Utopia and dystopia are sometimes eerily close. Despite the concept being rooted in fantasy, we seem to endlessly strive for and imagine the ideal society. Utopian solutions to complex problems turn dystopian when we fail to address the full breadth of their inherent ambiguities and try to simplify cumbersome realities with convenient, workable answers. With the emergence of ‘design thinking’, the design discipline is all encompassing, broadening its influence from the realm of two and three-dimensional objects, to include systems, organisations, events, and social interventions. Designers are invited by governments and corporations to brainstorm ‘wicked problems’, such as waste, unemployment, climate change, and migration, thus reinventing both the discipline and the act of ‘design’ as a technocratic method for problem-solving. In this present context, design is put forward as an ideologically and politically neutral activity, while it is called upon to solve problems from which the neoliberal state has withdrawn. This reading list is part of my ongoing exploration of utopia and dystopia, of designed utopia transforming into dystopia, of accidental and designed dystopia, of the quest for utopia, and its fear, and of the secret longing for the destruction that lies within utopia and dystopia. This list is purposely broad, ambiguous, and subjective because my intention is to focus precisely on those messy, emotional, romantic, and megalomaniac ideologies behind design concepts presenting themselves as universal, common sense, or natural.
Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto1
A much-hyped and equally derided dystopian manifesto by journalists and (former) environmentalists Kingsnorth and Hine in which they call for new narratives to deal with our uncertain future.
News from Nowhere2
Based on Marxist principles, Morris’s utopian fantasy of an agricultural society in which citizens spend their days hand-crafting and decorating artefacts as a romanticised alternative to a society of industry, obsolescence, and consumerism.
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth3
A documentary about the infamously short life of Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex in St. Louis, Missouri, which started as a paradigm of utopian modernism and ended as a misunderstood example for opponents of public housing.
The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing, and Real Estate – A Provisional Report4
A report from Columbia University on the relations between institutionalised socio-economic inequality, housing, and architecture.
A man meanders a futuristic Paris, alienated by the city’s ultramodern urban design and his inability to engage with other people. Tati famously had enormous sets built for this film.
The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics6
According to Morozov, if we continue to devolve problem-solving to Silicon Valley, big technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, pose a significant threat to democracy itself, increasing the legitimation crisis of democratic capitalism.
CC41 Utility Clothing: The Label That Transformed British Fashion7
During WWII, the UK government took over the complete design, manufacture, and distribution of clothing (and furniture) to deal with wartime scarcity and socio-economic inequality and at the same time promote modern design to its civilians.
Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations8
This collection of official instruction leaflets issued by the British government during WWII serves as a practical reminder of the necessity of repair and recycling in times of crisis and the changed narratives around these practices in recent discourse on sustainable design and development.
Hartz IV Moebel.com: Build More Buy Less! Konstruieren statt konsumieren9
Initiated when designer Van Bo Le-Mentzel was on welfare, hence the name of the German welfare system, this DIY modernist furniture guide and blog is a utopian design initiative intended for people living in sometimes less than utopian conditions.