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The Individual and the City: Abstract and Concrete

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Nathaniel ColemanORCiD


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As the setting upon which individual and social life is played out, the city in general, and specific works of architecture in particular, provide the context for solitude and sociability alike. The built environment is not neutral; it can evidence either the inscription of engagement or alienation. Although urban settings are inevitably bound to the time of their creation (and thus to the social and political conditions of that time), all works of art are also future-directed, oriented toward reception by experiencing subjects not yet born. Works persist through time as commentaries on their own moment and the future alike, which becomes the work's fugitive content context in a shifting present (so long as it persists or is remembered). Arguably, this is the utopian dimension of all projects (for cities and buildings alike); a claim based on the notion that projecting, as inevitably prospective, ever entails a fundamental re-description of reality of a utopian kind. But unlike literary utopias, designed projects, in particular those that enter into and alter concrete reality, promise to transform conditions here and now, for individual and collective alike. Affirming this possibility, also begs for some criteria for distinguishing between those architectural and urban projects that might alter the real for the better from those that might enter and alter it for the worse. In this regard, the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (known also as the Altare della Patria, or simply as the Il Vittoriano, designed 1881, completed 1925) and the Campidoglio (atop the Capitoline Hill, designed 1538), are proposed as parallel utopias occupying parts of the same hill that interpret the same foundation myth differently, one for the worse, the other for the better.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Coleman N

Editor(s): Jones C; Ellis C

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: The Individual and Utopia: A Multidisciplinary Study of Humanity and Perfection

Year: 2015

Pages: 45-66

Print publication date: 28/02/2015

Acceptance date: 20/06/2013

Publisher: Ashgate

Place Published: Abingdon, Oxon


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781472428943