The Hyper-architecture of Desire
very confused from the historical perspective..
gap of 50 years----
atmosohere and activity..
provos, smoke performances etc.. heritage of creating situations..
situationists theory and practice inheritance (still from the talk it seems that legacy is always more on one side than the other (academics talking about practice, action groups building action on theoretical background) is that the legacy?
The Great Urbanism Came
1960. December 20. 8:15 p.m. Amsterdam. A packed room in the Stedelijk Museum waits for the 40-year-old artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. A slide projector and a large tape recorder sit behind the audience. Constant enters, stands by the machines, and delivers a half-hour statement about ‘Unitary Urbanism.’ The tone is militant.
Modern architects are negligent. They have systematically ignored the massive transformation of everyday life (dont forget poor De Certeau) caused by the twin forces of mechanization and population explosion. Their endless garden-city schemes desperately provide token fragments of ‘pseudo-nature’ to pacify ruthlessly exploited citizens. The modern city is a thinly disguised mechanism for extracting productivity out of its inhabitants, a huge machine that destroys the very life it is meant to foster. Such exploitative machinery will continue to grow until a single vast urban structure occupies the whole surface of the earth. Nature has already been replaced. Technology has long been the new nature that must now be creatively transformed to support a new culture. The increasingly traumatized inhabitants have to take over the shaping of their own spaces to recover the pleasure of living. This reshaping will become their dominant activity when automation soon handles all forms of production. Leisure time will be the only time. Work gives way to an endless collective play in which all fantasies are acted out. The static constructions of architects and town planners are thrown away. Everybody becomes an architect, practicing a never-ending, all-embracing ‘unitary urbanism.’ Nothing will be fixed. The new urbanism ‘exists in time, it is the activation of the temporary, the emergent and transitory, the changeable, the volatile, the variable, the immediately fulfilling and satisfying.’(1) An intimate bonding of desire and space will produce a new kind of architecture for a new society.
The lecturer announces that he has a particular vision of this restless architecture, an ‘imaginary’ project called ‘New Babylon’ that he will reveal later. Meanwhile, the audience hears an analysis of the psychological impact of urban environments. People are profoundly influenced by the structures they inhabit.(Latour and Sloterdijk , see lecture Harvard Spheres and networks, 2009) Their lives are conditioned by the unique atmosphere (currently an item again by Pallsmaa and Zumthor, stripped of politics) of each space. To neglect the nuances of ambience is to neglect people. As the world turns into a single vast city, and an exploding, increasingly mobile population has less and less room to move, a new relationship between space and psychology is needed: ‘what we lose in geometrical space we must recover in the form of psychological space.’ A special form of research needs to be deployed, a ‘psychogeography’ of the unconscious influences of urban atmosphere. Atmosphere is to become an ‘artistic medium’ with which to collectively reconstruct social space. The psychological quality of
every point in the urban structure will be continuously modified to intensify the experience of the people moving through it. All forms of mobility will be fostered. The structure will itself be mobile and lack a clear identity.
Some details of the project start to emerge. New Babylon is to be a covered city, suspended high above the ground on huge columns. All automobile traffic is isolated on the ground plane, with the trains and fully automated factories buried beneath. Enormous multileveled structures, five to ten hectares in area, are strung together in a chain that spreads across the landscape. This ‘endless expanse’ of interior space is artificially lit and air- conditioned. Its inhabitants are given access to ‘powerful, ambience-creating resources’ to construct their own spaces whenever and wherever they desire. The qualities of each space can be adjusted. Light, acoustics, color, ventilation, texture, temperature, and moisture are infinitely variable. Movable floors, partitions, ramps, ladders, bridges, and stairs are used to construct ‘veritable labyrinths of the most heterogeneous forms’ in which desires continuously interact. Sensuous spaces result from action but also generate it: ‘New Babylonians play a game of their own designing, against a backdrop they have designed themselves.’
The lights go out. The room is filled with a strange unintelligible noise. A huge architectural plan is projected on the wall. It shows a network of long, thin, rectangular structures zigzagging like dominoes across an orange landscape covered with amorphous red and green blotches. The network sits on top of an even more intricate web of black lines that rush in every direction with what seem to be high-speed streamlined curves. Railway tracks pass more soberly across. Intersections multiply. Everything is interconnected. The overlapping webs disappear off the edges of the plan and the ends of other webs enter from the sides. The already huge megastructure is apparently just part of a vast system. It is lightly subdivided into countless squarish spaces that are empty except for a small red rectangle in each that always occupies a different position. Larger black shapes pass through the divisions between these spaces and sometimes overtake a whole section of the structure. Some spaces are numbered sequentially. Others are crossed-hatched, or filled with parallel lines, or have mysterious arrows radiating from their corners. Over to the left, a thin line wanders in a serpentine trajectory across the divisions between spaces. At the bottom, a very thick line passes up through the structure, crossing each space in turn as it zigzags all the way to the center of the plan — a path to the heart of the labyrinth.
The qualities of the particular spaces remain unclear; only a general sense of diversity within a more or less regular but labyrinthine system can be perceived. The image is there for just a second. Another plan appears. It is obviously the same project — a closer view. Rough edges have given way to precisely measured lines. The spaces are more complex, ranging in their organization from completely open to densely packed with labyrinths. Even the type of labyrinth varies. Eccentric paths could traverse this veritable catalog of spatial types to pass between any two points in the megastructure without going outside of it. If anything, the labyrinthine quality is accentuated by a sense of transparency in the plan. All levels are compacted onto a single surface. The high-speed lines are visible as they pass under the structure, and at the densest intersection a square of translucent yellow paper has been superimposed as if to define some vague sense of focus.
This layout now reappears as a bird’s eye photograph of a model, an even closer view. The model still looks like a plan because it is built out of transparent layers of plexiglass. The subdivisions etched in thin lines on each layer produce an extremely dense overlapping pattern, itself overlaid on the web of high-speed lines. A few opaque pieces of white and black plexiglass stand out, but only a faint shadow hints at the three-dimensional shape revealed in the next slide. Moving in closer, at an angle, the camera discovers that the high-speed lines race across a smooth plane while the megastructure floats above. A single continuous structure weaves itself over an immaculate surface. Its section constantly changes. Some parts are made of a single thick slab of plexiglass while others are made of two, three, or four layers. The layers float high above the terrain or are unexpectedly cut away to expose the next level. Nails passing through them are arranged in a structural grid that supports the project, while a smaller grid of tiny holes appears to provide the local support for endless variations in the plan. The camera drops lower still. It reaches ground- level and looks across the smooth terrain towards the building. The floating horizontal megastructure catches the light and stretches as far as the eye can see.
The camera descends upon another model. The sound of an airplane accompanies the descent and another set of sounds fills the room as we land on the roof deck. Each image-shift is synchronized with an acoustic shift, although the sounds remain largely unintelligible. We head into the interior spaces that float between the roof deck covered with helicopters and the ground plane littered with cars. Only a few human figures are visible, perched on the edge of a vast space, but the soundtrack fills the auditorium with a metropolitan jumble of voices, traffic noises, machines, animals, and strange music. We hear the sounds of a life we cannot see, a life we are forced to imagine.
Our fantasies are made possible by sophisticated models that have been photographed in a way that conceals the fact that they are models.(see a later 'representation' movie his son made for the museum in the Hague) We never see their edges. Rather than viewing a small discrete object representing a huge project that may someday be built, we sense a complex, sensuous, built reality. Other spaces often appear in the background. The models have been placed side-by-side and colored sand sprinkled over the gaps between their bases to suggest the sense of a single coherent ensemble. We look into an endless world made up of tightly interconnected but heterogeneous spaces. Colored backgrounds and precise lighting enhance the realism. Images move quickly by. Time only for an impression. The almost cinematic effect is that of a realistic fantasy — the world of tomorrow built today.
The images follow a pattern. Models of large parts of the structure give way to detailed models of smaller parts; each is progressively explored from the widest distant angle down to the smallest interior space. We steadily advance into the new world. Any disruption of this relentless zoom is accompanied by a surprising sound. The precise layout of each level gradually becomes evident. The floating transparent layers carry a delicate tracery of some kind of embedded technical system and the division between spaces is formed by folded metal sheets, perforated metal screens, cut-outs in the floor, changes in lighting, and so on. Strange machinery sprouts from the ground plane or hangs from the ceiling. Each ‘sector,’ as Constant calls them, seems to rest on a different kind of support. Some have an array of diverse supports. Huge open frameworks sit on a small number of points. Dense layers are propped up on massive translucent sandwiches. Spiderwebs of steel are suspended off a tall cylinder. Transparent shells hover over the ground on vast columns like recently landed
space ships. Intricate assemblages of platforms and volumes hang from each support.
Sometimes the ground below is an immaculately smooth white surface, like a salt lake ready for high-speed tests. Elsewhere, it is rough — like a moonscape — or covered with huge concrete labyrinths, strange marks and colored patches. The immaculate metalwork and transparent surfaces of the structure contrast with the tortured landscape below. Other parts of the terrain are domesticated with abstractly colored volumes, curved metal railings, strange dotted lines, densely packed nails, or an artificial forest made of a network of wires strung between delicate columns. High overhead, metal sheets fold their way across a space, or form vast surfaces. Translucent planes of different colors are suspended in intricate webs of metal. The overall lighting changes from red to blue to yellow to orange. Colored shadows are cast in every direction, producing blurry zones of imagined activity. The effect is at once precise and indeterminate. It is as if the very realism of the image frees the imagination. The sheer number of images collaborates with the sounds to increase the sense of realism. A technological aesthetic acts as the prop for an intense fantasy about a new but unspecified way of life.
After more than 100 images are shown, the last suddenly evaporates and the lights return. The audience is still blinking when a single cheer of ‘Bravo!’ rings out. But in the extended discussion that follows, there are protests. New Babylon might be the liberating way of the future, or it might just as easily be a nightmarish high-tech pleasure prison. Either way, it is a shock. Constant is no stranger to the audience, having been a founding member of the renowned Cobra group of artists whose most important exhibition had been at the Stedelijk Museum at the end of 1949.(2) But in 1953 he rejected painting, and hadn’t been back to the museum until May 1959 when a solo exhibition of intricate constructions in wood, wire, and plexiglass culminated in a large model entitled Ambiance d’une ville future (Ambience of a Future City).(3) The model would become one of the centerpieces of New Babylon and was featured in the lecture. The painter had returned as a strange kind of architect — a situationist architect.
The Politics of Atmosphere
Constant was a founding member of the Situationist International, a small group of activists that radicalized cultural criticism and political critique between 1957 and 1972. The catalog of the 1959 Stedelijk Museum exhibition had been published by the collective’s own press and the subsequent lecture elaborated some of the key terms of its discourse. The group had established itself around the idea of ‘unitary urbanism,’ a subversion of conventional urban planning set in motion by their infamous derive, the roaming drift that undermines the structure of the city by locating transient atmospheres outside the control of any centralized authority or dominant economic force. Analyzing their day-long treks through the streets of Paris, they argued that cities are actually filled with hidden centers of attraction, force fields, and flows of desire. The visible order of the city harbors a psychological order that can be explored and would be revolutionary if exploited. Situationists are experts in atmosphere, developing the ‘science’ of psychogeography to map its elusive contours. The documentation of their drunken meanders soon evolved into calculated interventions in the urban fabric and full-scale street protests that became an integral part of the 1968 battles. Atmosphere becomes the basis of political action. The seemingly ephemeral is mobilized as the agent of concrete struggle. As the fantasized endpoint of that struggle, New Babylon is a huge atmosphere jukebox that can only be played by a completely revolutionized society.
The project develops the logic of the dérive into a form of ‘architectural science fiction.’(4) Nobody works in this futuristic world.
There is only playful drifting through an infinite and endlessly manipulable interior space. A more or less fixed structure, between 15 and 40 meters deep, made of state-of-the-art lightweight titanium and nylon, is suspended 15 to 20 meters off the ground, acting as the framework for continuous transformations of micro-spaces within it. There are no volumes, only fields of countless shapes to be negotiated by roving inhabitants. The old ground-based cities with their static organization have been abandoned as an outmoded technology. A few isolated sectors of this new city are built, and progressively take over, multiplying into an ever-growing network that has no limits, no exterior — ‘a camp for nomads on a planetary scale.’(5) The endless space of daily life is completely enclosed. Every now and then, it suddenly opens to the sky or the ground beneath. Lenses mounted in windows offer magnified views of the traffic, the stars, and adjacent neighborhoods, but it is the ‘artificial landscape’ of the interior that dominates the attention, and changes like the weather.
The suspended floors ‘represent a sort of extension of the earth-surface, a new skin that covers the earth and multiplies its living-space.’(6) It is a chaotic terrain with mobile building elements and environmental control devices allowing people to actively construct moods and develop new forms of behavior.[prognosis almost, like some conservative 'oracles' assumed that old people would not exist anymore in 'the future'] The models for this ‘playgroundlike’ construction are the marginal spaces in the outmoded urban system: ‘these areas of the historical cities, where the outcasts of the utilitarian society stick together, these poor quarters where racial minorities, artists, students, prostitutes, and intellectuals are living together.’(7) But such spaces only offer a hint of the future. They cannot be used as a prescription without being transformed into a new official order that will itself need to be subverted. By definition, the future cannot be pictured. New Babylon is not an image of the future but an image of what the future may require. Unlike a traditional plan, ‘every element is left undetermined... The project for New Babylon only intends to give the minimum conditions for a behavior that must remain as free as possible.’(8)(the work is like a very precise statement, s statement being an utterance without a manual, an extrapolation) Constant as an artist creates precise works of art(a work cannot be unprecise), his toolbox of ideas as precise and unfinished as his work)
Everyone and everything moves. The family home, as the paradigm of a static social order and a fixed sense of orientation, is replaced by transit hotels dispersed throughout the structure. The old sense of orientation within a clear spatial order gives way to a pervasive ‘principle of disorientation.’(9) Much of the interior is folded into a labyrinthine density to ‘develop the ancient forces of architectural confusion.’(1O) Even the shape of the labyrinth is
always changing. The point-to-point efficiency of the modern city is abandoned. All paths become ‘detours.’ Mobility and disorientation increase social interaction exponentially. Heterogeneous desires collide and generate new spaces.(11)
Daily life does not occur in New Babylon. It is New Babylon. Constant rejects any distinction between design and desire, architecture and psychology, space and social life: ‘Spatiality is social.(unitarian) In New Babylon social space is social spatiality. Space as a psychic dimension (abstract space) cannot be separated from the space of action (concrete space).’(12) Every transformation of the space, no matter how minor, is understood as a direct intervention in social life that sets off a ‘chain reaction’ of responses. New forms of behavior evolve, only to be challenged by the next spatial move, and so on. New Babylon is a vast playground in which the fantasy of self-critical avant-garde experimental art has been generalized into a collective life style. Art as a discrete practice critiquing the dominant order becomes redundant. Daily life has become an all-embracing artwork using every available medium simultaneously, a ‘unitary’ urbanism.
