Utopia is synonymous with the ultimate human hope of a rational effort to remake the human environment. Sir Thomas More, who coined the word, explained that it referred to either the Greek word ‘eutopia’, meaning good place, or ‘outopia’, meaning no place (Mumford, L., 2003:1). After the Industrial Revolution and the growth of dystopic towns and cities, the idea of Utopia became more prevalent. Socialism was an attempt to reinvent society into a cooperative experiment, rather than the free-enterprise system of market capitalism. These two diametrically opposed political philosophies stood at the basis of the utopias that were conceptualized and designed by the architects Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright in the twentieth century.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was interested in designing affordable homes for the middle class of the USA, he was also interested in urban planning. By the late 1920s he put forward an ideal environment called Broadacre City. To Wright, home ownership was a moral and political value that could produce a more harmonious society. Along with car-ownership, he believed modern communication would provide society with the end of centralized urban environments. In Broadacre City he envisaged a vast semi-rural landscape covering the entire continent. Decentralized in organization, self-sufficient in supply, republican in constitution and populated by car-owning citizens, it was centred on a homestead placed upon one acre of cultivated land. Wright considered that this plan would allow the community to be based upon family values, spirituality and knowledge. The marketplace would be in the shape of trade by barter between proprietors, or an agricultural fair. It would also be a community in which everyone would do everything; farming, industrial work, craftwork etc…; this would give work a self-fulfilling nature. There would be no administration other than the architect himself who would plan the city and settle its affairs (www.mediaarchitecture.at).
Le Corbusier’s Radiant City was a further development of the Contemporary City that he conceptualized in the 1920s. He constructed his model on the basis of a perfectly symmetrical grid of streets, with two right-angled superhighways intersecting at the centre of the city. An elaborate transportation system encompassing subways, access roads, railroads and an airport would also intersect at the city centre. Divided into functionally classified sectors, around this central terminal would be the skyscrapers of the business centre of the whole region. It would cover less than 15 percent of the ground with the rest devoted to parks and gardens. The structure of the residential areas would have the elite leaders of the society in luxurious high rise in the centre, whilst the workers would live in garden apartments on the outskirts. These dwellings would be jointly owned by the residents and run as a cooperative. The satellite towns would be grouped into larger garden units with the surrounding areas left free for lawns, playing fields and gardens. The proletariat’s eight hours of factory labour, essential for the maintenance of living standards, would be overcome by eight hours of leisure in the satellite city’s recreational facilities. The entire city would be run by a dictatorial system directed by the elite industrialists of the city, as in a corporation (Fishman, R., 1982:332)
The differences between these conceptual utopias were many, the first being Wright’s determination of private ownership in Broadacre City. Even though both Wright and Corbusier realised the need for an efficient transport system, Corbusier’s was based upon a vast public network, whilst Wright advocated private car-ownership. Wright’s society was semi-rural and self-sufficient in supply, relying upon the market, whereas Corbusier’s advocated a high-rise, corporate industrialized system. Furthermore, Corbusier envisaged a symmetrical, hierarchical society while Wright’s was individualistic and egalitarian. It seems that Corbusier’s vision was the one to become the model for contemporary 21st century cities. The similarities of both societies lie upon their non-democratic systems of leadership.
http://www.architecture.ca/planningarchitecture/document/document3.html Retrieved 16.9.08
Fishman, R. 1982, Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century, MIT Press
Mumford, L. 2003, The Story of Utopias, Kessinger Publishing