Constant, the Utopia receives life | Miquel Lacasta Codorniu

Constant de la New Babylon‘s drawing dated in 1964

Constant, the Utopia receives life

In the Utopian landscape of the sixties, where there resound names like Kurokawa, Fuller, Friedman, Archigram, Utopie or Archizoom, Constant’s project stands out for his ideological rigor. The technological Utopias of Archigram or Buckminster Fuller do not differ for social concepts of base in his offers. For these architects it is, especially, the fascination for the extreme technical possibilities of the new materials and methods of construction what nourishes his imagination. The concretion of his ideas, works and offers they seem to have a social background, but neither Archigram nor Buckminster Fuller link these ideas with a socio-political vision. Constant, on the other hand, places his project New Babylon emphatically inside a Marxist (neo) social critique and presents his vision of the future as the antithesis of the false company on the base of a new distribution of the means of production.

The New Babylon of fact, plans a new form of company and of housing. His point of item is the idea from which a deep automation of the production can come to a point where the work turns in unnecessarily in order that the people could enjoy a free almost infinite time. The surface of the land will be a cover for sequences of sectors, gigantic structures constructed by enormous towers that support a landscape of mechanized and automated agriculture, covered by rapid routes. The typical characteristic of the life in the sector is that the persons are totally liberated: they are liberated of all the links, procedure and conventions. It is lived in an environment that is totally free of the oppression and in the one that has the complete control. The New Babylon is a dynamic labyrinth that is being restructured constant by the spontaneity and the creativity of his inhabitants.

Constant revealed this vision of the future in numerous maps, models, drawings and paintings. The maps show the whole series of linked structures that spread across the landscape. These exist in diverse scales, beginning for an European quasi-dimension, since for example with the map of the region of the Ruhr of The New Babylon, and continuing with models that simulate the development of cities or districts of cities as Amsterdam, Antwerp, Paris, …

The idea of sector is also an investigation on new geometries. During the first years of the New Babylon, Constant did a great number of models with a great variety of forms and geometries, constructions in the shape of transparent umbrella, structures that are alike shells, the so called spatiovores, sectors as the described ones, creating parts of big megastructures that can manage to cover the landscape, models of labyrinthine spaces, etc.

Over everything, the models give the image of an artificial, complex world, dominated by the technology and in that the artificial materials and the ingenious technologies of construction, they are in use for doing a type of housing that exists out of the landscape and which characteristics are the indetermination, the mutual understanding and a geometry of complex root. The suggestion of a way of nomadic life, only possible thanks to the technology.

As well as it was advancing the work in the New Babylon, Constant was increasing the drawings and the paintings to be able to transmit his atmosphere. It realized numerous drawings that evoke the beginning of construction of the New Babylon, which express the tension, the complexity and the poetical power of the structural forms. Other paintings and drawings give an impression of the spatial character of the New Babylon. It is emphasized all that that suggests dynamism and mobility, stairs, sloping elevators, adjustable walls, etc. There appear a few amorphous masses that simulate more or less human silhouettes. A typical characteristic of the drawings is the tension that they transmit. This tension is created often by the graphical means, fragile figures are opposed to the compact thing, the dark thing is opposed to the light, the dynamic lines are confirmed by the static volumes. Sometimes, the tension takes place for the pace that the walls give to the structure of the represented space, or comes given by the movements of the human figures or the distortions of the perspective. This tension can be considered to be like indicative of the continuous oscillation between the liberation and the worry to which the spectator is submitted. In this respect the drawings, more than the models, form a species of transformation of Constant’s speech of a Utopian free world to the idea of oppression and inequality.

The same thing can be said of the paintings that Constant produced during his period of the New Babylon. Typical of his pictorial works they are his alive brilliant colors, suggesting scenes of happy feasts. The element of game goes on to the first plane in the shape of figures as very abundant carnival in the scenes. In the labyrinthine paintings, Oda à l’Odéon, 1969 or Ladderlabyrinth, 1971, nevertheless, the conflict is the dominant sense. Here already there is no clear perspective, the works lack a central point in the spatial organization that could organize into a hierarchy the set. One experiences this space as ambiguous and opaque; human silhouettes stroll around apparently without course and without any interaction.