Constant first heard about unitary urbanism in September 1956 at the Primo congresso mondiale degli artisti liberi (First World Congress of Free Artists) held in the provincial Italian town of Alba. The congress was organized by the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus that had been founded in 1953 by Constant’s old Cobra colleague Asger Jorn and the painter Pinot Gallizio. Also attending was a delegate of the Lettrist International founded in 1952 by the brilliant poet, filmmaker, and strategic activist Guy Debord.His group had been waging a campaign against functionalist architecture in their mimeographed newsletter Potlatch since 1954. The ‘repulsive’ Le Corbusier was the designated enemy. Amongst other crimes, he had taken away that ‘we have a right to expect from truly impressive architecture — disorientation on a daily basis.’(13) Jorn had worked for Le Corbusier during the late thirties, but from 1946 on had opposed functionalist architecture. His 1954 article on the subject impressed Debord, who published part of it at the end of the same year in Potlatch, and they discussed the possibility of linking their groups(*). With this in mind, the lettrist Gil Wolman was sent to the congress in Alba by Debord with a prepared statement insisting that it was time to move beyond condemning functionalism and to develop a whole new unitary urbanism based on the ‘construction of atmosphere.’ While Le Corbusier had the ‘impertinence’ to present his architecture as unchangeable, its infinitely suspect organization will soon evaporate: ‘Since Le Corbusier made his work an illustration and powerful instrument of action for the worst forces of repression, that work — of which certain teaching should nevertheless be integrated — will disappear completely.’(14) Functionalist design offered valuable lessons but would be dissipated by a new way of life, a new way of occupying space. This stance was endorsed by the congress, which adopted a collective platform on unitary urbanism that was published in Potlatch in November. The members of both groups signed a mimeographed leaflet calling for demonstrations in favor of unitary urbanism that was distributed one month later in the streets ofTurin.(15)
Hearing favorable reports from Jorn and Wolman, Debord tried to make contact with Constant. In December 1956, he traveled from his mother’s house in Cannes to Alba. Having stayed on in Gallizio’s house after the congress, Constant was already working on models inspired by the concept of unitary urbanism which would gradually evolve into New Babylon. They got along well, discussing the possible futures of urban life. At the end of his stay, Debord suggested that they memorialize their solidarity. Everyone staying in the house posed in front of a local photographer’s painted backdrop: a gang in matching winter coats looks confidently into the camera; the new ringleader stands in the center with the modelmaker to one side. When Constant returned to Amsterdam, Debord wrote to him about the imminent formation of an even more radical group that would, as they both demanded, abandon the suspect terrain of fine art to concentrate on architecture:
"We are working on organizing a more advanced movement — before lettrism and Bauhaus split up(see: Wahtever happened to total design, 1998 Mark Wigley)
this movement would really be founded on questions of psychogeography, the construction of ambiences, behavior and architecture. If not, one could only have chatterings around painting or well- known literature. I will keep you posted on publications we will be making in this transitional phase. We need to define our objectives. If I can judge by our conversations in Alba, I think that we may be able to meet you on new terrain and I definitely hope so."(16) (see http://bureaudetudes.org, brian holmes)
In July 1957, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and the Lettrist International were combined into the Situationist International with Constant as a founding member. A close friendship and collaboration quickly developed. Debord and Constant stayed in each other’s apartments and maintained intense correspondence while collaborating on derives, journals, congresses, leaflets, manifestos, exhibitions, manifestations, and diverse experiments. In 1958, Constant completed the first fully detailed models of his project, and, in early 1959, Debord wrote an essay about them for the May exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, although it was ultimately not included in the catalog.(17) The first account of the project appeared in July when Potlatch (see Mauss, the Gift) was revived. An essay by Constant entitled ‘Le grand jeu a venir’ (The Great Game to Come) sketches out what will be required in an ‘ambience-city,’ yet does not describe any details of his design.(18) Indeed, the photograph of his Ambiance d’une ville future model is pointedly labeled ‘pre-situationniste’ and a short report by Debord on the Stedelijk Museum exhibition argues that the models ‘do no more than state the problem of unitary urbanism.’ But he immediately goes on to say that such constructions exemplify the radical critique of traditional art needed to mobilize a new kind of political activism. Aesthetic detachment in the service of consumer culture gives way to action:
"This exhibition could mark the turning point, in the modern world of art production, between self-sufficient merchandise-objects, meant solely to be looked at, and project-objects, whose more complex appreciation calls for some sort of action, an action on a higher level having to do with the totality of life."(19)
The strategic importance of the project escalated at the end of the year when Debord used two images of another of Constant’s models as the only illustration of the analysis of the relationship between revolutionary politics and art that opens the third issue of Internationale Situationniste, the collective’s sporadic journal. The images illustrate the argument that constructed situations are the opposite of works of art, that situationists are ‘the organizers of the absence’ of the aesthetic avant-garde.(20) The architectural model is what appears when art is discarded. The issue concludes with ‘Une autre ville pour une autre vie’ (Another City for Another Life), an essay by Constant that again rejects the traditional arts and is illustrated with the first sketch plans and sections of his proposed design.(21) The project had quickly gone from being considered ‘pre-situationist’ to what Debord would soon describe as ‘the most advanced’ manifestation of the group’s efforts.
Debord was deeply invested in the project, having been the one who commissioned the two photographs he used, precisely specifying the angle they should be taken from. He even invented the name ‘New Babylon’ in response to Constant’s initial proposal of ‘Deri-ville.’ The name did not appear until June 1960, when the fourth issue of Internationale Situationniste featured Constant’s analysis of yet another key model. But it was precisely in that month that Constant resigned from the collective. He stopped referring to the situationists and they stopped referring to him. By the time of the Stedelijk Museum lecture six months later, major concepts like psychogeography and unitary urbanism remain in Constant’s polemic, but the people who invented them have evaporated. Soon, even the concepts fall away. While Constant elaborated the design and theory of his project for another 14 years, the relationship between the situationists and architecture remained problematic on both sides.(22)
At the beginning there was no problem. On the contrary, the situationists invested everything in architecture. The Lettrist International had been insistent that a new form of architecture be developed. In May 1954, they used an issue of the magazine La carte d’après nature, edited by René Magritte, to announce that they had already established such an architecture’s ‘first principles’ through psychogeographic research. Architecture could be used to turn some seemingly accidental playful qualities of urban existence into a whole new way of life:
"The great civilization that is on its way will construct situations and adventures. A science if life is possible. The adventurer seeks out and creates adventure, rather than wait for it to come. The conscious use of environments will condition constantly renewed behaviors. The role of those small flights of chance which we call fate will continue to fade. An architecture, an urban planning and a mood- affecting form if plastic expression — the first principles if which exist today — will work in concert toward this end."(23)
Potlatch started a month later and similar claims are repeated throughout each issue. The goal is a ‘great game’ combining mastery of atmosphere with ‘a compelling town planning.’(24) Jorn is cited to the effect that ‘architecture is always the ultimate achievement of intellectual and artistic evolution, the materialization of an economic stage.’(25) The subversion of traditional structures must give way to subversive structures. ‘We have to experiment with forms of architecture as well as rules of conduct’(26) while looking forward to ‘the complete construction of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone.’(27)
Atmosphere (symbol of unitarism )- (a glove)- a desire and a continuously projection of fragmented modernism. The unity and the assemblage, their correlation. A says : space is absorbed by the repurcussions of capitalist systems No passive observers, no disticntions between artists and 'others'
http://www.archdaily.com/466239/oase-91-building-atmosphere-with-peter-zumthor-and-juhani-pallasmaa/ (an absolute contradiction to situationist of architecture trying to regain and construct a manual to direct , relate physicalities, inhabitation etc)
How could architecture be subversive?
All situationists are architects inasmuch as their mission is the ‘construction’ of ‘concrete’ situations in the specific context of the city. Yet this construction can never assume the solidity and immobility of traditional buildings. Situations are never more than transient atmospheres. How can particular architectural forms sustain the subversion of form? If psychogeography locates areas ‘as ideal for drifting as they are scandalously unfit for habitation,’(28) how can forms of habitation be developed out of the dérive without freezing and therefore destroying it? The usual concerns for housing conditions, architectural style, form, economy, and planning must give way to the free manipulation of atmosphere. The role of architecture must be transformed. At the very least, its mechanisms have to be subjected to the situationists’ preferred strategy of ‘détournement.’(29) Architecture must be appropriated in seemingly illegitimate ways and twisted to other ends.
In May 1956, Debord and Wolman speak of an experimental stage which will ‘détourn (detournements) existing architectural forms.’(30) Six months later, Debord predicts that ‘one day we will construct cities made for the dérive.’(31) But he only fully embraces the active invention of specific forms after repeated discussions with Constant. 'Rapport sur la construction des situations' (Report on the Construction of Situations), the pamphlet he prepared for circulation at the inaugural congress in 1957, argues that unitary urbanism will involve ‘the creation of new forms’ in addition to ‘the détournement of previous forms of architecture, urbanism, poetry and cinema.’(32)(*) Instead of producing new atmosphere with architecture, atmosphere will produce new architecture:
‘Architecture must advance by taking emotionally moving situations, rather than emotionally moving forms, as the material it works with. And the experiments conducted with this
material will lead to unknown forms.’ Rigorous psychogeographic research will lead to an ‘experimental city,’ a ‘situationist city.’
Debord’s text refers obliquely to an unpublished manuscript from 1953 by the lettrist Ivan Chtcheglov that fantasized a reorganized city ‘of tomorrow’ in which each quarter would be given different psychological qualities. Air conditioning, artificial light, and mobile structures would enable the production of endlessly changing and disorienting landscapes: ‘architecture, at least initially, will be a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life.’(33)(*) Chtcheglov’s essay, ‘Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau’ (Formulary for a New Urbanism), was published under the pseudonym Gilles Ivain in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste in June 1958. In the following issue, Constant described the essay’s proposals as ‘chimerical’ because they lacked a specific technical basis. He attempted to realize them by designing a world of endless drift facilitated by the latest and imagined technologies. To transform daily life, new mechanisms would be invented and deployed in the ‘visual, oral, and psychological’ domains.(34) Debord supported the project’s complete confusion of the dérive and urban construction. Having earlier insisted that ‘there can be no situationist painting or music but only a situationist use of these means,’(35) he comfortably used the expressions ‘situationist architecture’ and ‘situationist architect’ — even proposing the construction of mobile cities that would wander across the landscape.
he refused the distinction between theory and practice
It is not that Debord wanted psychogeography to be used as the theoretical prescription for certain practices. On the contrary, he refused the distinction between theory and practice, between critique of the city and action within it. Unitary urbanism ‘has already begun the moment it appears as a program of research and development.’(36) The pleasure seeking drift through atmospheres that subverts urban structure becomes indistinguishable from the construction of new urban form. The process of designing, the design itself and the life that will go on in it have to be the same thing. As Chtcheglov had already argued, an architecture that could be endlessly modified by the desires of its occupants will be at once ‘a means of knowledge and a means of action.’(37) Psychogeographic analysis and situationist architecture would be indistinguishible. Constant took this to heart. In early 1959, he enlisted three collaborators, Armando (and later in the Zero group: Peeters, Schoonhoven,Peeters, Klein, Manzoni, Piene, Uecker), Har Oudejans and A. Alberts, to form the ‘Bureau de recherches de urbanisme unitaire’ as the Dutch section of the Situationist International. Research and design would be unified. New Babylon continues, rather than applies, the situationist readings. The new city emerges out of a radical interpretation of the old one.
In 1955 Debord had suggested that traditional city maps could be reappropriated and transformed to produce psychogeographic maps that document the hidden psychological structure of urban space. A year later and again in mid-1957, he and Jorn produced two such maps: Guide Psychogeographique de Paris and The Naked City, both of which became emblematic of the situationist project. The most generic maps of Paris are cut up and rearranged. Sections of the city with a particular ambience are isolated and repositioned in psychological rather than physical relationships. The parts of the city that lack atmospheric intensity are simply removed. Zones of intense ambience float free on the blank page, linked only by unidirectional red arrows that define flows of attraction.
A more nuanced version of the map was produced at the end of 1957 for Memoires, Debord and Jorn’s collage book on the early years of the Lettrist International.(38) The arrows were now fragmented into multiple
streaks that overlap, rather than simply link, the zones of ambience. A more complex picture of desire and movement emerges. Small fragments of theoretical text are dispersed on the page like architectural elements,
calling on the eye to navigate through theory with the same eccentric movements that navigate the hidden resonances of the city.(this is like an invitation for the re-edit of the book!)
These images were very influential on the development of New Babylon, which precisely takes the form of a psychogeographic map. Each section of the vast structure that leapfrogs across the landscape operates like
a zone of the traditional city with a particular atmosphere. The lines of traffic circulation take the place of psychogeographic arrows. The pattern is repeated at a smaller scale in plan and section within each sector.
The detailed drawings of the interior show discrete spaces of atmospheric intensity linked by flowing lines. This sense of a psychogeographic map started to become explicit with the 'Groep Sectoren' (Group of Sectors)
model and plans of 1959. The plexiglass layers of the model blur the usual distinction between model and map by visually collapsing all the levels upon one another; the plans are filled with architectural detail that emphasizes the repetition of the large-scale pattern of drift within each structure. (remark : -show details of the construction of the models-)
Debord enthused that finally ‘the derive will manifest itself in three dimensions.’(39)
But it was just six months later that Constant resigned and Debord rejected the possibility that situationist architecture could have a specific form. The collective promptly carried out yet another of its trademark assassinations. In September of 1960, Attila Kotanyi and Raoul Vaneigem took over the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism, moving its base to Brussels and giving it a new program in the sixth issue of Internationale Situationniste in August 1961, rejecting architecture as ‘falsely satisfying a falsified need’ and urbanism as ‘a rather neglected branch of criminology.’(40)(*) Constant became a role model of what to avoid. In the same issue, the reader is reassured that ‘this cunning soul, among two or three plagiarisms of badly understood situationist ideas, shamelessly offers himself as a public relations man for integrating the masses into capitalist technical civilization.’(41) After New Babylon was given a prominent place in one of the most influential architectural journals in 1962, the editorial of the eighth issue of Internationale Situationniste referred to it as an ‘extremely meager subtheory.’(42) The final blow came in the same January 1963 issue when Debord used ‘Constant’s technocratic concept of a situationist profession’ as an example of‘deviationist seeds that have since blossomed into gross results.’(43) From the center of Debord’s ever-tightening circle, the project was presented as a failure. New Babylon became part of the spectacular economy under attack. The very idea of a situationist architect was seemingly dismissed, banished from situationist discourse with the other art forms it had so fervently critiqued.Yet New Babylon had a very different life — a different history — in architectural discourse. It grew out of a series of connections that Constant had with architectural culture that preceded his engagement with the situationists and continued long afterwards. Another kind of picture emerges from this wider perspective, and another sense of the project’s strategic impact on situationist tactics.
The Playground of Architecture
Constant spent some time in London in 1952, moving around a lot and becoming fascinated by the intricacies of urban form. The city itself seemed to realize the dreams of avant-garde artists better than their work. By the time of his return to Amsterdam in early 1953, he was obsessed with space — with new possibilities of structure and organization — and asked the architect Aldo van Eyck to give him some books to study. After reading these basic books on construction techniques, he went to the library for more advanced information on reinforced concrete and new metals like titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel. The rejection of painting had become a full-blown turn to architecture.
Van Eyck was a friendly guide. They had first met in 1947. In fact, it was through this meeting that Constant’s collaboration with Asger Jorn was cemented. Constant had been looking at some Miró canvases in a gallery in Paris when Jorn walked in trying to sell some lithographs. That evening, they met again in a café and Jorn described his dream of an international movement of artists. When Jorn visited Amsterdam a few weeks later, he and Constant went to Van Eyck’s home; the architect was said to have acquired some Miros while living in Switzerland during the war. A bond was immediately established around the relationship between art and architecture. Van Eyck became a shadow member of the Cobra group and designed the celebrated installation of their most important show at the Stedelijk Museum in November 1949. In the same year, the first issue of the cobra magazine featured an attack on functionalist architecture. At the time, Van Eyck was also leaning away from orthodox modernism, having made a famous attack on rationalism to the most influential international architects at the 1947 meeting of their organization CIAM (Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne).(44)
When Constant first turned to architecture, Van Eyck regularly took him to the meetings of De 8, the Amsterdam-based group that acted as the Dutch branch of CIAM along with Opbouw, the Rotterdam group. The journal Forum was their vehicle. The presence of an artist was accepted at the fortnightly meetings of architects because he was Van Eyck’s colleague. A 1953 issue of Forum devoted to CIAM featured their collaboration for the Mens en huis (Man and House) exhibition on modern interior design at the Stedelijk Museum in November 1952. Reacting against the display of aesthetically approved furnishings in the exhibition, the architect had selected a small canvas the artist had just painted in London and designed a colored space to surround a wall-size enlargement of the work. Constant literally surrounded himself with architecture. At the De 8 meetings, he was able to absorb architectural discourse by some of the most important international figures of the day like Van Eyck, Gerrit Rietveld, Cornelis van Eesteren, Sandy van Ginkel, and Benjamin Merkelbach, while remaining skeptical: ‘I wanted to learn... I was aware that there was quite a distance between us. They were thinking about present conditions. I was dreaming of the future.’(45) When the New Babylon project began, he stopped going to the meetings and presented it as an attack on CIAM’s functionalist mentality. By then, Van Eyck had also pulled away from the mainstream as a member of Team 10, the international breakaway group of younger architects founded in 1953 in a protest against the doctrine of the founding generation of CIAM. But Van Eyck’s dialog with Constant ended during the New Babylon years:
"He thought about Utopia. I did not. I believed in New Babylon but he knew what it looked like. He had the combined intelligence and creativity to do it. It was a total concept. I never had a total concept. So I appreciated it but there was no discussion."(46)
The experiment with color continued when Constant collaborated with Rietveld on ‘Idea for Living,’ a model interior for a couple with two children in a 1954 furniture exhibition displayed at De Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam. Rietveld designed and furnished two rooms and Constant provided the color scheme.(47) While collaborating with Van Eyck, Constant had polemicized the work with a theoretical essay: entitled ‘Spatiaal colorisme’ (Spatial Colorism), it argued that the intimate bond between color and form should become the basis of an equally intimate bond between artist and architect. A ‘constructive’ collaboration had to displace the respective disciplines in favor of ‘a totally new plastic art with its own independent laws, and with a potential far outstripping that of both architecture and painting.’(48) The essay was published in a limited edition with some silk-screens of the installation and later reprinted in Forum. Constant sent a copy to Rietveld, who returned it covered with detailed pencil notes. They maintained a dialogue on the question long after their collaboration was completed.
