For ages mankind has been fascinated with the concept of utopia, a perfect society in which everyone is happy, honest and satisfied. This discourse climaxed during modernism as different movements were convinced that utopia could be achieved if society would be implemented with art of the highest standard. In La Condition Postmoderne Jean-François Lyotard declared these grand utopian narratives relics from a lost age – dead, in other words – and this notion kept its dominance until the first years of the 21st century.
However, looking at the recent developments in architecture one will notice something profoundly different. For some years already enormous buildings, designed by the so-called ‘starchitects’ (like Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry), are popping up globally. Although these buildings seem to be mainly designed for visual spectacle and prestige, a renewed interest in the visual language of nature is striking. The swirling lines of Zaha Hadid’s design for the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia seem to be drawn directly from nature, extra emphasised by the surrounding gardens. Her British colleague Thomas Heatherwick is also a fanatic for smooth and organic lines in his designs. The Garden Bridge he designed as a new crossing for the Thames consists of a park on top of a bridge, supported by flowingly shaped columns that strikingly resemble trees.
Megalomaniac projects such as these are prime examples of spectacle architecture. However, the visual drama and copious amounts of implemented nature signify the promise of a better world. These buildings look like little utopias in which we as carefree citizens can hop around. Utopia in progress.
The Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia by Zaha Hadid
The Garden Bridge by Thomas Heatherwick