Visionary architecture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Visionary architecture is the name given to architecture which exists only on paper or which has visionary qualities. While the term 'visionary' suggests the idea of an idealistic, impractical or Utopian notion, it also depicts a mental picture produced by the imagination. These architectural drawings on paper allow insight of the unusual perception of the worlds that are impossible to visit everyday, except through the visual dramatization of the designed, imaginative environment.[1] There are also two meanings that are derived from both terms 'imagination' and 'imaginary,' meaning unrealistic and impossible, and the other the ability to deal creatively with an unseen reality. A significant precedent that adheres to the concept of visionary architecture is the 18th century architect Giovanni Piranesi, who also had to think twice about the difference in meaning of the two terms. The titles of his well-known prison etching works had two versions. The first was 'imaginary prisons,' and the final as 'prisons of the imagination.'

Criticism of the 'Irrational' design[edit]

There are two differing perceptions in relation to the work of the imagination, and visionary architecture. One position is that there are no unbuildable buildings, only unbuilt ones, and the other is the belief that some visionary architectural drawings are impossible to be inhabited by the human. In the absence of a clear grasp of a controlling idea, as an individual, each design is found to be highly arbitrary, and it is this aspect, which results in the designs to seem and look impossible. Conceptual architecture, or architecture based on the act of imagination and vision, dissociates the physical nature of architectural design. However, it is the idea and belief that these drawings and images are able to portray the true meaning of architecture and design that connotes the significance of the works of visionary architecture. The complete history of architecture must include both the built and the unbuilt environment.

Tool of Scaling[edit]

Architects are able to imagine, see and define a distant object that is in fact a building through the process of fabricating models, scaling them up and down, ascending from the abstract to the concrete. Instead of physically creating the design of a building into its complete scale and form, multiple up and down transitions in scale size of models allow the building design that is on paper to emerge, become visible, representing the material as being real, bringing the building into existence.[2] The visionary nature of the eighteenth-century movement did not reside so much in this radical formalism as in the bizarre conceptions in which the architects indulged, and their delight in projects of vast size.[3] These scaled models were considered to be utopian and fantastic in design, where the sense of fantasy is enhanced by symbolic meanings that are achieved by making the whole form of the building speak.[4]


Early designers and artists[edit]

During the Renaissance period, the differing representations of buildings evolved and grew rapidly through the introduction of perspective.[5] The discovery of this visualization tool, allowed for experimentation with imaginary architectural scenes, and while many architects wrote greatly on the subject, others articulated their concepts and ideas through drawings.

During the sixteenth century, a Dutch painter and architect, Jan Vredeman de Vries,[6] produced numerous engravings, which portrayed new forms of architectural representation. His works were of pure fantasy and imagination, but were also regarded as avant-garde messages in the depiction of architectural space.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was considered one of the greatest printmakers of the eighteenth century. He is notably one of the greatest printmakers of his time, where it is through this medium in which he demonstrated his mastering of etchings of imagined spaces.[7] It was suggested that the drawn spaces would lose their magic and meaning if they were to be physically built in real life, as they would lose their unique forms of detail and intricacy, which is only achieved through drawings. The particular series of etchings 'Prisons (Carceri d'invenzione) or 'Imaginary Prisons,' depict his famous fictitious and atmospheric etchings of Rome's ancient remains, and his dreams of antiquity that often surpassed reality.

Etienne-Louis Boullee's Monument to Newton is considered to be more perfect due to its capability in successfully defying any attempt to physically use it, being the most magnificent unusable space images, a dome with its literal-minded fulfilment underfoot, in a second answering dome.[8]

The young motion picture industry also created an impact within the architectural scene, represented through the films 'Metropolis' and 'Just Imagine.' This differing form of media allowed for the elaborate and imaginative architectural sets depicting futuristic scenes to be observed. Through this, other significant artists and architects such as Hugh Ferriss were influenced.[9]

Late 20th Century Designers and Architects[edit]

Peter Zumthor is another significant figure that adhered to the work of the unbuilt and paper architecture. The writing in his architectural manifesto of 'Thinking Architecture,' Zumthor grasps the significance of emotion and experience as measuring tools of the architecture, thus being the before-hand process of the design. His work was greatly unpublished because his philosophical belief of how architecture should be experienced first hand played a greater role in his designs. His perception that designing buildings should relate directly to our emotions.