The gesture of Constant’s farewell they might find the New Babylon in a qualified painting of 1973 Terrain vague. An unoccupied almost apocalyptic space places in a black horizon as the night. The first plane and the edges of the field of vision are patched and coffees with a dash of milk with lines. Scarcely it is recognizable in the distance a structure of the New Babylon. In a more nearby inspection, the monotonous yellow and white surface than occupies most of the painting it transforms in a more complex overlapping of collages of newspapers and other images. Is it a question of a palimpsest that it represents the end of the history?

New Babylon escribes a world where the people are liberated of all the procedure, forms and conventions. All the bows of oppression dissolve and already there is no a fixed structure of the social obligations or of loyalty to the family or for a specific place. The common place – the ordinary frame of day after day that gives life to the form and that in addition allows to postpone indefinitely any question on the last sense of the life – has been suppressed.

In a sense, New Babylon is the fulfillment of the logic of the denial that is typical of the forefront: in order to reach the aim of the total liberation of all the procedure and conventions, all the habits and the traditions have to be destroyed. New Babylon presents an image of a social form in which the desires of the person and the requirements of the community are indissolubly interlaced. As Constant describes it, is a company where already there is no need of secret and of possessions, but it is an absolute collectivity with which the general interest coincides automatically with the sum of individual interests. New Babylon, apparently, is a company without relations of power.

A Utopia like this one, nevertheless, is full of internal contradictions, that, involuntarily they appear in the drawings and Constant’s paintings. In fact, it is impossible to imagine a company that is so harmonious and free of stress, without his members have been finely obliged to adapt and to adjust, an oppression that implies the opposite of a real freedom. Dynamism, flexibility and permanent change are, in fact, inevitably in conflict with such qualities as peace, rest and harmony.

hinking his imagery that Constant’s theory on the New Babylon speaks to us about an absolute peace and harmony, which would be reached as soon as the revolution has done way, a different history presents us. The drawings and paintings facts, they seem to transmit much more in depth the comprehension of the human condition that the texts. The images are difficultly interpretable as one ideal future prefiguración, but rather they arise as a verification on the inability to give a concrete form to the Utopia. In the complexity, of which we can do an idea to us from the drawings, and in major measure in the paintings, the dark side of the world of the New Babylon also is represented.Drawings and paintings that show that the passion for travelling and the lack of permanent links they are unlimited, but that also clarify that this condition is inseparably tied to the indetermination, and the lack of an own soil. A painting, as Constant was saying during his period in the Cobra Group1, Drawings and paintings that show that the passion for travelling and the lack of permanent links they are unlimited, but that also clarify that this condition is inseparably tied to the indetermination, and the lack of an own soil. A painting, as Constant was saying during his period in the

This concept continues having his repercussions in his period of the New Babylon. Since result of it the paintings make visible something that the models and the writings were concealing: the fact that this Utopian world is not perfect and harmonious, that the dismantlement of all the conventions leads to a point zero of the human existence where the effort for being authentic diminishes to a torrent of sensations and perceptions, already not the ideal one but a cartoon. In this respect The New Babylon is a surprising test of the inability of formalizing the Utopia, of assimilating an own form, of making concrete a formal logic.

Even this way Constant represents a positive attitude, generatrix and creative of the sixties, in his creations it is possible to observe since on the one hand they come together an ideological deeply rooted vision in the Marxist sociology of base and a reading totally hallucinated of another possible reality. The impetus of a necessary naiveté and a structured complexity gives to Constant’s work, specially in his oneiric models, a reading very succeeded of the boisterous and energetic spirit of the sixties simultaneously that watches the beginning of a much more complex, interconnected and indeterminate reality.

Miquel Lacasta Codorniu. Doctor architect

Barcelona, octuber 2012


1 Officially, the Experimental Group was created on July 16, 1948 in Constant’s domicile, who wrote a manifest:: “It Had like a movement of forefront ideal, inside the spirit of the forefronts of long ago, with captures of position and declarations proclaimed to the aspect of the world”.

Es cofundador en ARCHIKUBIK y también en @kubik – espacio multidisciplinario. Obtuvo un Ph.D. con honores (cum laude) en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya UIC y también fue galardonado con el premio especial Ph.D (UIC 2012), M.arch en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, y se graduó como arquitecto en ETSAB Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya . Miquel es profesor asociado en ESARQ desde 1996. Anteriormente, fue profesor en Elisava y Escola LAI, y también en programas de postgrado en ETSAB y La Salle. Fue arquitecto en la oficina de Manuel Brullet desde 1989 desde 1995.


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