Rietveld and Constant were both members of the Liga Nieuw Beelden (League for New Representation) that had been established in 1954 to foster the unification of artists and architects. Monthly meetings were held in the house of its founder, Charles Karsten, an architect who had also been one of the founding members of De 8 but had since become a sculptor. He organized talks by all the members of De 8 but also by key figures like Mart Stam, Jacob Bakema, J.H. van den Broek, Naum Gabo, and Carola Giedion-Welcker. A monthly mimeographed bulletin documented the evolving positions and occasionally Forum would report on the group’s activities. Constant was a frequent participant in the panel discussions and contributor to the Liga Bulletin.(49) His ‘constructions’ were included in the group’s annual exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum.(50)
Constant’s work had not suddenly ‘become’ architectural when he came into contact with the situationists and their theories of urban life. His constructions had been carefully positioned at the threshold to architecture and slowly moved across it over a number of years.
An important part of this strategic displacement was an ongoing collaboration with the sculptors Steven Gilbert and Nicolas Schoffer between 1953 and 1956. They too wanted to become architects. Gilbert had been one of Constant’s Cobra colleagues in the late forties, but started working on designs for houses and apartment buildings. Schoffer was designing whole cities. In 1953 he invited Gilbert and Constant to his studio in Paris to see if they would collaborate on the theme of‘spatiodynamism’ that had obsessed him since 1948. He defined it as ‘the constructive and dynamic integration of space in a plastic work’ and had produced a series of open metal frames animated by movement, noise, light, music, projections and constantly changing angles of perception. As the structures grew, they took on urbanistic pretensions, literally moving through the city under their own guidance or towering overhead to project an atmosphere of flickering light and sound. They soon took over the whole urban space. In 1952, Schoffer prepared drawings of a Spatiodynamic City. The city would be a ‘giant sculpture’ for ‘leisure’ made of long translucent volumes floating 16 meters in the air on pilotis and divided into two levels with ‘sliding, pivoting or disappearing walls’ to accommodate any function. The structure was suspended in a ‘network of communicating arteries’ with helicopters landing on the roof and cars on the ground beneath. The plan was to simultaneously build experimental centers in different countries that would be modified as they gradually extended themselves across the landscape.(51)
Looking at some constructions and hearing the theory, Constant and Gilbert agreed to collaborate. All three worked with a similar geometry, suspending colored panels in metal frameworks, but things went slowly. It was not until the beginning of 1955 that Schoffer prepared a provisional draft of a manifesto on spatiodynamism and Gilbert and Constant modified the text, retitling it ‘Neo-Vision’ to distinguish it from Schoffer’s personal concerns. In March, Schoffer and Gilbert presented it in Schoffer’s apartment to some fellow members of the Groupe Espace that had been founded in 1952 by Andre Bloc, the influential editor of L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui and L’Art d’aujourd’hui.(52) After a few minor modifications, architect Claude Parent, composer Pierre Henry, engineer Jacques Bureau and art critic Guy Habasque added their signatures. Such a team had always been envisaged. Parent had collaborated on the original Spatiodynamic City project and in June 1954 published an article with the architect Ionel Shein which condemned functionalism and praised mobility in the Belgian journal Architecture. Schoffer then collaborated with Parent and Shein on a project for a radio broadcast center that was exhibited in the Salon des realities nouvelles. Once again, a variety of shapes was suspended in an open metal frame. In the next two years, Parent and Schoffer produced unrealized designs for a commercial center in the same mode, a pair of spatiodynamic apartments, and a theater.(53) Gilbert became a member of Group Espace and hoped the Neo-Vision team could link up with an English branch of the group when he moved to London, but Bloc’s attempts to set up such a branch failed. The plan was to use a major exhibition of Neo-Vision projects at the intersection of art and architecture. Constant proposed the Stedelijk Museum and Willem Sandberg, the director of the museum, agreed to present the show. But a month before its scheduled February 1956 opening, the exhibition collapsed be
cause the transportation of all the large structures from Paris could not be arranged.
Throughout this time, Schoffer collaborated with almost all the Groupe Espace members, but Gilbert and Constant kept a certain distance from what they considered his more ‘mystical’ approach and independently maintained a regular correspondence on the relationship between art and architecture. They exchanged comments on each other’s manuscripts and discussed the role of architects like Bakema, Auguste Perret, and Le Corbusier. At the beginning of 1954, Constant sent Gilbert a copy of the first Liga Bulletin. Both found its call for an integration of art and architecture promising but agreed on a more radical view: the traditional arts were simply inadequate for the new task; architecture had to take over.(54) They floated the idea of a magazine on the theme of ‘Art and Habitat.’ ‘Habitat’ had been the rallying cry for the foundation of Team 10 in 1953 and the main point of discussion between Van Eyck and his colleagues when Constant first turned to architecture.(55) Constant sent Gilbert several versions of an essay that uses the concept of habitat to collapse the distinction between art and architecture; Gilbert passed some of the documents along to Anthony Hill and Victor Pasmore — two English artists ‘in the same line with us’ — who agreed to add their signatures to the venture.(56)
A 1955 version of Constant’s ‘Art et habitat’ essay carries traces of all the various connections he had with architectural discourse during these years and prefigures the mentality of New Babylon. The final section, ‘For an Urban Aesthetic’, contrasts the fixed relations of the traditional artwork with the endless movement in the city and calls for an aesthetic of ‘unlimited elasticity’ — an ‘ambience of freedom.’(57) The traditional distinctions between inside and outside established by a linear system of streets and facades would have to be replaced with a more complex sculptural play between masses and voids that sets up a new kind of urban rhythm. As in Schoffer’s city, pilotis would establish a complete disengagement from the ground. The repetition of similar small elements would be broken by the idiosyncratic forms of communal spaces like schools, cinemas, and shopping centers.
While the Art and Habitat project never gained momentum, Constant did publish some of the ideas in a 1955 article for Forum entitled ‘Van samenwerking naar absolute eenheid van de plastische kunsten’ (From Collaboration to Absolute Unity Among the Plastic Arts). The essay insists that the old idea of collaboration between art and architecture has to be abandoned. Instead of combining individual art forms in a way that ‘stifles’ architecture, every discipline has to concentrate on the production of ‘habitat, a fundamental form that encompasses all facets of life.’(58) The discrete identity of disciplines and individual practitioners will disappear. Architecture will lead the way in this self-erasure because of its intimate connection with daily life and long-standing embrace of mechanization. Specialized technicians and engineers will join the team to help reject the subjective expressionism that dominates the arts. The architect’s usual ‘inferiority complex when faced with this turbulent stream of artistic hocus-pocus’ will evaporate in favor of a new collective form of production.
The single illustration for the text is a photograph of Monument voor de wederopbouw (Monument for Reconstruction), a sixteen meter tall structure that Constant had just built for the E55 exhibition in Rotterdam. Commissioned by Bakema, it resembled the open framed metal sculptures with colored plexiglass inserts that Constant, Gilbert, and Schoffer had been working on and was published in Forum, Bouwkundig Weekblad, L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, and L’Art d’aujourd’hui.
Constant did not simply absorb architectural discourse during these years; he was involved in a number of such realizations. Indeed, each of his encounters with the architectural world seemed to lead to some kind of practical construction, enabling him to experiment with the logic of play that would later be developed in New Babylon. Van Eyck, who had been responsible for countless playgrounds in Amsterdam since 1947, helped him obtain commissions for playgrounds and play equipment. Constant’s stainless steel swings and reinforced concrete seating platforms carried over the logic of the glass and metal table and metal stool that he had designed for commercial production by the Het Spectrum company in 1953,(59) as did the mobile construction he made in 1956 for the lobby of the municipal housing company in Amsterdam. Traces of these projects can be found throughout New Babylon.
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The Infrastructure of Play
By the time Constant made contact with the situationists, he had absorbed a depth of architectural culture, adopted polemical positions, and elaborated specific designs. He arrived at the 1956 Alba conference with the text ‘Demain la poesie logera la vie’ (Tomorrow Life Will Reside in Poetry) criticizing functionalist architecture for being hypocritically decorative in its use of primitive construction methods. To avoid being ‘dispersed’ in the void between engineering and sculpture, he argued, ‘audacious’ new forms of architectural practice must imaginatively deploy the latest postwar techniques of metal and reinforced concrete structure. These technologies ‘have developed to such an extent that construction methods represent virtually no further obstacle at all to the realization of very free forms, involving an absolutely original conception of space.’60
With the formation of the Situationist International, the different critiques of functionalist architecture by Debord, Jorn, and Constant combined to initiate an intense debate. Debord’s 1957 Rapport sur la construction des situations attacks the theory of functionalist architecture established by the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier for being based ‘on the most reactionary social and ethical conceptions... an excessively reactionary notion of life and its framework.’61 The pamphlet calls for a ‘holistic’ unitary urbanism ‘infinitely more all-encompassing than the old empire of architecture over the traditional arts.’62 In the same year, the situationist press (which was funded by Jorn) published all of Jorn’s essays about architecture as the book Pour le forme with The Naked City psychogeographic map added as an insert. In the second issue of Internationale Situationniste of June 1958, Constant argued against Jorn’s rejection of machines and was answered by Debord and Jorn. The debate continued when Constant began his Stedelijk Museum catalog with citations from his September 1958 letter to his fellow situationists reaffirming his rejection of painting and calling for a creative use of machines:
Those who mistrust the machine and those who glorify it show the same incapacity to utilize it. Machine work and mass production offer unheard-of possibilities for creation, and those who are able to place these possibilities at the service of a daring imagination will be my creators of tomorrow.
Artists have the task of inventing new techniques and of using light, sound, movement, and in general all the inventions that can have an effect on environments.
Otherwise the integration of art into the construction of the human habitat remains illusory.
Ten years separate us from Cobra, and the history of so-called experimental art demonstrates its errors to us.
We ought therefore to invent new techniques in all domains, visual, oral, and psychological, so as later to combine them in the complex activity that will produce unitary urbanism.63
Constant repeatedly distanced himself from both the functionalist embrace of the machine, which forfeited the status of art, and the ‘hatred’ of the machine that Cobra shared with all the artistic movements ‘from William Morris’ through to ‘a more recent tendency like action-painting.’64 It is not that Constant simply rejected the Cobra mentality outright. Traces of his early paintings remain in New Babylon. In fact, it can be argued that he was able to take Cobra’s playful concern with psychological excess to a new mass level by rejecting the cult of the individual artist and privileging the machine. New Babylon combines the critique of modern architecture with the deployment of the latest technical develop-ments. High technology is displaced from work to play. Efficiency of structure and movement becomes extravagance. Clarity becomes confusion. Precisely defined objects become indeterminate fields. Direct paths become serpentine. Abstract visual order becomes an enveloping sensuous eccentric rhythm of light, sound, smell, and color.
In New Babylon, the Team 10 mentality is everywhere evident, from the rejection of the garden city idea and the abolition of master planning to the specific details of the design. Van Eyck had concentrated on the informal way in which daily life operates in the city according to a completely different kind of pattern than the apparent urban order. His playgrounds were the laboratory for this research. Constant’s pivotal Ambiance de jeu (Ambience of Play) model of 1956, which marks the beginning of New Babylon as a spatial organization rather than free floating sculptural objects, is nothing more than a playground design in the spirit of Van Eyck’s projects. In 1955, Van Eyck had already monumentalized the logic of his playgrounds in his acclaimed orphanage building for Amsterdam. Its labyrinthine form with endless different paths, and a web of microclimates generated by the users rather than the architect, resonates with the mentality of New Babylon operating at a larger scale.
Another critical influence on the project was the ‘streets-in-the-air’ concept that Alison and Peter Smithson presented in 1953 to the ninth CIAM congress as a possible replacement for the basic principles the organization had established twenty years earlier in its infamous document, The Athens Charter. They argued that the appropriate pattern of associations between people and functions cannot be predicted. Social groupings are the product of ‘looseness’ of spatial organization and easy communication rather than fixed patterns. Architects should provide a structure that is open to unexpected and changing relationships. The internal life of a city would be suspended over the ground in a continuous multilevel complex that stressed movement patterns. Its linear form would be ‘connected where necessary to work and to those ground elements that are necessary at each level of association... Our hierarchy of associations is woven into a modulated continuum representing the true complexity of human association.’65 The concept was first developed in an unsuccessful entry to the Golden Lane Housing competition of 1952. Three levels of elevated ‘street mesh’ spread out across an area of Central London. The structure zigzags in a labyrinthine pattern and the different angled blocks all ‘flow into one another with an uninterrupted articulation.’1 The Smithsons kept elaborating the project, adjusting the details and moving it to different sites; photocollaging it, for example, onto bombed out areas of traditional cities. They took the idea one step further in 1958 when they collaborated with Peter Sigmond on an entry for the Berlin Hauptstadt competition. Rather than sitting on the ground and displacing a run-down neighborhood, the meandering overlapping networks now hover over a ‘ruined city.’ Suspended high off the ground, the network is ‘free and irregular, providing routes and spaces for the random patterns of pedestrian movement.’2 One of the plans was published in
the Liga Bulletin by Constant’s colleague Alberts,3 and a similar sense of hovering multiple overlapping systems of movement would become central to New Babylon.Such strategies were variations within the overall concept of ‘infrastructure.’ Architects provide a basic support for an unforeseeable and ever-changing life. The spatial system is, as the Smithsons put it, but ‘a framework, like drains, to which everyone connects up.’69 Furthermore, buildings are understood as a form of landscape, a terrain on which social transactions take place. Team 10 projects by the Smithsons, Georges Candilis, Woods, and Bakema drew on precedents in Le Corbusier’s megastructural fantasies to develop the strategy, but the concept was much more widespread. It can be seen, for example, in the open-plan office ‘landscapes’ that emerged as a spin-off of generic modernism during the second half of the 1950s. A structural framework is again provided for a free play of program, furnishing and organization. Elements are standardized, flexible, and replaceable to produce a mobility and unpredictability of activity. This sense of infrastructural landscape would dominate experimental architecture from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. New Babylon became an early part of this experimental tradition, absorbing the conceptual lessons of Team 10 and echoing some of the formal strategies, but also changing the trajectory significantly.
While the Team 10 proposals are explicitly based on the preservation of the house, New Babylon is based on its vaporization. All the Team 10 founding documents on ‘habitat’ insist on the everyday house as the paradigm; their designs aim to progressively expand the logic of the private house to the street to the district to the town.1 The Smithsons associated their schemes with the ‘random aesthetic’ of action paintings by Jackson Pollock, the related art brut of Jean Dubuffet, and the work of their Independent Group colleague Eduardo Paolozzi, but they located fixed domestic organizations within that pattern. Even the precise view from each suspended private garden is specified. In contrast, the apparently similar aesthetic of Constant’s project is formed out of the debris of the exploded house. The freedom to infinitely rearrange the environment is seen to be dependent on the collapse of restrictive institutions, starting with that of the family. The situationists’ very first displacement is that from architecture as a fixed form derivative of the closed physical space of the house to the ‘architectural complex’ as ephemeral atmosphere. The eccentric geometry of this normally hidden complex cannot be associated with the ‘spontaneous’ gestures of the Cobra artists or the action painters. On the contrary, as Debord argued in 1957:
The most elementary unit of unitary urbanism is not the house, but the architectural complex, which combines all the factors that makes up an ambience, or a series of distinct ambiences, on the scale of the constructed situation. The spatial development must take into account the emotional effects that the experimental city will determine... The comrades who call for a new, free architecture must understand that this new architecture will primarily be based not on free, poetic lines and forms — in the sense that today’s ‘lyrical abstract’ painting uses those words — but rather on the atmospheric effects of rooms, hallways, streets, atmospheres linked to the gestures they contain.2
The lettrist statement presented by Wolman at Alba had already argued the impossibility of Le Corbusier’s attempt to base an architecture of the future on a defunct institution of the past like the family.72 Team 10 likewise criticized Le Corbusier but maintained the institutional order. Constant absorbed many lessons from them but redirected the experimentation towards a dissolution of suspect institutions. Over the years, he would repeatedly condemn architects for simply providing spaces for current society.
