“Space is no longer what it was in the Dioptric, a network of relations between objects such as would be seen by a witness to my vision or by a geometer looking over it and reconstructing it from outside. It is, rather, a space reckoned starting from me as the zero point or degree zero of spatiality. I do not see it according to its exterior envelope; I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me.”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, 1964 Trans. Carleton Dallery, in: James M. Edie (ed.), The Primacy of Perception and other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, Northwestern University Press

Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 1901

“There are fifty-four cities in the island, all large and well built, the manners, customs, and laws of which are the same, and they are all contrived as near in the same manner as the ground on which they stand will allow.  The nearest lie at least twenty-four miles’ distance from one another, and the most remote are not so far distant but that a man can go on foot in one day from it to that which lies next it.  Every city sends three of their wisest senators once a year to Amaurot, to consult about their common concerns; for that is the chief town of the island, being situated near the centre of it, so that it is the most convenient place for their assemblies.  The jurisdiction of every city extends at least twenty miles, and, where the towns lie wider, they have much more ground.  No town desires to enlarge its bounds, for the people consider themselves rather as tenants than landlords.”

“He that knows one of their towns knows them all—they are so like one another, except where the situation makes some difference.”

utopia utopiaMap



“Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. They need only to be tonalized on the mode of our inner space. But what a book would have to be written to decide all these problems! Space calls for action, and before action, the imagination is at work. It mows and ploughs. We should have to speak of the benefits of all these imaginary actions.”

Bachelard, Gaston, (1957 ) Poetics of Space

In his 1953 essay ‘The crisis in the growth of Science-Fiction’, writer Michel Butor talks about the conundrum of Science-Fiction, where Science has become so advanced and specialized that no author can fully grasp its latest developments, let alone its consequences, unless perhaps he/she is a scientist him/herself. This has lead to a series of approximate speculations, with erroneous facts and misconceptions. Long gone are the days of the polymath scientists, he adds, and science fiction writing now lacks the rigour and the element of truth it should rely onto.

He concludes his essay with the following positive note however, which is of much interest to the architect:

“But the Last word has not been said, and it is certainly possible that SF will surmount this crisis in its growth.

It has the power to solicit our belief in an entirely new way, and it is capable of affording, in its description of the possible, a marvelous precision. But to realize its full power, it must undergo a revolution, it must succeed in unifying itself. It must become a collective work, like the science which is its indispensable basis.
We all dream of clean, well-lighted cities, so that when an author situates a narrative in such a place, he is certain of striking a sympathetic note. But we find ourselves, in the present state of SF, facing an enormous choice of barely sketched future cities among which the imagination hesitates, unsatisfied.
Everyone knows Heraclitus’ famous fragment: “Those who are awakened are in the same world, but those who sleep are each in a separate world.” Our dreamers’ worlds are simultaneously without communication and very much like one another. The classical mythologies united the common elements of these dreams into unique and public myths.
Now let us imagine that a certain number of authors, instead of describing at random and quite rapidly certain more or less interchangeable cities, were to take as the setting of their stories a single city, named and situated with some precision in space and in future time; that each author were to take into account the descriptions given by the others in order to introduce his own new ideas. This city would become a common possession to the same degree as an ancient city that has vanished; gradually, all readers would give its name to the city of their dreams and would model that city in its image.
SF, if it could limit and unify itself, would be capable of acquiring over the individual imagination a constraining power comparable to that of any classical mythology. Soon all authors would be obliged to take this predicted city into account, readers would organize their actions in relation to its imminent existence, ultimately they would find themselves obliged to build it. Then SF would be veracious, to the very degree that it realized itself.
It is easy to see what a prodigious instrument of liberation or oppression it could become.”

Michel Butor, La crise de croissance de la Science-Fiction, 1953, in ‘Répertoire 3’, Editions de Minuit, translated by Richard Howard, in ‘Inventory 3’

Now remember that the text was written in 1963 (!)
The allusion to all-clean and well-lighted cities seems to limit Science Fiction to a specific category when we’ve seen in fact an emergence of dystopias in Architecture, but the main argument nevertheless remains pertinent; in particular the notion of precision in the depiction of the future city. The city he envisions is enriched by a degree of complexity as an accumulative – and collective- process.
And although the collective enterprise he mentions here is possibly more difficult to achieve where individuality and authorship are still prevalent, the relationship between the imagined city and the real one, implied as a necessary consequence, is one to note.