Pragmatic Utopia: How Reality Finally Caught Up with Fiction in BIG’s Latest Monograph

Architecture, along with its academics and theorists have been exploring utopic ideas for a long time in hopes of making them concrete. As the world moves towards greater polarization, architecture has to adapt to the changing systems of the planet. Slowly, architects realized that utopia was not the best solution and had to be modified or merged with other ideas in order to make it work. DETAIL’s most recent monograph BIG. Architecture and Construction Details / HUGE. Architektur und Baudetails is a relationship between BIG’s imaginative, unbuilt utopias as well as functional, built architecture. It includes 20 projects taken from the firm’s workshop.

The term “utopia” is derived from the Greek word ou-topos, which means“noplace” or “nowhere”. It was first coined in 1516 by Thomas More in a book titled “The Book of Utopia”. A utopian society is an idealistic society. It’s a perfect place that encourages improvement and ensures everyone has the same assets and values.

Semaphore: an Ecological Utopia Proposed by Vincent Callebaut. Image © Vincent Callebaut Architectures

This concept is often used in science fiction films and books, as utopia creates the illusion that perfection. It has been expressed in architecture through the idea of self-sufficient, independent, and cohesive projects. There haven’t been clear design elements or physical characteristics that define utopic designs. Architecture was free to ignore consumer-driven projects, prioritize comfort over following structural guidelines. Instead, they focused on the socioeconomic, political, and political value of the urban fabric and ensured harmony within the community. Aesthetically architects were inspired by abstract art and fictional movies. This style stood against injustices and cruelties of the world and ended wars between nations.

In the early 20th century, modernists and futurists saw themselves as pioneers who wanted to build a better society. 1968 saw Ricardo Bofill Architecture Workshop’s publish a manifesto to address the needs of societies in constant change. The Space was born. It is a true architecture capable of “resolving all of the complexities of contemporaneity through an open, flexible, three-dimensional model.” It was not long before projects that were considered impossible were highlighted again. These included those of Yona Friedman’s Space City (1964), Arata Izozaki’s City in the Air (1961), and Kisho Kurokawa’s Helical City (1961). Although Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, or Radiant City, was not realized in 1924, many of its principles have influenced modern urban planning. Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopic plan to create harmony between natural and built environment was realized in 1932. He imagined Broadacre City where each household would have at least one acre and everything else was removed.

The City in Space: A Utopia by Ricardo Bofill. Image Courtesy of Ricardo Bofill Architecture Workshop

This utopic society’s notion of perfection, self-reliability and isolation was bound to cause dissonance within all parts of the community. These ideals are more like guidelines than they are. The world is now experiencing the negative effects of climate change, instability, and the reliance on digitalized, artificially-driven practices. This reality spawned “pragmatic utopia,” a utopia that blends an unattainable dream with pragmatic pragmatism. It creates an almost perfect fragment of the world. The term “pragmatic utopia” was first used by Davidya Kasperzyk (architect and bioregional planner), who described an architectural style that seeks perfection through realistic designs.

TIRPITZ / BIG. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

All our commissions vanished in one go when the global economy crashed in 2008 and we had to start over. Overall, I think we are no less experimental than we were at the beginning. What is significant about the difference now and back then is that many of our wild fantasies are becoming a reality. This is why we are being taken seriously. Many of the ideas we have developed over the years are finally being put into practice. — Bjarke Ingels

TIRPITZ / BIG. Image © Colin Seymour

BIG’s The Twist-Kistefos Museum, Jevnaker in Norway is an example of the company’s pragmatic utopia. The ideal conditions were created for the Kistefos Cellulose Factory by using a lot wood and water. The Tirpitz Museum, Blavand, Denmark was built using the existing topography. It conceals the main portion of its 2,800m2 building below the ground. The museum building is unique in its form and many practical and detailed solutions add to the impressive overall impression. Another venture by BIG is the Hyperloop, a tubular transit system that relies on maglev (magnetic-levitation) technology to transport passengers or cargo at speeds in excess of 700 miles per hour.

The Twist Museum / BIG. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Only when an idea crosses the threshold of fantasy into reality and enters the real world of atoms, spaces and data, can it be considered credible and tactful. — Bjarke Ingels

TIRPITZ / BIG. Image © Rasmus Hjortshøj

The question “What will the future look like for architecture?” The intelligence of materials is a key factor in architects’ decisions. This includes self-cleaning materials, self-cleaning materials, bio-concrete, carbon concrete and hydro-ceramics. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and generative design are all helping cities to create the future built environment. Artificial intelligence is another topic. The world is witnessing a shift from the real world to digital platforms. This was especially evident with the amplifying of the Metaverse last ye, which sparked a new debate about the value of architecture in the digital age.

Today’s architects are looking beyond Earth’s borders. BIG is currently building the first ever house for four people on the Moon. This will be done using existing resources and generating new tectonics as well as vernacular architecture. Bjarke elaborates on the possibility of 3D-printed buildings being built in space. This sounds like fiction. It would require obsidian-like material similar to “dragonglass” in “Game of Thrones”. Moon dust, also known as lunar regolith, can be made into a type of moon obsidian by using a solar laser.