In addition to transforming a number of Team 10 strategies, Constant’s vast structures incorporated many recent developments by innovative structural engineers. In keeping with its philosophy, New Babylon is a virtual catalog of structural techniques. Some of the huge webs of metal touching down on a few points clearly echo the huge metal space-frames developed by Konrad Wachsmann and Robert de Ricolais in the early 1950s, which were given international exposure in most major architectural journals in 1954.73 Likewise, the suspension of transparent planes in a three-dimensional grid and the hanging of multileveled platforms is reminiscent of designs by Frei Otto. René Sarger’s 1956 French pavilion at the Brussels Expo, where Constant exhibited, seems to have had an impact on some of the sectors, as did Richard Buckminster Fuller’s lightweight spans over vast distances, including especially Fuller’s proposals for structures that could accommodate entire cities and the suspension of multiple levels within a single spherical shell, as in the Automated Cotton Mill project of 1951. Constant learnt from these architects and engineers in the same way that they learned from each other. He promiscuously combined their techniques just as the inhabitants of New Babylon were meant to promiscuously combine resources to produce unique transient spaces.
New Babylon emerged at the intersection of early 1950s architectural discourse and the Lettrist International discourse of the same years. This intersection can clearly be seen in the series of maps Constant prepared between 1963 and 1969 showing New Babylon installed in various European cities. The maps mix megastructure drawings like those of Team 10 and psychogeographic drawings like those of Debord and Jorn. Constant reappropriated and transformed architectural culture just as Debord reappropriated the 1952 maps of the sociologist Chombart de Lauwe.74 Constant used isolated quotations from De Lauwe in his
1959 Stedclijk Museum catalog alongside photographs of the models. The Ambiance d’une ville future and Ambiance de depart models, for example, were accompanied by a line that had a huge impact on the situationist mentality: ‘An urban quarter is not determined by geographic and economic factors but by the representation that its inhabitants and those of other quarters have of it.’75 Space is psychological. New Babylon is produced by cross-fer- tilizing early 1950s architectural culture and early 1950s social geography. Debord presented Constant with a fully formed critique of urban life and Constant presented him with a fully formed critique of architecture. Both drew on Johan Huizinga’s 1938 book Homo Ludens to insist on the structural role of play.76 Political and aesthetic theory were carefully mixed and redeployed.
When Constant and Debord first met, Constant insisted that the account of unitary urbanism presented at Alba was far too vague. Precise definitions were needed as a practical and propagandist platform for further work. Debord agreed and they collaborated on such a document, with Constant writing nine of the points and Debord adding two more. After some fine tuning, they were published in the second issue of Internationale Situationniste as ‘La declaration d’Amsterdam’ (The Amsterdam Declaration).77 From then on, the two continued to make friendly critiques of each other’s texts. With the third issue, Constant became an official member of the editorial board, and Debord wrote to him, agreeing with the attempt to concretize unitary urbanism and speaking enthusiastically about each new model. One evening at the end of 1959, while looking at Constant’s latest construction in Gilbert’s apartment in Paris, Debord came up with the name ‘New Babylon’ and suggested that the description of the latest model, which would appear in the fourth issue of Internationale Situationniste, take the form of an itinerary through the sector, following a traditional architectural plan. Similar itineraries through the other sectors could then be collected together into a publication, Promenades a New Babylone, that would act as a ‘descriptive guide,’ like a tourist guidebook to an already existing city. It would be as if the situationist dreamworld was built, mapped, and simply waiting to be explored.
Debord and Constant were happy when the first exhibition of New Babylon was scheduled for January 1960 in a small gallery at Essen owned by Otto van de Loo, a close friend of Jorn who had hosted the third situationist congress in Munich in April 1959. The exhibition seemed to be a great propaganda opportunity and the small catalog featured texts by both of them. Yet this was to be the last public gesture of solidarity. Collaboration gave way to conflict.
The Scandal of Architecture
The catalyst for the break was the August 1959 issue of Forum, guest-edited by the Liga Nieuw Beelden. The editorial committee was dominated by Constant and his colleagues in the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism. Six months earlier, he had given a successful lecture organized by the Liga at the Academie voor Bouwkunst in Amsterdam on ‘The Goal and Ambition of Postwar Avant-garde Groups from “Experiments” to “Situations”.’ It cemented the formation of the Bureau and allowed it to transform the upcoming issue of Forum. Constant had always communicated his latest thinking to the Liga and continued to pass on each development after his initial exchanges with the Lettrist International. A month before the founding of the Situationist International in 1957, he made a statement in the Liga Bulletin calling for a new form of mass-collaboration that would go far beyond the organization’s idea of cooperation among artists:
The youth don’t yearn for masterpieces.The youth isfascinated by the big adventure that the face of the world is changing. And they participate.Technique, electronics, construction and movement are no longer only utilitarian names. The fantasy, once stimulated, doesn’t know any limits any more. The possibilities go beyond the vision if one single person. Only inflashes, only sometimes we can see something of the strange still unknown beauty that people can create with light, power and movement. But theseflashes are enough to fill many with enthusiasm and trust. Not only artists but everybody realizes what is going on even if he goes from a different starting point. Scientific or social because culture doesn’t let itself be split up in squares, and there is no purely artistic or purely scientific activity. For the exploration of the area that has been discovered, we need a gathering of all forces. The phase of taboos is over. The big experiment has started.78
The argument was not so different than the one Constant had made in 1948 to his colleagues in the Experimentele Groep (Experimental Group — the Dutch branch of Cobra) and developed further in 1955.79 But by 1959, the rhetoric was explicitly situationist. The Forum issue was devoted to the Liga’s usual theme of ‘Integration’ but was completely dislodged by the more radical situationist agenda. The coverage of the Liga’s latest exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum is relegated to the back of the issue which begins with collages of crowds, Brigitte Bardot, jets, highways, gallows, and telephone book entries before a series of statements on integration by Constant, Bakema, E. Hartsuyker, and Van Eyck, who insists that ‘integration = impotence.’ Photographs of exemplary collaborations, including spatio- dynamic sculptures by Schoffer and playgrounds by Van Eyck, then lead up to Constant’s redefinition of integration as the construction of situations:
The now much talked about monster treaty between functional architecture and individualistic arts has proven not to have any viability.
The integration of art and life, on which a culture is based, cannot be realized with traditional means. First, a radical change should take place in our existence and our thinking. The construction if new situations is our first and most necessary task.
These new situations could become the kernels for a rebuilding if our environment. The separate arts cannot play a role in this anymore.
Our life, and the surroundings in which it takes place, can only form an indissoluble entity, which entails everything which we now collect here and there in a fragmentary way.80
Short statements by Constant and Debord on unitary urbanism, along with one-line definitions of‘constructed situation,’ ‘situationist,’ and ‘unitary urbanism,’ frame a photo of the Ambiance d’une ville future model. Three equally space-age models — an airy railway station by Enrico Castiglioni, Konrad Wachsmann’s vast space-frame aircraft hangers, and Eero Saarinen’s twa terminal — then appear alongside an excerpt of A.F. Conard’s attack on Le Corbusier from a July 1954 issue of Potlatch.81 Situationist architecture and theory is embedded within state-of-the-art architectural culture. It was the first time that ‘official’ situationist arguments had ventured out of their usual habitat in the group’s own magazine (or surrealist journals like the Belgian Les levres nues, where some of the early key texts had appeared). And they were promptly ambushed. Debord was furious when he saw the issue. Having assisted in preparing its material, he was amazed to see that two small photographs of a church design by Oudejans and Alberts had been added alongside Constant’s text. An outraged letter to Constant details his objections:
It is impossible to construct a church within even the slightly coherent perspective if modern urbanism. And that not only morally and politically; but for directly architectural and urbanistic reasons. Within this terrain if unitary urbanism, one can see clearly how all these positions are reuniting: moral and construction form an inseparable unity. One could not say that a dogmatism or ideological fanaticism prevented certain solutions or experiences. The perspective if unitary urbanism explains perfectly the total failure of all the construction in this genre, a failure that is already evident and comical in the photographed model.82
A follow-up letter insists that the architects’ indifference to the program of a church is even unacceptable on the level of classical urbanism. Building as a form of‘sculpture’ indifferent to function ‘falls into a sort of art for arts sake, free formalist’ and marks ‘a certain cynical opportunism of architects.’83 Debord had repeatedly used the church as the model of what situationist strategies subvert. In 1954, Potlatch portrayed Le Corbusier’s architecture as ‘nothing more than a regression en masse to the old, not properly interred world of Christianity’ and the point was repeated in the lettrist statement at Alba.84 Over the years, Debord sent Constant a number of postcards of religious buildings or icons, some subtly retouched, with ironic comments on the back. Soon after seeing the Forum issue, he published an unsigned essay in the third issue of Internationale Situationniste on ‘L’urbanisme unitaire à la fin des années 50’ (Unitary Urbanism at the End of the 1950s) that singles out church buildings as the antithesis of situationist architecture. The attack on functionalism must begin with the ‘psycho-functional’ condition of structures that prop up suspect institutions. The whole point of situationist architecture is to aggressively assault established psycho-functions and develop a shifting array of new ones. Unusable, uninhabitable, unthinkable dream spaces.
One must construct uninhabitable ambiences; construct the streets of real life, the scenery of daydreams. The issue of church construction provides a particularly illuminating criterion. Functionalist architects tend to agree to construct churches thinking — f they are not stupid deists—that the church, an edifice without function within afunctional urbanism, can be treated as a free exercise of plastic form. Their error is that they fail to consider the psycho functional reality of the church...In the very era of the technologies that gave rise to functionalism, the situationist architects,for their part, are searching to create new frames of behavior free of banality as well as of all the old taboos. The situationist architects are thus absolutely opposed to the construction and even to the conservation of religious buildings with which they find themselves in direct competition. Unitary urbanism merges objectively with the interests of a comprehensive subversion.85
Unsurprisingly, the Dutch architects were expelled from the collective. Debord accepted that Constant didn’t know about the inclusion of the church design, but Constant soon resigned. The break would be as complete as all the other ritualistic exclusions that Debord presided over, creating the impression that architecture itself was excommunicated. However, the events have to be followed in more detail. The scandal played itself out over a significant amount of time and generated a nuanced discourse about the limits of architecture that more precisely reveals the dilemmas posed by the very concept of ‘situationist architecture.’ Constant, Gallizio, and Jorn’s departures from the collective within the space of a year has often been represented as a shift away from aesthetics towards politics, but the situationists refused such a distinction, insisting that politics and aesthetics were inseparable. They never abandoned art, let alone architecture. Rather, they reconceptualized it.86 Architecture was redefined rather than rejected. If architectural interventions had been understood as the basis of political action, political interventions were now understood as new forms of architecture. If anything, it was architecture that separated itself from the situationists rather than the other way around.
Given the extraordinary intensity of Debord’s hope that architecture could carry out his political mission, his sense of betrayal by the Forum issue cannot be overestimated. He had been very taken with the idea of the Bureau at the beginning, agreeing that its ‘propaganda effect’ would accelerate the production of new forms of practice in opposition to the traditional arts.87 When Constant reported the success of his lecture to the Liga and the opportunity of using Forum, Debord replied ‘bravo for recruiting architects! Excellent... It is also very good to do this publication thanks to the Liga.’88 He promptly sent some of his own texts and agreed that Armando and Oudejans could come to the third congress of the situationists in Munich, saying that he looked forward to participating in discussions of architecture with them. The congress began with a lengthy report by Constant on unitary urbanism that announced that the Bureau had been formed to realize a new kind of collaborative work on research and practical designs. Architects must shift emphasis from form to atmosphere so radically that architecture itself will disappear as a discrete practice:
The architect, like all those working in our enterprise,finds himself up against the need to change trades: he will henceforth be a builder not of singleforms but of complete ambiences. What makes contemporary architecture so boring is its principally formal preoccupations. Architecture’s problem is no longer the function / expression opposition; that particular question is far behind us today. Even as he uses existing forms and creates new ones, the architect’s principal concern has got to become the effect that it is going to have on the dwellers’ behavior and existence. All architecture will then be seen as part of a broader and more complete activity; ultimately, architecture, like the other arts, will actually disappear to the benefit of this unitary activity.89
The Italian section offered some resistance to the idea of the Bureau but it was soon accepted and the Dutch were made responsible for editing the first issue of a new series of Potlatch. Constant later presented slides of his models and the architects became involved in all the discussions. They created a strong impression. In fact, Debord was so taken with idea of topology raised by Oudejans that he later went so far as to suggest that it might displace psychogeography as the central concern of the collective.90 A photo of him raising his tankard with Constant and the two architects in a Munich beer hall was used to illustrate the announcement of the Bureau’s formation in Potlatch.
The architects were even asked to take over responsibility for detailing the most important project of the time, a polemical exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum intended to be the definitive situationist statement. Throughout 1959, Debord and Constant had discussed the possibility of combining a major exhibition with a publication to ‘concretize’ unitary urbanism. A number of meetings were held in different cities to discuss the design with the other members. The idea was that a massive derive on the outside of the museum with three separate teams of drifters coordinated by Constant on a mobile radio transmitter parallel a micro-derive through a labyrinthine interior built within the museum. Debord was dedicated to the project, insisting that ‘one single realization, even very summary, would give a great illusion of reality to discussions of possible architectures.’91 Constant was equally insistent on the need for a large collective publication and perhaps a film that would take the form of a ‘Manifeste de UU.’ At the beginning of the year, Debord agreed, but argued that the third issue of Internationale Situationniste should be dedicated to the preliminary development of their urbanistic proposals and only later might an issue of an architectural review be taken over to display the final research on a bigger scale.1 After the Munich congress, Constant revived the idea of a publication and Debord sent a number of texts, adding that he had developed the appropriate cinematographic techniques for the film.2 Debord again insisted that the exhibition was the most important device with unprecedented propagandists value. He wanted it to demonstrate the play between micro- and macro-ambiences they had specified in ‘The Amsterdam Declaration,’ and that had originally attracted him to Constant’s ‘very beautiful’ models:
Your constructions are heading in the direction of a creation of a decor for a micro-ambience and at the same time the models of a new architecture. This differentiation is only a question of proportion, of scale. That is, we are rediscovering the profound unity of restricted ambience and of urbanism.3 This unity between scales could be exhibited in multiple ways: in the relationship between site specific interventions in Amsterdam and matching theoretical publications;
between the inside and the outside of the museum; between models of a sector and those of the urban scale; between models of single living spaces and sector models. At the beginning of 1959, their idea was to present, through models, an experimental city of the future and an experimental quarter within it, with special drawings explaining the relationship between the two scales. By the end of the year, numerous meetings and a flurry of correspondence had led to the final proposal which would present a relationship between a labyrinthine ‘apartment’ space installed at full scale within the building and an external derive through the streets. The internal labyrinth could change in height and be animated with artificial weather (rain, fog, wind, and temperature fluctuations) and noises from tape recorders. A series of special doors would increase the chances of‘getting lost,’ as the situationists desired. Like the external derive, it would provide a physical and psychological challenge rather than display an object. Constant’s models would appear in a separate ‘documentation room.’ Debord wrote to him that such an exhibition of spatial experiences, as distinct from the representations of spaces, would be only one step short of real urbanism:
We are going to intimately mix zones of ambience evoking a city, and the zones of ambience invoking the interior of a house (this is what our realistic terrain is at the Stedelijk Museum: a sort of apartment that we could furnish, and offer the appearance outside of urban elements). I believe that this interior-exterior mix will produce the most advanced point of our experimental constructions. On the other hand, it is the only material option possible to create a true milieu, a true mixed environment never before seen, and not a poor representation of urbanism. We could offer true urbanism the next time.4 It was not until June of 1959 that Sandberg accepted the idea of the exhibition. Meanwhile, Constant kept raising the issue of an equally definitive publication. When a small opportunity had arisen in March with the special issue of Forum, Debord immediately sent some notes and his 1955 article on psychogeography, suggesting Constant publish quotes from it, never suspecting that they would be associated with a church design.1 When he did find out, the precise timing of his responses reveals the precise tactical role that the architecture was playing in his thinking. By September, he was repeatedly asking if Forum had come out while encouraging Constant to push Oudejans and Alberts to write some- thing on topology for Internationale Situationniste 97 Everybody was enthusiastic. After finally seeing Forum, in October, he wrote a letter predictably saying that the publication of a church would probably lead to the expulsion of the architects from the situationist collective but nevertheless went on to ask them again to contribute texts.2 In November, he received such a text, the ‘Premiere proclamation de la section hollandaise de l’IS’ (First Proclamation of the Dutch Section of the SI - written by Constant but co-signed by his colleagues), and promptly asked the architects to prepare a measured plan of the Stedelijk Museum labyrinth, which they did.99 Their off
enses were overlooked. Indeed, when the situationist journal came out in December, it referred approvingly to Forum, announced the formation of the Bureau, presented the ‘Proclamation,’ and described the lectures that Constant had given.100 No mention of the controversy. In February, Debord asked the architects for additional texts and again suggested an article by Oudejans and Alberts on topology - having already discussed the theme with Alberts in Paris.101 It was only when Sandberg suddenly pulled out of the exhibition that Debord finally gave up on the architects. On the 30th of May, the very day the exhibition had been scheduled to open, he wrote to Constant that he was completely unimpressed with their thinking:
This proves the formula ‘Bureau of Research on Unitary Urbanism’ is unhappily premature. Whether one recruits people who have remained fundamentally indifferent, which is the case with your Dutch friends, or whether one brings in individuals who have taken this activity seriously, they will escape our control completely and debase problems which we have shown them (pretendingfor example to apply unitary urbanism to religious architecture).102
The architects were promptly expelled. Having been drawn further in after their ‘treason,’ as Jorn put it, they were thrown out the moment they were no longer of use. While exempting Constant from blame, Debord quickly went on the attack in the fourth issue of Internationale Situationniste. The report of the expulsion is preceded by a complaint that his text in the Essen catalog was published with his name on it after it had been cut.3 Constant took offense. From the beginning, he argued that exhibiting in a gallery was a risk,4 insisting that the whole point of concentrating on architecture was to avoid being ‘put in a box by consumers of modern art.’105 In response, Debord persuaded him that the show was a good idea,5 just as he had earlier reassured him that holding the situationist congress in Van de Loo’s Munich gallery was an acceptable risk.6 At the end of November, he encouraged Constant to present the large models that had appeared in Internationale Situationniste because of the exhibition’s ability to promote ‘our urbanistic perspectives in Germany where they are completely unknown.’1 Carlheinz Caspari, the curator, agreed and asked Constant for a short catalog text. It was Debord who suggested that he contribute a text of his own, proposing the unused text for the 1959 Stedelijk Museum exhibition, saying it was more appropriate to the Essen catalog than Constant’s proposed collective book on unitary urbanism.2 Later, Debord agreed to the use of a small extract, explaining how his argument narrowly but successfully avoided falling into the unacceptable genre of art criticism: On the one hand, this text is on the frontier of art criticism: I have taken a distance with respect to this activity on the first page; on the other hand, it corresponds to a precise manifestation with your models. Outside of these narrowly calculated circumstances, the text in and of itse falls into the category of art criticism; and you know that I absolutely do not want to be
part of that game.110
Debord’s essay begins by carefully dissociating itself from traditional art criticism and Constant’s models from traditional art. A number of Constant’s essays, from Cobra texts of 1947 to situationist texts of 1958, are cited to present the models as a strategic attack on the institution of art, the artist, the critic, and so on. The opening paragraphs (omitted from the Essen catalog) end by insisting that the models are preliminary moves towards ‘an uninterrupted and conscious transformation of the entire material environment’ rather than definitive art works to be appreciated as such. The work and its producer must be relieved of the burden of the usual economy. Enthusiasm is the first thing to go:
For our situationist comrades, for Constant and myself the three-dimensional explorations in question here can in no way be an object of enthusiasm, as they are but scattered elements on the path toward a future construction of ambiences...
