Seeking utopia: a show at the DAM explores the future of living
Humanity has been in search of utopia for millenia, and while many have attempted to construct the perfect society, the large majority of 20th century architectural attempts have failed to be executed (Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse is a notable example). Many simply remained in the early stages of planning, positioning and development, lacking crucial elements that would allow a ‘utopia’ to become a successful, fully functioning settlement.
‘Yesterday’s Future’, a new exhibition at Frankfurt’s Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), aims to examine such ideas with a retrospective of works showcasing architectural investigations into utopian living. Displays include a selection of projects by two legendary practices; Future Systems – in operation from 1979 to 2008, headed Czech architect Jan Kaplický and British architect Amanda Levete – and 1960s avant-garde group Archigram, including well known core members such as Sir Peter Cook.
From brightly coloured collages, to technical drawings and filigree architectural models, the show presents several of Archigram’s architecture experiments. The practice’s concepts were designed for survival within deserted, dilapidated and inhospitable environments, coinciding with times of social upheaval and the Moon landing, an era defined by new beginnings. 1964’s ‘Walking City’, one of the firm’s most well-known projects, is a concept for a community, which would act as an autonomous mobile organism, comparable in shape to a giant insect. ‘Walking City’ would allow humans to settle in – at the time – uninhabitable climates and possibly even other planets.
Archigram’s work is juxtaposed with Future Systems’ designs, which were conceived some 20 years later, at the height of the Cold War. The latter’s body of work includes a series of self-sufficient capsules positioned in natural surroundings or nestled within densely populated urban spaces. ‘Shelter’, envisioned in 1985 by Kaplický, is a large, transportable, umbrella-like structure designed to provide shelter to roughly 190 people during the Ethiopian famine in 1984–85. The visually intriguing ‘Peanut’, created in 1984, is a kinetic pod-like wilderness dwelling, designed for two. It can twist and turn at the residents’ will, allowing for a variety of different views.