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Course Information

Instructor Info:Karen Koehler
Office Extension x5672
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Friday
09:00 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 101

This course is an examination of utopian plans in modern architecture and art, including the works of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, William Morris, Bruno Taut, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, El Lissitzky, Kandinsky, Buckminster Fuller, and others. This class will consider the expression of utopia in architectural drawings, buildings, and plans in relationship to painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts. The course will consider the role of history in utopian schemes: how different projections about life in the future are also harsh criticisms of the present, which often rely upon real or imagined views of social organizations in times past. We will examine the relationship of the individual to the community, and consider how spatial constructions-real and imagined-can affect this relationship. The course begins with an examination of significant literary utopias, including the books by Sir Thomas More, Edward Bellamy, and William Morris. Different philosophies and approaches to utopian design will be studied, as in the theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Ptr Kropotkin, Ernst Bloch, Karl Mannheim and Lewis Mumford. This class will also examine the critically important relationship between theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at utopian communities, (such as the Shaker villages, the Kibbutz, the Darmstadt Kunstlerkolonieor Walt Disney's Celebration, Florida). The course will conclude with a discussion of contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and consider whether utopian design is applicable to the 21st century.

Course Objectives:

Assignments and Expectations

 1. Attendance, participation in discussion.

 2. Each student is responsible for a small presentation on an assigned reading (c.3-5 minutes). In this presentation each student will be asked to isolate a few critical points in a specific reading in order to stimulate discussion.

3. Each student will keep a journal in which to critically analyze and comment upon the readings assigned for each seminar meeting. These should be rigorous critical comments on each reading, about one page per week--not a summation or simply your reading notes, please.  Essay prompts will be posted to the course website—remember to check before you start writing—and you should be prepared for in-class peer review and or additional writing. You might want to compare readings, mention other ideas from your experiences that occur to you, and include any visual material that seems relevant, illustrations that you wish to discuss or create; (e.g., in Bellamy's Looking Backward there are extended descriptions of his 21st century city, but no drawings.  What might they look like?)

 4. Group midterm presentations will be approximately 10 minutes.  Working in groups of 2-3, each student will give a slide presentation on an experimental community, analyzing the design, program, successes, failures and historical setting of each community.  Bibliography, outline, and notes due at the time of the presentation. Suggested topics: Shaker Villages, Owenites, Kibbutz, Darmstadt Kunstlerkolonie, Abbaye de Cretiel, Biosphere, Celebration Florida, etc.

5. Final presentation and paper. Each student will present a particular imagined or visionary plan of the past, critically addressing issues about the definition and purpose of such un-built and/or unbuildable utopian designs, as well as the historical circumstances that informed the content and form; (approximately 15 minutes).  Whenever possible, this should be based on an original treatise, drawing, film, novel, etc.  It is possible to invent an original utopian plan, as long as it references through design and in a written tract the history and theory of utopian plans as covered in course material.  Final papers should be 8-10 double spaced pages in length.

All work will be compiled into a course portfolio, due at the time of your final presentation

Evaluation Criteria:

Please note that it is necessary to complete all requirements to receive an evaluation or grade in this class and that no extensions will be given without prior arrangement and only under extenuating circumstances. No more than ONE unexcused absence will result in a no-evaluation, and late work is not evaluated. This is non-negotiable.

 Also please note that web based research (exclusively) is insufficient for this course. You will be required to do advanced print research, reading and writing.

Additional Info:


The texts for this course are below; readings are also on reserve, and on the course website.

Sir Thomas More, Utopia (1518), (NY: Norton, 1992)

 Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, (1887) (NY: Penguin, 1982)

 William Morris, News from Nowhere, (1891) (NY: Penguin, 1980)