...we will obviously not encourage a personality cult by way of the customary confidences,for we seek to go beyond the division of artistic labor.3
A closing paragraph goes one step further. Constant’s very activity as a model maker exhibits the kind of leisure that must define the new world he is describing:
Constant s work, in its unfinished, scale-model aspect, like all the tendencies of situationist activity in general, perfectly illustrates the falsity of bourgeois artistic freedom. The artist has, at best, the freedom to ply his trade as an artist, that is, to carry out normalized production, matching the needs of a given stratum of the dominant culture’s highly differentiated public. A truly vanguard project today poses the problem of new trades, which can hardly be exercised within the frame of bourgeois society, and whose predictable development, given the far greater means it would demand, is not even reconcilable with the capitalist economy. These trades are no longer, strictly speaking, trades. They are involved in the transition to the universe of leisure.4
This point had always been fundamental to situationist activism, but the issue had become particularly sensitive by the end of 1959. Constant could never accept the situation- ists’ continued support of Gallizio and Jorn as individual artists. His correspondence with Debord is punctuated with sarcastic gibes at both of them, repeating that the whole point of situationist architecture is to kill off the old system of discrete fine arts. When the Dutch architects were excluded and he offered his own resignation, he reminded Debord of the suspect support of Gallizio, a criticism sharpened by the fact that Gallizio had just accepted the very exhibition space at the Stedelijk Museum that was vacated when the situationist exhibition was canceled. Debord responded that it was the architects who had placed themselves outside the group with their actions. He concedes that Gallizio, like them, is guilty of ‘a certain opportunism’ and should be excluded; asking Constant to reconsider the resignation, declaring his continued interest and faith in the work.113 Constant is unmoved. The exchange continues for three weeks until Debord finally accepts the resignation in a letter of 21st June. They had always agreed that New Babylon exemplified the rejection of formalism but now, as if to explain the break, Debord insists that ‘the true development of unitary urbanism will be strongly in relation to a research of global liberation and not pure formal construction, even gigantic.’114 He ends his letter by reaffirming his respect and saying they should stay in touch. Constant tersely replies that further contact might not be possible since the inaccuracy in the published account of the Essen catalog ‘poorly hides feelings of animosity.’115 When later visiting Paris, he leaves a message that he is in town. There is no response. An intense and productive collaboration had ended.
The shared desire for architecture to liberate a new politics was, if anything, too intense. What is surprising is not the break, but the level of agreement that lasted for three and a half years. The situationists prided themselves on disagreeing with everything and everyone. They thrived on their scandals. Each issue of Internationale Situationniste featured the latest expulsions. More than seventy names were added to the list over the years and virtually no one was left at the end. Constant’s departure would be just another example of the diverging trajectories of strong-minded individuals were it not for the extraordinary investment that the situationists had made in architecture. Constant symbolized that investment. It remains symptomatic that he resigned and was not forced out as is sometimes suggested. Debord didn’t pass on Constant’s letter of resignation to the other members until he had given up trying to keep him in the group. The fifth issue of Internationale Situa- tionniste reported the expulsion of the artists, saying that Constant had ‘just reason’ to be concerned at their conduct but that he had ‘deplored’ the similar treatment of the Dutch architects, who were acting as ‘technicians of architectural form’ for the unitary urbanism research and therefore should not be subjected to the same disciplinary standard. Having been told ‘outside of any sense of hostility or demerit’ that any break would be final, Constant had ‘chosen to leave the is.’116
Once outside the group, Constant was pushed further away. The idea of unitary urbanism was maintained, but redefined from the construction of new forms to the active resistance of suspect ones, particularly ‘modern forms of utopian architecture’ as Debord put it in 1966.117 Internationale Situationniste maintained a strong discourse about architecture and urbanism, much of which remains perceptive and relevant. In 1972, the year of the group’s dissolution, Debord returned to the theme, publishing a short essay praising Jorn’s renovation of a few houses in Northern Italy from the time of the founding congress and reflecting on the irrepressible enormity of the group’s architectural ambitions:
It is known that initially the situationists wanted at the very least to build cities, the environment suitable to the unlimited deployment of new passions. But of course this was not easy and so we found ourselves forced to do much more. And during the entire course of events various partial projects had to be abandoned and a good number of our excellent capacities were not employed, as is the case — but how much more absolutely and sadly —for hundreds of millions of our contemporaries...
Could one not have appeased the situationists around 1960 by means of a few lucidly conceived recuperative reforms, that is, by giving them two or three cities to construct instead of pushing them to the edge and forcing them to unleash into the world the most dangerous subversion there ever was? But others will surely retort that the consequences would have been the same and that by conceding a little to the situationists — who had even then never intended to be satisfied with just a little — one would have only increased their requirements and their demands and would have only arrived even faster at the same result.118
The situationist withdrawal from urban design was not a withdrawal from architectural ambition. On the contrary, political strategies were now understood to be, by definition, architectural. Space was addressed by other means.
Meanwhile, New Babylon had kept growing after the break, gathering momentum in the architectural community. Caspari, a theater director who became the curator at Essen, went out of his way to attract architects to the gallery and even organized a Saturday-night lecture series on contemporary architecture.119 One of the professors of architecture who attended the exhibition invited Constant to speak at his school in Aachen. The lecture, ‘Was ist Städtebau?’ (What is Urban Planning?) would be the first fully extended account of New Babylon. Delivered three days before Debord had finally accepted Constant’s resignation, it presented situationist thinking in the context of ongoing architectural discourse. A long analysis of city planning principles and Le Corbusier’s role in developing ‘The Functional City’ is given alongside an equally detailed account of unitary urbanism. Both the Situationist and Lettrist Internationals are discussed. Early essays by Debord are cited and concepts like psychogeography and the derive are elaborated. But Constant ends by returning to architecture, referring to specific projects like Buckminster Fuller’s proposal to cover New York with a vast dome and concluding with a call for ‘technological science fiction.’120 By the time of the Stedelijk Museum lecture six months later, most of Constant’s references to the situationists had evaporated. Organized by the Liga Nieuw Beeiden, prominent architects like Van Eyck and Bakema attended. Students from the school of architecture at Delft University devoted much of their new magazine Delftse School to paraphrasing its arguments.121 The director of the school, Bakema’s partner Van den Broek, invited Constant to speak two months later. The lecture refers to unitary urbanism but not the situationists. Two months later, another lecture in Bochum reduced the references to a single comment on unitary urbanism in the very last line.
The situationist lineage of the project had given way to its architectural lineage. Constant’s old ties to the architectural world were reinforced. His lecture at the architecture school in Delft, for example, was published in an issue of the Delftse School and was responded to in the following issue by Bakema, Van den Broek, and Van Eesteren.122 At the time, Bakema and Van den Broek were developing classic Team 10 ‘streets-in-the-air’ experiments like their 1962 project for Tel Aviv in which a linear megastructure walks all the way from the ocean to the center of the historical city on huge legs. The dialogue between such ‘practical’ schemes and the much more extreme but related project of Constant continued for many years. Occasionally they would be published alongside each other. As a frequent guest of the Delft school, Constant influenced a whole generation of students.123
Another important alliance with the architectural community was made in 1961 when a colleague of the Paris-based architect Yona Friedman sent him a copy of Constant’s Aachen lecture. Friedman had attended the ninth CIAM congress in Aix-en-Provence that gave birth to Team 10, but had taken a different trajectory away from orthodox modernism with the concept of ‘mobile architecture.’ Vast gridded space-frames would accommodate endless variations of life-style dictated by the users; functions would be continuously displaced throughout. Friedman had formed the ‘Groupe de l’Architecture Mobile’ (GEAM) in November 1957 to coordinate an international group of architects devoted to developing new forms of cities and in 1961 published his first book on the subject.124 A three-dimensional grid floats on pilotis above the landscape, whether it be open terrain or an existing city. In April of 1961, Friedman wrote to Constant that he ‘was thrilled to find many points in common between our views’ and sent some of his own articles, suggesting that they meet in Paris.125 Constant became part of the geam circle and in 1962 took part in a major exhibition of‘L’Architecture Mobile’ in Amsterdam, where New Babylon appeared alongside experimental projects by designers like Friedman, Paul Maymond, Frei Otto, and Eckhard Schulze-Fielitz. On the occasion of the exhibition, the Liga Nieuw Beelden organized a conference of geam at which Constant joined Friedman, W. Ruhnau, N.J. Habraken, Hart- suyker, and J. Trapman to address the theme, ‘On Some Aspects of Human Settlements.’ Later in the same year, he organized a follow-up meeting of a similar group on ‘The Milieu of Life in the Technological Era.’
While aspects of Friedman and Constant’s projects appear formally similar, they saw fundamental ideological differences between their work. In response to Friedman’s first letter, Constant wrote that he completely agreed with the social critique of contemporary urbanism and the impending culture of automation, but did not think that the Mobile City project carried out the critique; it remained a ‘functional city’ emphasizing private dwellings and avoiding the newly emerging condition of mass culture: ‘It is not sufficient to transform the city in a technical or practical sense but above all in a social and cultural sense. The future city should not be accentuating dwelling (which is nothing but the opposition between inside and outside) nor displacement (search for needs), but a new use for social space (ecology).’126 Friedman responded that Constant’s project was too much the vision of one artist: ‘Today, everyone knows how to design, dwell, photograph, or work; why force
people to follow the preference of one individual, a self-proclaimed expert. I don’t like “follow the leader”.’127 He felt that providing mobility for those who wished to take advantage of it was better than imposing endless mobility on all. The disagreement was repeated in public at the geam conference where Constant opened the plenary discussion by accusing Friedman of designing for contemporary society and therefore reinforcing its inequities rather than looking for freer forms of collective social life. After a long exchange, Friedman concluded that ‘people could choose the direction of Constant and live together more collectively but you cannot make this a prescription.’128 Constant would restate his criticism of Friedman in many contexts in the following years but they remained allies in an international network of colleagues who promoted one another’s work.
It was through that network that New Babylon would be published in almost all the major international architectural journals during the next three years. When organizing the follow-up geam meeting, for example, Constant included some of his old associates like Anthony Hill and Caspari; the latter of whom had become an important promoter of New Babylon and promptly invited Friedman to lecture in Essen. Friedman’s associates did the same in return. Shortly afterwards, Lucius Burkhardt, the editor of Werk in Basel wrote that he had been talking with Friedman about compiling an issue on ‘Mobile Architecture’ and wanted to include New Babylon.129 The issue came out in February 1963.130 At the same time, André Bloc, who ten years earlier had found Schoffer and Parent’s Spatio- dynamic City too extreme to publish, produced his influential special issue of L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui on ‘Architectures fantastiques’ — the large collection of experimental projects from around the world that aroused the situationists’ disdain. The centerpiece was the Space City of Schultze-Fielitz featured on the cover. Like New Babylon, it was presented as a ‘realizable science fiction urbanism’ in which a structural system accommodates infinite rearrangement. A vast labyrinthine public space establishes a new artificial landscape for unpredictable patterns of living. It passes across the existing terrain and then above the old cities, hastening their collapse into disuse. Schulze-Fielitz was based in Essen and, being a close friend of Caspari, had almost certainly visited the first exhibition of New Babylon in 1960. Unsurprisingly, the long section that Bloc devoted to his project is symptomatically preceded by the juxtaposition of New Babylon and Friedman’s Mobile City on facing pages.131 Variations of similar ideas circulated freely among the designers. None of them could be considered in isolation and all were indebted to the pioneering work of Buckminster Fuller and Konrad Waschmann.
At the beginning of the year, Anthony Hill had suggested that Friedman and Constant lecture together at the ica in London, but the arrangement fell through and Friedman went alone. Hill and Victor Pasmore organized another invitation to the ica for Constant but the lecture did not take place until November of 1963. When Kenneth Frampton published an edited version of the talk in Architectural Design in 1964, it became very influential.132 Having last appeared in the journal as a sculptor in 1958, alongside work by Gilbert, Schof- fer, and Antoine Pevsner, he returned as an architect.133 Peter Cook, who had also gone to the lecture with his fellow Archigram member Michael Webb, wrote asking for material for the fifth issue of Archigram, dedicated to the question of‘Metropolis,’ which came out at the end of 1964.1 In the same year, Frei Otto made the opening speech at the opening of an exhibition of New Babylon in Berlin, the Liga Nieuw Beelden organized a slide presentation of New Babylon on the occasion of a visit by Schoffer to Amsterdam, and Friedman organized an exhibition with the critic Michel Ragon on future urbanism at the Musée d’art deco and asked Constant to contribute.2 In 1965, Ragon, who had written extensively on Friedman and his circle, was preparing a special issue of the Mexican journal Arquitectura and asked the editor to write to Constant for material on New Babylon. It was eventually published alongside Friedman’s projects.3 In the same year, Burckhardt organized an exhibition and catalog in Bern on ‘New Tendencies in Architecture’ that grouped the by then familiar cast of characters with seminal figures like Fuller, Wachsmann, and Noriaki Kuro- kawa of the metabolist group.4 This set of associations would be repeated in a number of essays, special issues, catalogs, and books.5 Constant had become a fixture in the architectural world and made a distinct impact on experimental tendencies.
During and after his membership in the Situationist International, Constant had continued to work on practical commissions. At the end of 1957, Bakema and Rietveld chose one of his small constructions to be installed in the 1958 expo in Brussels. In mid-1959, A. Bodon, a member of the Liga and a partner of Merkelbach and Karsten, invited Constant to work with his firm of engineers and architects on the design of an advertising tower.
