Fiction and in particular the architecture in Science Fiction films. In this series of five lectures that relationship will be reversed and it will be the Science Fiction in Architecture that will be discussed. The lectures will map out an alternative reading of a number of architectural movements and projects where the work will be viewed explicitly ‘as’ science fiction.

The definition of Science Fiction that is being used relies on Darko Suvin’s conception of the ‘novum’. Suvin contends that Science Fiction should contain an ‘exclusive interest in a strange newness, a novum’ that distinguishes it as ‘an alternative to the author’s empirical environment’. The intention of these lectures is to make an explicit connection between the genre of Science Fiction, as a system that uses conceptions of newness and alterity and examples of visionary architectures and will attempt to re-theorise 20th century architectural production through the lens of the ‘novum’. A lineage of visionary architecture will be explored in relation to texts, films and artefacts that operate within a much more familiar territory of the science fiction genre.Starting with Futurism and Constructivism and developing through the concepts of the Industrial City, post war technological utopias and ending with the neoliberal architectures of late capitalism which appear to have expunged the concept of a celebratory form of architecture production for the supposed necessities of the market.

Nic Clear is Head of Department of Architecture and Landscape at the University of Greenwich, where he also teaches a postgraduate design unit that specialises in the use of film and animation in the generation, development and representation of architectural spaces. Nic is particularly interested in the intersection between architecture and Science Fiction. He edited an edition of AD titled Architectures of the Near Future and has written the Architecture section of the Oxford Handbook to Science Fiction.

Lecture Series Winter Term 2105|16

12.10.2015 | Lecture 01
Introduction: A Strange Newness

© Nic Clear

When discussing science fiction and Architecture it is usual to look at the architecture ‘in’ science fiction and in particular in science fiction films. In this first lecture that relationship will be flipped and it will be the Science Fiction in Architecture that will be discussed. The lecture will begin to map out concepts where an idea of architectural movements and projects can be viewed explicitly ‘as’ science fiction. Central to this will be identifying the importance of Darko Suvin’s definition of science fiction as ‘a strange newness’ containing some form of ‘novum’, alongside Adam Roberts’ argument that the genre should be more accurately called technology fiction. Another theme is Frederic Jameson’s notion, following Suvin, that the whole genre utopian thought should be considered a sub-set of science fiction itself.

To further develop this argument I shall be briefly looking at some of the possible origins of an architectural science fiction discourse and relating my own interests in developing science fiction concepts as part of a critique of neoliberal late capitalism and highlighting some of the work I have produced, both written texts and design projects, as part of a contemporary utopian architecture.

09.11.2015 | Lecture 02
Science Fictions of the Avant Garde

© Nic Clear
© Nic Clear

With the emergence of the architectural avant-gardes at the beginning of the C20th that the conditions to create truly technologically inspired speculative architectures arose and it is significant that two of the most advanced uses of speculative architecture came from countries whose economies were still essentially agrarian, perhaps it was the absence of those new technologies that created the most potent conditions for the architectural experimentations that took place.

Of all the early C20th avant-gardes the Italian Futurists were perhaps the most extreme expression of the rejection of the ‘old’ and an almost ecstatic embrace of new. Founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti with the publication of The Futurist Manifesto in 1909, Marinetti became infamous for his proselytising of speed, dynamism and new technology, including the technologies of war and with the young Antonio Sant’ Elia the conception of a new ‘Futurist’ city took dramatic shape.

In parallel with this a group of revolutionary Russian artists and architects developed an architectural language that combined the abstract expressive forms of Suprematism, the tectonics of industrial construction with an agit prop sensibility of social transformation. Working under the collective title of Constructivism, this group of architects and designers attempted create an architecture that would combine radical politics with radical attitudes to form via the use of advanced technology, with Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to Fourth International as their iconic project.

23.11.2015 | Lecture 03
The Industrial City and Its Antithesis

Frank Lloyd Wright, Broadacre City 1958, ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

At the beginning of the 20th century the concept of the city of the future was dominated by two competing narratives, the first looked forward to a dense collectivised industrial model dominated by machines and technology while the second saw a more rural mode of dispersed development based on a concept of urban sprawl and the hegemony of the individual.

For Tony Garnier technology was the means to achieve a fully socialist city, while for Le Corbusier it would bring about a hygienic utopia of light and air facilitated by new building typologies and rigorous zoning.
In stark contrast Frank Lloyd Wright saw suburbanisation and a semi-rural structure of individual dwellings as the most effective means of accommodating the future.

Both of these positions drew on concepts that had been extensively developed within the genre of the ‘scientific romance’; from the spectacular technological societies of Verne and Wells to the medievalism of Morris and the ‘boys own’ adventure stories of the Pulp magazines, the city/country and industry/nature debates were already firmly established as part of the popular psyche.

07.12.2015 | Lecture 04
Post War Utopias

Ron Herron, Walking Cities 1964, © The Estate of Ron Herron

11.01.2016 | Lecture 05
The Architecture of Late Capitalism and Beyond