for Our Perceptual Present
There is a long history linking utopian ideals of technology and calculation
with governance, of which Songdo and its sister “smart” cities are but the
latest additions. For example, New Atlantis, written in 1624 by the English
philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon, posited an ideal space governed
by education, inductive reason, and empirical experimentation as a scien-
tific practice. This utopia was invented to address the transformations in reli-
gion, knowledge, and power in the England of his day and to encourage his
ideals of natural philosophy and governance.1 In the late eighteenth century,
the British social reformer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham presented an
ideal architecture— the panopticon (fig. i.1)—to demonstrate his ideal of a
link between visuality, the rational and calculated management of space, and
democratic government. Bentham posited a perfectly organized space where
power could be wielded without force as part of a utopian reconceptualiza-
tion of politics.2
Modern utopias have also often reflected the media, technology, and sci-
entific methods of their time. The famous French architect Le Corbusier, for
example, imagined cities of tomorrow in 1923 (fig. i.1) that would be perfectly
statistically managed, showcase the latest technologies, and eliminate disorga-
nization and could be built and replicated through systemic, machine- like
principles and the application of careful statistical social science. Le Corbusier
invented a method of proportions that allowed his designs to be implemented
at different scales— from individual homes to entire cities.3 His plans went
on to shape the future of cities like Brasília and Chandigarh and to define the
future of public housing globally in the postwar years. According to the archi-
tectural historian Robert Fishman, Le Corbusier imagined that the industri-
alist and engineer had built the perfectly rationalized mode of production,
and therefore architecture and planning had to provide a city that refracted
and advanced modern technology and capital in the early to mid- twentieth
If modernity had “a machine for living,” to quote Le Corbusier’s definition
of his home design, by the 1970s architecture itself was being envisioned as
Previous Page Next Page