Constant produced several versions in detailed models that developed his five Vertical City towers of the previous year, but the project fell through in mid-1960. The towers, reminiscent of constructivist agit-prop designs, nevertheless survived as an integral part of the representation of New Babylon, appearing in exhibitions, catalogs, and films. In 1963, Constant constructed a 14-meter-high reinforced concrete structure as the entrance to the Ookmeer sports ground using a geometry taken from one of the New Babylon Dioramas. It was accurately described in a newspaper report as ‘Sculpto-Urbanisme.’6 In the same year, Constant formed the ‘Bureau Havocon’ with Shamai Haber and Andre Volten, two artists who also aspired to be architects. They were commissioned by Phillips to design a park around the ‘Evoluon’ building in Eindhoven of 1966, whose spaceship form was explicitly based on Constant’s Spatiovores (‘space-eaters’) from New Babylon. They sculpted the ground itself into a series of overlapping layers that occasionally rise up as discrete objects defining space. Though neither of their two schemes was accepted, an exhibition of the drawings and models was held.7 Constant’s design for a fountain in Leiden was built with a large field of columns of different heights producing a three dimensional space out of water. He was also commissioned by Dutch Telecom to produce a labyrinthine field of colored transluscent elements in front of a building by Bakema. Like another design for a whole ensemble of elements on the grounds of a modernist hospital in Zwolle, it did not go ahead, but in 1966 Constant collaborated with a small group of followers on building an ‘Experiment Studio Rotterdam’ (ESR) inside the Bouwcentrum building. The double-height volume employed a number of devices for spatial play from New Babylon. Spaces were devoted to sound, smell, labyrinths, mirrors, bending over, crawling, and so on.1+1 Constant’s open-framed models for the scheme are reminiscen
t of some of the New Babylon studies. It was the closest he came to building something like New Babylon — if New Babylon is considered a traditional architectural project. But, of course, it is not. Constant’s involvement in architectural commissions is very important, but should be understood as another form of experimentation and publication. If anything, his commitment to physical constructions only served to intensify the sense of a conceptual polemic.
The Birth of a Hyper-Architecture
Constant’s radical adoption of the architect’s persona was much more decisive than his work on practical designs or appearance in architectural journals and exhibitions. Indeed, he took on and exaggerated so many traits of the architect’s typical behavior that he became a hyper-architect — more like an architect than any architect.
The most obvious symptom is the models that form the centerpiece of the project. They are unmistakably architectural, yet have the quality of refined artworks, employing materials and finishes rarely seen in architectural models of the time. The construction of the model itself was as radical as the space it proposed. In 19^6, after carefully constructing and exhibiting a 1.8-meter-tall model in colored metal and wood for his Monument voor de wederopbouw, Constant was criticized by a city architect for making his models too beautiful.
The architect insisted that models are practical tools made to be used and then disposed of. Constant disagreed, noting that influential designers like Rietveld and Theo van Doesburg had made very elegant models and kept them. He understood that the polemical value of a model far outstrips its practical value in the construction of a particular project. The exhibition and publication of models had acted as the basis of architectural discourse since the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the architect’s primary role is that of speculator rather than builder; architects produce images of spaces that may or may not be built. Constant’s lack of technical training in architecture was no obstacle to adopting this role. If anything, it allowed him more freedom to innovate with unique images.
The years between 1953 and 191,6 were crucial, enabling Constant gradually to come to terms with the disciplinary limits of architecture and to displace artistic techniques into the architectural realm. He imported the plexiglass and metal structure, for example, from constructivist artists like Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner. His first gesture was not to simply reach into the art world, but to reach into architecture and move backwards and forwards across the limit. The early structural frames with suspended color planes typical of the years with Gilbert and Schöffer — exemplified by the Monument voor de wederopbouw — have an immediately recognizable architectural quality. The relatively simple metal frame supports itself and the plexiglass panels up exactly as it would have to do as a building. It is only with the formation of the situationist collective that Constant rethinks the status of the ground and heads off into space. The Ambience de jeu model of 195-6 hangs the ground up on a wall and disperses objects freely across it. The playground moves into space. But space also becomes a playground. Constant prepares four small painted panels between 1956 and 1957 in which outer space is lightly marked with the delicate web that will soon dominate in New Babylon. Ruimtevaart (SpaceTravel), Cosmisch landschap (Cosmic Landscape), Ruimtelandschap (Spatial Landscape), and Structuren in de ruimte (Structures in Space) announce a crucial turn in the work, which was echoed in a small series of unpublished etchings. The models are quick to follow. Between 1957 and 1958, the metal frame becomes extremely intricate, passing through the plexiglass, which in turn weaves itself in every direction. Neither dominates. In the series of Nébulose Mécanique, the plexiglass is no longer suspended in a heavy frame; everything has become light — suspended in space. The twisted forms hang from the ceiling, or are held up on a single light rod, or touch the ground at only a few points. An
d those points are not stable. The objects seem ready to move and, in photocollages, they lift off the ground or race down the highway at high speed. Architecture has taken off.
Immediately after Constant returned to Amsterdam from Alba, his floating forms return to planet earth — not to solid ground, but to the zone just above the ground, which he endows with the fluid qualities he explored in outer space. In the Ontwerp voor zigeunerkamp (Design for A Gypsy Camp) model, the distinctive spirals of metal of the Nébulose Mécanique are lodged sideways in the earth like a crashed spaceship. But the plexiglass panels are still in the air, defining a space within which moveable partitions are envisioned to accomodate the nomadic community that would use the structure as a base. The architecture is meant to float in an indeterminate space, open to the unpredictable desires of its occupants. New Babylon appears as such for the first time. The plexiglass shapes that used to fly through space now hover just above the ground and wait for desire.
The plexiglass clearly embodied some fundamental qualities of the project, but the use of what was then a rare and expensive material also signaled the transformation of the architectural model into a polemical object designed for exhibition and discussion. Plexiglass produces the effect of an abstract volume glowing with indeterminate life. The traditional logic of a clearly defined set of walls enclosing an empty space that may be occupied gives way to the sense of dense activity defining an amorphous volume. The project is nothing but interior, yet it is not an interior that can simply be looked into; it is an interior that can only be experienced from within. Even then, it is so labyrinthine that it does not seem to have a definable exterior, and an interior with no exterior is no longer simply an interior. It is a whole new world unto itself. To look at the model is to look at a substitute world. The modern architect’s obsession with a radical transparency that exposes all the details of structure and lifestyle turns into an amorphous sense of interactions between life-styles too complex and transitory to be simply exposed. Clear shapes behind glass give way to a mysterious flickering glow. Transparency is put at the service of mystery. The model is designed to be looked into, yet nothing is revealed other than the polemical indeterminacy of the floors. The eye cannot even rest in this openness; the floors are transparent. In a sense, the model can only be looked through. It is a kind of mirage.
The design and exhibition of the models were inseparable. There were no sketches. Each was conceived as it was constructed. The model is a form of exploration, a means of designing as distinct from a representation of a design. What is exhibited is the process. Constant worked for up to ten years on some of the structures. Like any architect, he used various assistants (after having made the first three models alone). Their differing technical skills — in the welding or riveting of the metalwork for example — would change the detailing. The basic form would also evolve. Elements would move. Some models got bigger. Others shrank. This endless process of refinement also included destruction. The large metal model with the helicopters that was featured in many of the early exhibitions and publications, for example, was rejected for looking too technical; technology was not meant to be confused with the new way of life it would liberate. The model was cut into three pieces and thrown out the window of Constant’s studio. It floated for a while in the canal before disappearing. In 1969, a big piece of the last model was suddenly cut off. Some of the models that were accidentally damaged in transport, like the original Ambiance d’une villefuture (later renamed the Orange Construction), were rebuilt at a slightly different scale. Others were lost. The Ruimtecircus (Space Circus) construction and one of the Spatiovores were reproduced at a much larger scale. All the models carry traces of changes, archaeological layers, holes where pieces were once attached, outlines of missing elements, remains of earlier coats of paint, and so on. They display the kind of evolution that New Babylon itself was meant to undergo. The life of each model simulates the transitory world that is being proposed. Like a New Babylonian, Constant explores the spaces he has modeled and then rearranges them.
With each exhibition, the collection changed. The core set of models was established by 1960 when the first series of exhibitions started but more were added over the years and some were removed. No two exhibitions were the same. The experience of the exhibition itself was meant to simulate the experience of New Babylon. In the first exhibitions, the gallery was darkened and spotlights focused on the models, producing the sense that they floated in space. Some were hung from the walls or off the ceiling to accentuate this other worldly or spaceship effect that had been prefigured in Constant’s very first description of the project at the end of 1959: ‘The space voyages that are being announced could influence this development, since the bases that will be established on other planets will immediately pose the problem of sheltered cities, and will perhaps provide the pattern for our study of a future urbanism.’1The visitor to the exhibition, who would likewise have the sense of floating in space, was soon negotiating a labyrinth. In 1965, the architect NicTummers (a member of the Liga who would be one of the collaborators on the Experiment Studio Rotterdam a year later) laid out one of the New Babylon exhibitions with a twisting path moving through the objects. In the same year, Constant built a full-sized concrete labyrinth withTummers as the entrance to his exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum and the poster/ brochure for the show acted as a kind of tourist guide to the labyrinthine path that extended out from the construction and through all the New Babylon material. Constant built another labyrinth with as many swinging doors as fixed partitions as part of the 1974 exhibition at the Haags Gemeentemuseum. The simulation of New Babylon was repeatedly extended to the space of the gallery itself.
The models were never exhibited as independent objects. They were carefully constructed to reinforce the sense of the transitory. Their physical condition as fixed objects was always a threat. Constant incorporated photographs of the models into the exhibitions. Images taken for lectures or the catalog became part of the display. Each model became less a singular three-dimensional image of the future than a stage set for multiple fantasies. The precise way that the models were photographed became just as important as the way they were constructed. Each was shot in numerous ways. Different lenses, angles, lighting, backgrounds, and landscapes would produce different effects. Other models would be juxtaposed and sometimes drawings of the same spaces, or projections of slides of the models, would be placed in the background to add depth. Ethereal clouds, menacing dark skies, or colored glows would provide an atmosphere for the forms. Sometimes the plexiglass was lit in a way that made it seem as if the light was radiating from the building rather than shining onto it — a technique that has become widespread among architects today.
Various photographers were responsible for the classic photographs. Many of the early photographs were the work of Jan Versnel, an art photographer who would take very precise studio shots, isolating the models against black backgrounds to reveal the details of the forms. Har Oudejans made more impressionistic images, like the ones shown at the Munich
Congress of the situationists and those published in their magazine. To make models seem already built, he placed them against the sky, or did close up photographs of bird droppings to produce the sense of an otherworldly landscape beneath them. Many images were made by Bram Wisman, including ones using special processing techniques that produced the effect of a holograph or transformed everything into sharply defined planes of color. Being more of a press photographer, he would quickly take multiple shots and produced hundreds of images over the years, eventually making an exhibition in 1965 of his own interpretation of New Babylon. Constant’s text for the catalog describes how the photographer went from documenting New Babylon to producing it as an artist in his own right.143 The gap between production and representation had disappeared and Wisman became another of the collaborators on the Experiment Studio Rotterdam in 1966. In the end, Constant’s favorite photographer was his son Victor, who added a whole new range of techniques. In the early seventies, for example, he collaged some of the models into contemporary landscapes of wasteland and highway intersections to make the project appear already constructed. Constant then applied colored paint to the large black and white blowups for exhibition, drawing a few figures in the foreground, adding extra details to the structure and some other sectors stretching to the horizon in the background. The sense of realism was blurred between photography and painting. Images of the different sectors were also rescaled and printed end on end to make it seem as if all the sectors formed a single vast structure that was then montaged onto a terrain. Negatives of the same model taken from different angles were overlapped to produce an even more dense and complex effect. And so on.
These images were not regarded as secondary forms of representation; if the reality of the project could be found anywhere, it was in the multiplicity of photos rather than in the ‘original’ models. This effect was even more pronounced in film. The 19^9 Stedelijk Museum exhibition had already featured some films of Constant’s early constructions by the American filmmaker Hy Hirsh, who had been living in Amsterdam. He gave the structures little movements or had other objects passing in front or behind them.1 In 1962, Simon Vinkenoog, the writer and self-appointed president of the ‘mood engineering society,’ made a program with Constant for Dutch television. Constant started talking about a definitive film at the end of 1964, and in 1968 Caspari made a long film about New Babylon for German television. In the final section, the camera moves around and into the models while a version of the soundtrack from Constant’s lectures is playing. Constant had earlier been seen walking through the streets of Amsterdam and then making polemical statements about New Babylon. Shorter programs were broadcast in 196J, 1966, 1971, and 1974. The effect was similar to that which Constant attempted to produce in his lectures. Indeed, one of the lectures asked the audience to consider the slides as stills from a movie he intended to make. 2The theoretical polemic, images, and the soundtrack envelop the models so densely that the physical objects become just another ingredient in a polemical atmosphere.
The Art of Provocation
The production of so much theory was another crucial part of Constant’s adoption of the architect’s persona. Architects are theorists. Being fundamentally speculative, architecture is inseparable from theoretical discourse. It is even theoretical when built. Architectural projects never appear without a polemic. Polemic transforms a building into ‘architecture,’ not a set of formal characteristics. It is anyway the theory that highlights the characteristics. Architects necessarily leave a trail of manifestos, journals, articles, and books.
Constant understood this, having watchedTeam 10 organize themselves in response to the ciam organization. The role of ciam was to produce, authorize, elaborate, and enforce a standard theoretical position, a doctrine that served as a focus for the Team 10 attacks picked up by Constant. He had always been a theorist, producing influential manifestos for Reflex and cobra in 1948 and 1949, but he went into overdrive when he became an architect. Every catalog or magazine became an opportunity to elaborate his position. While certain key ideas were obviously repeated, the texts were always different. Each was site specific. Constant wrote directly in French, English, Dutch, and German as required. Only when publishing a text in a language he did not know would a previous statement be reused in translation.
The structural role of the theory was formalized in 196^ when Constant (on the suggestion of Tummers) started to produce De Nieuw Babylon Informatief, a series of small newspapers that were distributed at key exhibitions. Number 1 came out during the Maastricht exhibition in July 196^, number 2 at the Haags Gemeentemuseum exhibition of October 1965-, number 3 at the Cologne exhibition of January 1966, and number 4 for La xxxm Biennale di Venezia of June 1966. This last issue featured fragments from many of Constant’s texts alongside diverse images of the project. A New Babylon Bulletin letterhead was also prepared, with Constant listed as the editor, on which he presented a long essay on ‘Traffic in Towns’ in January 1967.146 This and other essays were compiled in 1969 for the book Opstand van de Homo Ludens (Revolt of Homo Ludens).147 But Constant’s major project was a large manuscript in German for a definitive study entitled New Babylon: Skizze zu einer Kultur (Outline for a Culture). He worked on it between 1960 and 196^, with ongoing editorial advice from Caspari. It was never published, although a large section finally appeared as ‘New Babylon’ alongside a number of other essays in the catalog of the 1974 Gemeentemuseum exhibition.'48 Theory was part of the exhibition. Whole walls were devoted to polemic presented as a kind of an artwork at exactly the same size as photographs of the models. Indeed, Constant had transformed his theory into art, producing a series of collages of fragments from his writings for Locher. It was this continual presence of theory, rather than the images, that firmly lodged the project in the architectural tradition.
Another key trait of the architect’s persona adopted by Constant was the lecture. He had written before adopting architecture, but not lectured. Artists rarely lecture but architects always do. Again, Constant learned by watching architects. His situationist colleagues would make prepared statements and tape every informal discussion, but they did not give formal public lectures. It is symptomatic, for example, that when Debord took part
in a conference organized by Henri Lefebvre in 1961, he sent a tape recording, and presented a strategic argument for his displacement of the habitual form of the lecture.149 When Constant wanted to present New Babylon to the situationist congress in Munich, he had to bring his own slide projector from Amsterdam. Not by chance had his first lecture been given at the Academie voor Bouwkunst in early 1959. When it was decided to place his models in a ‘supplementary’ information room in the proposed situationist exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, the space was going to feature taped lectures. A particular speech would be played continuously for a whole day then replaced with another. Many of Constant’s early lectures were given in relationship to exhibitions. He already understood the intimate link between project, theory, catalog, and lecture when the first exhibition was being set up in Essen. At the end of 1959, he wrote to Caspari: ‘I would really love to have a printed pamphlet or manifesto. Also I am willing to do a lecture (with slides) during the exhibit or for the opening. Could we talk about this in the near future?’'s° He had a specific idea of how the catalog should look, with a particular sequence of images. Caspari apologized for not following the design when the publication came out, but Constant did make his proposed polemical statement at the opening. The concept of unitary urbanism, as simultaneously a new form of city and a new form of society, was forcefully introduced.IJIA long sequence of lectures would follow at galleries, schools of architecture, and meetings of architects, urbanists, art critics, sociologists, and so on.