Rem Koolhaas moved to New York in 1972, where his years of being situated in Manhattan, expanded his fascination with the city, leading to a close examination of the dynamics, which constructed it. His writing 'Delirious New York' [10] and the theory of manhattanism are the results of this study depicts his perception on the manifesto of the city, dealing with the city as a subject, where the book itself is a spatial project, while the text explains the structure of the city, using the narrative sequence and typographic layout to effectively mimic the space.[11]

Hermann Finsterlin is considered to be the one of the most radical of the Expressionists, and is notable known for having produced fascinating carbuncular studies of the most unbuildable and obscure buildings. Although he never built anything, his visionary drawings focused on perspectives, playing with the forms of unusual, organic shapes. Finsterlin's architectural drawings would require the most devious methods to physically build as they go against their form, beginning with careful dissection and separate moulding of each part, only emphasizing and confirming that they are among the purest paper buildings ever developed.[12]

Lebbeus Woods, after working with Eero Saarinen in the 1960s, turned to visionary architecture around 1976, producing a body of drawings and models that reimagine cities like Berlin, Paris, Havana, and Vienna. He also worked extensively in Sarajevo in the 1990s. Until his death in 2012 he was a professor at Cooper Union and other institutions and maintained a personal blog for his ideas and reflections, which is now maintained as an online archive.

Sheila Sri Prakash is the first woman to have started and operated her own architectural firm in India. She is known for her visionary architectural design methodologies where she draws from her ability to visualize and imagine spaces through the practice of classical Indian dance and music. She was regarded a child prodigy for her talents as a gifted dancer, musician, painter, sculptor and performing artist and is known for having given her first critically acclaimed Bharatanatyam Arangetram on stage, in Mumbai, at the age of 6. As a prolific designer she has had well over 1000 completed architectural projects to her credit over an ongoing career that spans 35 years. She is considered the greatest Architect from the Indian sub-continent and is known as a breakthrough thinker for her practice of Indo-centric Reciprocity or Holistic Sustainability through Architecture and Urban Design as a solution to global socio-economic issues. She serves on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation and the Role of Arts in Society.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walker, John. (1992) "Visionary Architecture". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  2. ^ Scaling Up and DownL Extraction Trials in Architectural Design; Albena Yavena; Social studies of Science Vol. 35, No.6, Dec. 2005
  3. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin; Metropolitan Museum of Art; New series, Vol. 26, No. 8, Apr., 1968
  4. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin; Metropolitan Museum of Art; New series, Vol. 26, No. 8, Apr., 1968
  5. ^ The built, the unbuilt and the unbuildable: in pursuit of architectural meaning. Robert Harbison; Thames and Hudson, 1991
  6. ^ Visionary Architecture: Unbuilt works of the imagination; Burden, Ernest E 1934; New York: McGraw-Hill, c2000
  7. ^ Visionary architecture: Unbuilt works of the imagination. Burden, Ernest E 1934, New YorkL McGraw-Hill, c2000
  8. ^ Visionary Architecture: Unbuilt works of the imagination; Burden, Ernest E 1934; New York: McGraw-Hill, c2000
  9. ^ Visionary architecture: Unbuilt works of the imagination. Burden, Ernest E 1934, New YorkL McGraw-Hill, c2000
  10. ^ Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture (2nd Ed.); Jenks, Charles; Kropf, Karl (Ed.S); Chichester, West SussexL Wiley Academy, 2006, 2nd Ed.
  11. ^ Paradigm Islands, Manhattan and Venice: Discourses on Architecture and the city; Teresa Stoppani; Abingdon, Oxon [England]; New YorkL Routledge 2011
  12. ^ Visionary Architecture: Unbuilt works of the imagination; Burden, Ernest E 1934; New York: McGraw-Hill, c2000

External links[edit]