Megastructures are the Shopping Malls of the Avant-Garde
What About ideal cities, and counter revolutionary master plans?
The avant-garde is a paradoxical state. In order to exist, it relies on its incongruous condition of being both fundamentally contemporary and ahead of its time. A conceptual palimpsest, the avant-garde requires writing its history over its own past keeping a vulnerable balance between present problems, and possible future solutions. All about contextualizing the perfect timing, what happens when the avant-garde goes out of sync; when its solutions are overlooked for being too premature, or ridiculed for being delayed?
In the past century alone, the avant-garde was victim of two untimely appearances. In the first one, its proposals arrived too early; the world was taken aback by the boldness of its ambitions, by the audacity of its delirium. In the second coming, the avant-garde was too late. Here its stratagems were on a futile mission of inventing a program that already existed.
These consecutive setbacks have concealed the potential of a parallel form of urban intelligence that not only is able to complete even the most ambitious truncated plans of the avant-garde in Europe, but that can also propose and achieve a set of alternative and original forms of urbanism. Can a genealogy of key events in the 20th century reveal the potential of this parallel non-European universe, and its relationship to the avant-garde as we know it?
Le Corbusier 1922
In 1922 Le Corbusier presented the first of his “ideal” cities. La ville contemporaine pour trois millions d’habitants was an urban layout of cruciform skyscrapers, housing slabs and a carpet of parks intersected by juxtaposed grids of car infrastructure. In this urban plan Le Corbusier was not only aspiring for a greener, denser, centralized, bureaucratic, car oriented city, but the plan suggested the ideal conditions for Modern Architecture to flourish.
The Ville Contemporaine was like an abstract diagram. When the modernist plans started to take shape on real cities, first in Paris with the Plan Voisin (1925), then in the rest of the world with the Ville Radieuse (1935), the image of Le Corbusier oscillated between a visionary and a madman. His preoccupations were clearly fundamental problems of his time, but the formalization of his ideas were not always welcomed. Even if the cities of his time had needed more hygienic and organized schemes, buildings that were more suitable to live in, collective housing that distanced itself from the Haussmanian family flat and an overall vision that….