The key moment in each lecture was the transition from the theory to the slides. The fact that the project could be seen only after passing through a substantial theoretical argument is symptomatic. The polemic created a specific atmosphere for the reception of the forms, a mood that was enhanced with the accompanying soundtrack. If New Babylon was a space defined by atmosphere, its design started with the atmosphere of the lecture itself. A theoretical climate was established in which the images were carefully given an ambivalent status. They had to be intensely evocative of a sensuous environment and yet the specifics of that environment were not to be taken literally. The October 1964 lecture at the Galerie Diogenes in Berlin, for example, ended with: ‘And now I want to propose through a series of slides and a soundtape to show you a fixed moment in New Babylonian social space.’“'2 The images captured a fleeting and illusory sense of organization. They were, as the lecture in Konstanz insisted, ‘tentative’ in the sense of being just ‘space-time moments’ in the continual rearrangement of New Babylon, fixed points in a spatial system whose only feature is restless movement.® Furthermore, even such fixed points are unknowable. The polemic of the 1963 lecture at the ica in London concluded by insisting that the images that would follow were just props for the imagination of a future world that by definition could not yet be visualized. But the audience was still encouraged to literally enter the atmosphere of the images as if entering a ‘new and unknown city’:
After this basic information, I will show you a number of slides that show details of the models I made to illustrate my conception. I hope they will help you to get an idea in which way an unfunctional city for not-working people may differ from the kind of cities that are built until now for working people. With these slides I only want to give you a suggestion like the painter or the poet used to suggest a world differentfrom the utilitarian world he tried to escapefrom. 1 certainly don’t want to predict how the world of thefuture will look like in any detail,for that would be impossible. I just will try to give you — and myself— an idea how the world might look like when labor will be abolished. So I beg you to look on these slides as if you were visiting a new and unknown city and to undergo its specific atmosphere. A sound-tape that I will let you hear in the same time, is meant to suggest the presence of life, and the rest now is left to your own imagination.'5*
The same argument was repeated at the end of the 1964 lecture to the architecture students at the Royal Academy of Copenhagen, with the addition of the phrase: ‘I want to challenge the imagination of those who will have to prepare the construction of the future world.’155 The multiple fantasies of the audience were put ahead of those of the artist. The lecture in Krefeld later the same year went even further, putting the audience in the creative position of New Babylonians:
Soundtape willf 11 the still empty ambiences and animate them. What is important in these slides is to show how beautifully a relatively small number if spaces realized with simple standardized elements give the possibility to form an almost unlimited number of ambiences. You will see the same models, the same spaces, in another order. You will walk through these models and change them yourself.'56
With the addition of new models and images, the collection of slides and the matching soundtrack were incrementally adjusted. But the text of the lecture often changed radically. Constant presented the same ideas in different ways to different audiences, progres-sively developing the thinking and feeding the latest formulations into his book manuscript. The initial critique of the ‘Functional City’ in the first lecture to the architecture students at Aachen, for example, evolved into an extremely detailed chapter analyzing the suspect role of town planning.157 At the same time, Constant produced a number of essays on the status of artistic experimentation that do not refer to New Babylon directly but act as explanations of its strategic mission. Some were published in catalogs. ‘De dialectiek van het experiment’(The Dialectic of the Experiment), for example, appeared in the catalog of the 196^ exhibition at the Haags Gemeentemuseum.IjS That the theory did not directly refer to the project continued the sense of theory as atmosphere — not simply conceptual atmosphere for physical design, as the design was meant to be all atmosphere; atmosphere for atmosphere itself. The polemic had to direct attention to that which by definition could not be addressed directly.
Constant continued the oblique theoretical speculation on the radio (as during the Bochum and Krefeld openings and a 1968 radio talk on ‘Spatial Ordering or Spatial chaos and in countless interviews for newspapers and journals. He even interviewed himself. In response to his own question as to why try to provide illustrations of an unknowable future, he said that the project’s primary role is that of a ‘provocation’ and an attempt to develop the urbanistic principles that will be necessary in the future world.160 His hyper-architec- tural behavior promotes a series of strategies, a theoretical posture, a mentality rather than a set of forms. The goal is more conceptual than aesthetic.
The absence of graphic work in the early publications and exhibitions is symptomatic of more than just Constant’s polemical reaction against painting. The first image of New Babylon to appear was the Jan Versnel photograph of the Ambiance d’une villejuture model that was published between May and August of 1959 in the Stedelijk Museum catalog, Potlatch, and Forum. It was not until December of that year that some drawings appeared as illustrations of an essay in Internationale Situationniste. A set of two diagrammatic plans reminiscent of the analytical style of drawing of Le Corbusier (who had picked it up from the illustrations of Camillo Sitte’s late nineteenth-century theoretical treatise on city planning) were used to reject both the old city and Le Corbusier’s proposed ‘green city.’ In their place, Constant offered a ‘spatial “plan” showing his ‘covered city’ as an abstract field of overlapping elements and a sketch section through a suspended sector. Neither corresponds directly to any of the models. The drawings are explicitly architectural but remain diagrammatic and subordinate to the theoretical argument. At the same time, Constant did produce a series of detailed architectural drawings: plans of the Groep sectoren (Group of Sectors), New Babylon Nord, and the Orient Sector (Orient Sector), along with the Gele Sector (Yellow Sector) plan that would be published alongside photographs of the model in June of 1960 in Internationale Situationniste. The graphic technique is architectural in its precise presentation of three-dimensional information on a single surface. The different distribution of spaces within each volume is specified. But there is still none of the usual archi-tect’s notation. The images are a kind of representation of architectural drawings. Like the models, they are more beautiful than they need to be to communicate the organization of the building; more beautiful than anything a practical architect would usually make. Their function
is strictly polemical.
The intensive drawing of the project did not begin until 1960, when all the key models had been completed and the series of exhibitions had begun. Constant then started to explore the project in numerous ways. The representational techniques multiplied, just as the structural techniques had multiplied in the models. Almost all the models and the first hyper-architectural drawings had been at the intermediate scale of a sector, neither micro- nor macro-scale (with the exception of the Spatiovores which are the size of conventional buildings). But the graphic work now developed in both directions. One stream of drawings opened up the macro-scale of the huge megastructure working its eccentric way across an ever-expanding landscape. The other stream went further and further into the interior to explore the smallest micro-climates. Both kinds of representation started by making the project more substantial, more solid and technically viable, but ended up radically dema- terializing it. The graphic physical realism of the models gradually gave way to the lightest of traces.
The exploration began in 1960 with a small series of ink drawings that emphasize the solidity of the project, as if everything in the building is made of cast concrete. One image looks up from the ground to the vast, flat, dark underside of a sector sitting on a massive cylindrical column, while others look into labyrinthine interiors with huge cut-outs in the floor and ceiling that allow stairways to head off in multiple directions. Every surface is solid and smooth. The structure is unmarked and seemingly uninhabited — like an abandoned world. The following series shows the different linear buildings floating on a forest of pi- lotis over a rough undulating landscape but there is now a sense of transparency with mysterious volumes suspended behind glass walls. A series of light images then appear. There is a minimal sense of a continuous ceiling and floor with small partitions spread at different angles throughout the space or we look along through openings in countless parallel screens with occasional ladders going up to hidden spaces. As we head further in, spaces are only defined by the eccentric intersection of five or six partitions, each of which is rendered as if transparent. Even bizarrely twisted structural supports are dematerialized. The intermediate scale impressions of huge spindly towers reminiscent of the advertising tower schemes and variations on the Spatiovores are equally light and sketchy. The project had become extremely delicate, a series of lacy overlaps. The aesthetic of multiple intersecting lines of movement that previously defined the megastructure was now to be found in the overlapping lines of the sketch — in the technique of depiction rather than in the spaces depicted.
Arrows soon fly into the drawings, marking some unspecified flow, while numbers appear like strange dimensions or readings. They start to take over. Flowing lines of movement sweep through the labyrinthine space. Dotted lines and formulas establish mysterious con-nections. Even the drawings that look most like traditional sections, with clearly defined foundations, columns, elevators, suspended platforms, etc., are cryptically notated. The drawings have become analytical diagrams of a spatial mechanism reminiscent of those by Marcel Duchamp and Frederick Kiesler.
A selection of thirteen of these drawings made between 1961 and 1962 were exhibited in a Rotterdam gallery in the summer of 1963.1 Meanwhile, Constant had prepared a key drawing that lies between architecture and painting. In 1962, a photocopy of a detailed plan was elaborated with paint. It shows the intersection of four sectors over a district in Amsterdam with the layout of all the roads, rail, and sports fields precisely marked on the ground below. Being a large image, all the internal divisions of the sectors are shown, with each space clearly defined and named, along with the stairways that link the levels of each sector to the adjacent one or to the ground and the roof-top heliport. The drawing captures both the precise relationship between the huge sectors and the relationship between the smallest spaces. It acts as a hinge between art and architecture and also between the micro- and macro-scales, seemingly allowing Constant to head off further in each direction.
In the following two years, the labyrinthine quality of the micro-scale was explored with a series of Dioramas and the macro-scale with pseudo-realistic drawings and a series of maps of chains of sectors in different locations. Standard maps were overlaid with transparent color to mark the megastructural web. In one map, the project moves around the historical center of Amsterdam. In another, it occupies most of the city. It then spreads itself out across the north of Holland. The Hague is infiltrated, followed by Rotterdam, and Antwerp. The whole of the Ruhr region of Germany gets covered with the spiderweb of structures. Munich, Paris, and Barcelona quickly succumb. Each sector then becomes a fragment of the map of a different city from around the world, echoing the psychogeographic maps by Debord and Jorn. In 1967, Constant laid another collage of diverse city centers over an ancient historical map of Middlesex. On another historical map, these sectors float apart from each other. Finally, in 1969, the appropriated sectors become three-dimensional objects attached in a chain to a large white background with the high-speed traffic lines flying across it in red. The identity between New Babylon and the original psychogeographic maps was complete.
In parallel to the development of these images, Constant started to prepare a series of realistic architectural elevations and perspectives of individual sectors and chains of sectors heading off to the horizon. This drawing technique, introduced in 1964, is a primitive form of three-dimensional realism. Some of the structures resemble the hanging sector model, but most are new forms of sector, huge tentlike constructions, for example, with fabric stretched over the tops and bottoms of a few massive columns. The relationship between models and drawings eventually became very close. The drawings made in 1966 precisely match the spatial quality of the models produced in the same year. Gradually, they were even given the same names as the models. Labels like Schets voor het esr (Sketch for the esr) resemble those of any architect. The Mobiel ladderlabyrinth (Mobile Ladder Labyrinth) and Ladderlabyrinth (Ladder Labyrinth) models of 1967 are likewise accompanied by a series of matching drawings. In a very large detailed architectural section of the Grote Gele Sector (GreatYellow Sector), every element is shown in exactly the same position as in the model produced in the same period.
Occasionally, Constant employed representational techniques foreign to the typical architect, as in the series of ten lithographs exhibited in 1963 in the Galerie d’Eendt in Amsterdam, and produced as a limited edition of 60 boxed sets with an accompanying text by Simon Vinkenoog. In making the lithographs, older drawings were recolored and different media were combined in the same image. Sketches were superimposed on photographs of the models to produce a completely different sense of space — reemphasizing the play between the structures and the landscape that had been so important in the first representations. In 1968, Constant produced a series of lithographs that combined different images of the project with text by Caspari.1 Other lithographs explored the geometry of the spiderweb with holes actually burned through the drawings to define the spatial focus.
Clearly, Constant had not simply abandoned art for architecture. While becoming more like an architect than an architect, he held on to the identity of an artist. What makes his adopted persona hyper-architectural is precisely this artistic dimension; it is the routine behavior of the architect, rather than the forms, that has been transformed into an artwork. The project appropriates and challenges disciplinary expectations. As the lecture in
London insisted: ‘New Babylon is not a town-planning project, but rather a way of thinking, of imagining, of looking on things and on life... The artist has always tried to represent the image of the world, but more important is to change the world itself and make it more livable.’2 To stimulate discussion, Constant did not simply produce models of an imaginary world of future play. Rather, the project itself is conceived of as a model to be played with today — an ‘experimental thought and play model, ’ as the catalog essay for the Bochum exhibition of 1961 insists.'64
Constant’s simulation of the architect’s persona was a multi-media performance. New Babylon was a veritable array of diverse representations. The sheer volume and variety of material was polemical in itself, as was already evident by the time of the Bochum exhibition when Constant insisted, for example, that publications ‘show as many directions as possible.’3^ The diversity was institutionalized when a New Babylon Archiv stamp was made and soon applied to everything. The project had to be understood as a single collection of heterogeneous material. It was the stamp rather than the forms that united the material. This institutionalization became official after the 1974 exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum when work on the project finally stopped. The curator Hans Locher — who after meeting Constant in 195-8 had closely watched each step in the work’s evolution — had the foresight to organize the museum’s purchase of almost the entire collection. Since little of New Babylon had been sold over the years, it was possible to preserve the polemical density of representations as a singular artwork. The ever-restless New Babylon finally took up permanent residence.
The Electronic Legacy
Constant’s impersonation of an architect had a unique impact on architectural discourse. Traces of his thinking are evident in a whole chain of experimental architectural practices: Archigram, Architecture Principe, Eventspace, Superstudio, Archizoom, Office of Metropolitan Architecture, and nato, to name but a few. Its impact can be seen in the specific design proposals, the theoretical proposals, the organization of the groups, and the multi-media format they deploy. Indeed, New Babylon still resonates strongly with contemporary work.
Perhaps the most striking resonance is the way the project prefigures contemporary concerns with electronic space. Its fantasy of an infinitely flexible, ever-shifting, interactive spatiality is echoed in countless computer-based projects of recent years. This is not simply a conceptual parallel. The computer was at the very heart of New Babylon. In 1957, Constant had written in the Liga Bulletin that ‘technique, electronics, construction, and movement’ were already transcending their utilitarian meanings.1 At the opening of the Essen exhibition, ‘Electronics, automation, cybernetics, space travel, chemicals’ is the list of raw materials of the new way of life.’2 From the beginning, Constant closely followed the arguments of Norbert Wiener, the leading theorist of cybernetics, repeatedly citing texts like The Human use of Human Beings to the effect that the computer will allow all work to be automated. All the changing desires of the playful inhabitants will be accommodated by electronics that both monitors peoples’ desires and acts on them. The ‘electronmachine’ will be the ‘slave’ of the new society, as he puts it in the Bochum lecture of 1961. In 1964, he added: ‘The only field of activity inaccessible for the computer is the unforeseeable act of creativity that makes man change the world and reshape it after his capricious needs."68 And even then, the results of this creativity can only be monitored by computer. Constant’s book manuscript argues that the only adequate representation of the project would be by the computer:
Any three-dimensional representation would, in itself, only have the value of a snapshot, since even admitting that the model of each sector may be reduced to several plans and sections of the different levels, and that one manages thereby to constitute a sort of detailed atlas of the sectors, it would still be necessary,from one instant to the next, to record, using symbolic notations as in a ship’s log, all the topographical modifications that are produced. Recourse to a computer will doubtless be necessary to resolve such a complex problem.169
Electronics were crucial to New Babylon. Not only would the massive system of sound, light, and space fluctuation require the most sophisticated behind-the-scenes automation but electronics would be part of the visible scenery. Spaces were dedicated to the playful use of electronics. Constant experimented with this possibility, dedicating one of the Spatiovores, for example, to the production of electronic music — an interest continued in the Eindhoven project which featured a huge electronic harp that would produce music in response to the vibration of its wires in the wind. Some plans designate specific spaces for play with radio and television; ‘perfected telecommunications’ would be needed between all spaces.
A new kind of‘transmitting and receiving audiovisual network’ would be overlaid on the ever-shifting spatial network. Like the other technological systems, it not only makes the new playful lifestyle physically possible, but also becomes the subject of play:
A renewed, reinvented audio-visual media is an indispensable aid. In a fluctuating community, without a fixed base, contacts can only be maintained by intensive telecommunications. Each sector will be provided with the latest equipment, accessible to everyone, whose use, we should note, is never strictly functional. In New Babylon air conditioning does not only serve to recreate, as in utilitarian society, an ‘ideal’ climate, but to vary ambience to the greatest possible degree. As for telecommunication, it does not only, or principally, serve interests of a practical kind. It is at the service ofludic activity, it is a form of play.1
Constant had already pioneered the radio-controlled derive in 1958. The walkie-talkie short circuited the physical space of the city, fostering the production of a different kind of city — another social space. The derive itself can be understood as a mechanism for the production of a kind of virtual space, subverting the apparent physical order in favor of a different spatiality, as represented so clearly in Debord and Jorn’s maps. The electronics in New Babylon would not subvert an established order, as no order is ever established. Rather, they act as just another device for producing space, operating — like floors, ladders, ramps, and furniture — as tools for generating new experiences. For Constant, the computer is a medium like any other: ‘we should use computers, television etc. like a painter uses his brushes.’2
Not by chance do many of the representations of New Babylon resemble a circuit board with its multiple overlapping lines of flow. This quality became literal at the end of 1968 when electronics were integrated into the last model of the project. A dense metal network i.g by 2 meters, and 1.5 meters high, was filled with electronic circuits, tiny lights, and speakers. A plexiglass control panel allowed the model to be played like a musical instrument. The overall sound would be the same as the soundtrack used in the lectures with additional small points of sound emitted from little speakers mounted in the structure and moved around at will. The idea was reminiscent of the Cybernetic Sculptures of Schoffer, which were equipped with an ‘electronic brain’ that responded with light and music to the environment through a number of sensors. But now the solitary user takes the active position of the computer, simulating the pulsating effects of collective desire.
New Babylon has to be understood in terms of the entire discourse in the early sixties about the relationship between electronics and architecture. Even the relatively conservative Liga debated the issue in 1960. The comparison that is often made between New Babylon and Cedric Price’s Fun Palace project of 1962-1967, for example, has to go beyond the clear resonance between the idea of an endlessly variable framework for play to the less obvious level of cybernetic organization. Like New Babylon, Fun Palace was to be integrated by sophisticated computer programs. A ‘Cybernetic Committee’ of experts was established which made a number of detailed reports on themes like ‘psychology and experimentation’ and ‘cybernetics and architecture.’3 In 1960, Schulze-Fielitz argued that his Space City would use ‘electronic calculating centers’ to orchestrate the structure’s ever-changing organization with ‘infinite possibilities of combination.’173 Likewise, the Archigram projects that most resemble New Babylon were completely wired up. Having attended Constant’s lecture in London, Archigram members studied a copy of his Copenhagen lecture. Constant had contributed as much to this discourse as he had absorbed.
The effect of electronics on space, like that of the nineteenth-century techniques of steel and glass construction that mobilized modern architecture, was understood by the next generation of architects to be a new kind of freedom, a new kind of lightness. Most of the idyllic images of experimental architecture were underpinned by electronics, even in the work of those who never addressed the subject. The absence of many traditional architectural elements in the images is made possible by the fantasized structural possibilities of the new electronic technology.1 The only hint of the computer presence is often the absence of familiar elements in the spaces. This has made it easy for subsequent generations of architects to respond to the forms rather than the electronics that was understood to make those forms possible. Recent pronouncements about the computer’s role in architecture unwittingly duplicate polemical positions of the late fifties and early sixties.
Contemporary architects who are interested in virtual space and routinely authorize their work with repeated citations of Paul Virilio, for example, should not forget his earlier role as an architect and his own citations of New Babylon. Constant was a key reference point when Virilio and Parent formed the Architecture Principe office in 1963: ‘We were very much interested in Constant’s “New Babylon”... We read the situationists a lot. I have many issues of the International Situationist review and of course the idea of “urban derive” interested us very much. In fact my architecture was called “de sites de derivation ”us In 197^, Virilio included a large section of Constant’s book manuscript in a collection of essays on Nomades et vagabondes ,ly6 Likewise, admirers of the most nuanced accounts of architecture’s fluid role in the contemporary global economy should consider Rem Koolhaas’s interview of Constant on the nomadic sensibility of New Babylon in 1966, shortly before he became an architect.2Three months later, Constant lectured to the Society of Dutch Architects at the opening of the new buildings at the Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, proclaiming that the transitory spaces of airports were a precursor of the nomadic society of the near future.'78 Much of the mentality of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism survived in Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture. The Architectural Association in London, which bred so many leading members of architectural discourse of the 1980s and 1990s, absorbed many lessons from the situationists in the seventies, including specific details from New Babylon.
Constant’s whole performance had always been understood in terms of such an effect, starting with his original conception of the Bureau as an ‘instrument of effective propaganda’ emphasizing research and its dissemination rather than design. In reality, it was just a name, a front for delivering messages, another of many channels to broadcast the polemic. Experimental architects tuned in. It would be foolish to try to pin down this influence. Influence is by definition imprecise and, regardless, little is ever lost in architectural culture. Ideas circulate restlessly, although they often slip below the surface for a while. When even the fundamental and wide ranging work of Team 10 is skimmed over, it is no surprise that an isolated project like New Babylon has been left out of many of the standard histories. Notable exceptions include Reyner Banham’s Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past, and some collections of‘visionary’ or ‘utopian’ architecture — as if the project could be safely isolated from the mainstream as an unrealizable fantasy.1 In fact, Constant always insisted that it was realizable — utopian in the sense of being designed for a future society but realistic in the technology it deploys. This point was already made in the very first description of the design in Internationale Situationniste .'8o New Babylon is at once an idealistic artwork and a realizable technical proposition. As Constant put it in a letter to the curator of the Bochum exhibition: ‘It is not just the fantasy of an artist. It is a typical product of the technical mass culture and the realization is closely linked to practical questions of today and, more important, the coming time.’18' When lecturing to the architecture students in Copenhagen, he went as far as to insist that his vision of the future as an artist was actually more practical than those offered by contemporary architects:
The New Babylon plan, in its presentform, is, still like a work of art, nothing but a suggestion. It only intends to give the minimum conditionsfor a behavior that is to remain as free as possible... The exhibition in this academy shows a selection of the material that is made with the intention to illustrate an urban world, entirely different from the present one. Considering that this present urbanity
like the society whose expression it is — is obviously declining, it would not be right to look at New Babylon as a utopian project. On the contrary,from all the projects concerning the city if the future
to make such projects seems to become a kind of fashion — I may say that New Babylon perhaps represents the only one that is based on the totally new social conditions that are offered by the complete mechanization of production-labor.
At the same time, the project is not meant to be realized as such. In January of 1965-, Constant writes to the Liga reminding them that New Babylon ‘is just a symbol, a symbol for the integration of creative and social activity’ whose form is necessarily unclear.'83 He had always proposed that even the basic structure was unpredictable and would be produced by teams of psychologists, architects, urbanists, engineers, and sociologists. At the end of 1965, he goes further, writing to Anthony Hill that it actually does not make sense to think of New Babylon as realizable, even by its inhabitants:
The particular task of the artist has always been — and still is — thefantastication of reality... In so far I could say New Babylon is still a work <f art. However, there is a good deal of construction and rational thinking in this plan. But I know that the realization of such a plan could never be the work of one man, not even of one generation. I am inclined to think that New Babylon will never be realized, could never be finished, that the construction of New Babylon will be an interminable activity in which all the people that are to live will be involved. This dream, that I call New Babylon, is born out (f the dissatisfaction of a modern artist who no longer believes in superior individual creativity.2
New Babylon is realistic yet unrealizable. For Constant, it was more a form of resistance to the current social and spatial condition than a specific proposal for a future world. It was always conceived as a form of propaganda, and in that sense it remained resolutely situa- tionist. In 1966, Constant told a newspaper interviewer that the project’s unimaginable scale and expense is a necessary guerrilla tactic in the face of a functionalist society obsessed with efficiency:
Yes it costs a lot. That’s what people say. An artist is never cost-effective. It is always money thrown away — a total loss. If you make plastic dishwashing racks or buckets,you can easily make money. A plan that has just a medium size is simply impossible to realize. My idea has grown too big for my studio. The only solution is to choose resistance with a guerrilla technique to influence as many people as possible.
Yet even the project’s unrealizability has to be understood as a form of realism. There is a crucial connection between seemingly unbuildable futuristic speculations and routine architectural practice. Since so few architectural ideas get built and the ones that do are usually compromised, there is something of the utopian in every architect. The unrealizable visions of experimental architects make their way into mainstream architectural practice. Images by avant-garde architects are no longer very different from those of the mainstream. New techniques are absorbed immediately. Something of New Babylon has infiltrated even the most conservative practices. To reconsider the project might help to reconsider contemporary work. It is not just a matter of looking back at the formal strategies or the theoretical position from a contemporary perspective so that current discourse can see what it would like to see in its own past. Rather, it is a matter of looking more closely to see what the discourse has never wanted to see.
Whatever the future is, it usually looks very good in the hands of architects. Architects, for whom the future is always the present, seek support for their proposals by producing astonishingly optimistic scenarios. The weather is always good and the inhabitants ecstatically happy. At first, Constant might seem to be the most optimistic of all. Perhaps it was the optimism of his extraordinary conviction about a society of infinite play that bonded him to the architectural community. If we look more closely though, his future is not so perfect after all.
The most obvious clue is the way human figures occupy the project. When Constant turned to architecture, the technique of collaging photographs of people into drawings had long been a standard way to make fantasy spaces seem plausible. When a collaged figure strides towards us in Van Doesburg and Van Eesteren’s famous image of 1924, for example, the schematically drawn shopping and housing area behind him seems more buildable. If the space is already occupied by real people it becomes realistic. In a sense, it is the photograph, the medium that is understood to be the most realistic, that occupies the new space. Realism is inserted into fantasy to locate a project somewhere between the present and the future — which is where architecture, in the most practical sense, lies. The appropriated inhabitants are the same as those used in advertisements: happy, healthy, wealthy — basking in the permanent glow of modernity. But if the newly wed Marilyn Monroe and Joe Demaggio run happily down the street-in-the-air of the Smithson’s Golden Lane Housing project, and their absurdly happy descendants populate the images of most architects, something else happens to the figures in the equally suspended world of New Babylon. At first, they are not even visible. When they appear, the news is not good.
The absence of human figures in the first representations was polemical. Constant argued that the New Babylonian could not be represented because it didn’t yet exist. New Babylonians would have to construct themselves. It was only when the drawings started to dematerialize the project that shadowy figures begin to appear. Eventually they become the center of attention, with New Babylon just a few intersecting planes in the background, but they remain vague — and vulnerable.
In one of the early drawings of 1960, a few stick figures appear in the space, their spindly bodies resembling the ladders in front of them. Two years later, a few blotchy figures can be seen, suspended above us or running through the space, only to return with a vengeance in 196^ when they completely fill the spaces that are now no more than a few quick lines. Hundreds can be seen in restless crowds on the multiple levels, or dispersed across the ground below. But they are still ghosts in a space that is itself phantomlike. Discrete figures finally come into focus against a few diaphanous planes in 1968. But their blotchy form now looks like blood stains. Any doubt is removed when they become red. There is a sense of ongoing violence. As we finally get close to the figures, close enough to make out faces, they have been piled up or are splattered across every surface as if there has been horrific carnage. Human life becomes just a stain of its extinction.
Stains had always played an important role in New Babylon. (see Cobra how to react on given spots)The ground below the first models was stained and marked, as were many of the shiny metal surfaces. Even the immaculate plexiglass is speckled with paint, scratched, graffitied, and stained on both sides. Similar splatters appear in drawings of 1962 and reappear throughout the years. Stains were even added to the most sophisticated photocollages — like the large blown-up map of the project heading from The Hague across to the coastline. Part of the effect of realism comes from these stains, imperfections in the new technological order that will eventually be identified with the bloody human body itself. New Babylon is an unsafe world. The space of desire is finally understood as a space of conflict. The issue was first addressed directly in Constant’s book manuscript:
New Babylon is an uncertain universe where the ‘normal’ man is at the mercy of every possible destructive force, every kind of aggression. But let us know that ‘normality’ is a concept linked to a certain historical practice, its content is therefore variable... The image of a free man who does not have to strugglefor his existence is without historical basis... man’s aggressivity does not disappear with the satisfaction of his immediate material needs.'S6
The inevitably violent survival instincts within traditional societies give way to an equally forceful ‘creative instinct’ in a society where survival is no longer an issue. If art is ‘barely distinguishable’ from criminality in the face of established order, such criminality becomes the collective way of life in New Babylon. But it is understood as play because there is no established order. It was no surprise that Constant would become an important mentor of the Provos in their attempts to challenge and ridicule any fixed order. They often referred to him, published an article on New Babylon, and interviewed him in their little magazine Provo.1 While the situationists had criticized the dependance on Constant, many of the Provos’ strategic disruptions in the city became tactics in the 1968 rebellion in Paris.2 Constant’s response to the struggle was to make violence even more a part of his project. In the face of the Vietnam War and the Provo actions of 1966, he had rejected the idea of an intrinsically violent human nature but accepted the strategic need for violence to achieve social justice.3 In the wake of 1968, revolutionary violence and postrevolutionary life became indistinguishable. The very idea of postrevolutionary life, with all its optimism, dissipated.
After the street battles, Constant became increasingly dissatisfied with the result of his experimental electronic model. Finding it too simplistic and idealistic to capture the elusive atmosphere of New Babylon, he destroyed it and emptied his studio of model-making tools and materials. Having polemically rejected painting for so many years, he started to paint again. The first painting, Ode a I’Odeon of 1969, transformed a key space of the Paris revolt into a New Babylonian space. The blurry occupants of the labyrinth are indistinguishable from the countless ladders. Like phantoms, they are melded into the spatial atmosphere. In Der blaue Draufgänger (The Blue Daredevil) of the same year, they start to emerge as blotches and splatters. A few of them finally come into focus in Erotic Space of 1971: a woman’s bloody body lies naked on the ground; the outline of an aroused man hovers on the opposite wall; a mysterious figure lurks in the background. In Ingang van het Labyr (Entrance of the Labyrinth) of 1972, the figures occupying the spiderweb of the space frame stretching to the horizon are nothing more than red blotches splattered on the ground. Blood runs out from behind pristine surfaces and is sprayed across the floor. In the same year, Le massacre de My Lai stages the infamous brutality against the high tech scaffolding of New Babylon, and Ontwaakte verworpenen der aarde (Arise Ye Workers from Your Slumbers) literally piles the bodies up, completely blocking the space that was designed for infinite mobility. Two years later, the lithograph Le massacre further multiplies the carnage. Blood dominates the image. The painting Le viol glimpses a brutal sexual murder occurring behind a partition; La blouse hongroise (The Hungarian Blouse) depicts a space stained by two bloody figures; and Le voyeur captures somebody spying from behind one partition a sexual act occurring alongside another. A series of paintings, drawings, and lithographs use New Babylon as the si
te for blurring sexuality, spatiality, social life, and aggression.
This visceral explosion of desire, pleasure, and violence has to be understood against the background of the idealization of technology.
The stains appear against the immaculacy of advanced electronics and statistics. In Erotic Space, electric cords grow out of the wall
and disappear into the naked body and the pool of blood. A lithograph from the Caspari series again links blood, wires, and smoke. The real context of life and death in New Babylon is electronics rather than the more obvious titanium and nylon structures. While contemporary cyber-architecture is delivered with the routine euphoric optimism of the long-institutionalized architectural avant-garde, Constant relentlessly explored the hidden menace of his bright new social space and the technology that would make it possible. Pleasure becomes painful or pain becomes pleasurable, again.
Constant’s destruction of the large electronic model had marked the beginning of the end. Having followed the social pathology to the limit of ecstasy and then despair, the design that by definition could never be finished would soon stop. The ‘ex-artist’ had shrugged off the architect’s persona when he returned to painting. Having once sold the early Cobra paintings to fund his hyper-architectural work, he sold off the architecture to fund his painting. The end came when the paintings were finally exhibited along with all the other representations at the 1974 exhibition at the Haags Gemeentemuseum. New Babylon was finally transformed into a historical artifact. Yet it was not a simple ending. And even less a simple artifact:
By the time I had more or less finished working on the New Babylon project for the exhibition in The Hague, I could, theoretically, do three things, I could go on with New Babylon, which as you say is never ready but that would have meant repeating myself. I could stop altogether and do nothing, and that was, theoretically, the most obvious choice cfter something like New Babylon. But I was incapable, of course, of doing nothing. And the third possibility was simply to go on working on whatever
I felt like doing and that is infact what I did. First watercolors and etchings and then more paintings, mostly not on the New Babylon theme, but in spite of myself, more or less unconsciously all sorts of elements crept in which I have always seen as events or happenings that belong to the world (fNew Babylon.'90
Two decades of architectural work had evaporated, only to return as a ghost. It remains a haunting presence in our discourse today. That was always the point. Constant designed a provocation rather than a city. It is realized in its effect on others. As the architecture students in Delft were told in 1961:
New Babylon is like a striptease. It stimulates action and therefore it is real.191
the relation to material, to color, the expectation of a new esthetics. (in that time all revolutionary things in art appeared on the-surface- the experimental group, the Unformal group used rough surfaces (paintings), the belief in
what a material coudl eb able to express.(end of 50's)