Metabolic City

In my final year in graduate school I learned about a group called the Situationist International and I became fascinated with their imaginative imagery that drew from architecture and art. I was interested in their concepts of urbanism, the city and Marxism as a creative apparatus. Like the artists in the Chance Aesthetics exhibition, the work and their concepts are rather playful and I think are a reaction to the horrors of the destruction of cities and deaths of millions during World War II. This was their vision of post-war utopia.

Metabolic City focuses on mainly three different groups working at relatively the same time; 1950s-1970. The British architectural group, Archigram, the Japanese Metabolists, and the Situationist International (SI) (mainly Constant Nieuwenhuy).  The exhibition consists of montages, diagrams, architectural rendering, videos that are projected on glass while you sit in a cockpit type module, and models.

All three groups think of the city as a living organism that is flexible, mobile and expandable. They all had their views on economic systems that seemed to permeate their work. They all seemed to embrace technology as a way to make life better. For example, Archiagram and the Metabolists embraced consumerism and mass pop culture. Whereas the SI was very critical of capitalistic society. Their goal was to revolutionise space and mass culture through Marxist revolution. They wanted to liberate man from the confines of capitalism and mass culture. They envisioned urban space as an experimental arena for human interaction and self-realization. In simple terms, let’s think of the SI as socialists and Archigram and Metabolists as capitalists.

The Metabolists

After WW2, Japan was going through social, political and cultural changes. They drafted a new constitution and made dramatic changes in regard to land use. Looking for a positive identity and individual rights led to visions of he city based on metaphor of life cycles. They proposed new territories of inhabitation such as the ocean and social spaces gained prominence. There work defiantly has a biological and natural element to it. Some of it looks like part of living creature or is just closely tied to the natural environment.

Those included are Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki and Arata Isozaki

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Fumihiko Maki model

Fumihiko Maki model

Arata Isozaki photomontage

Arata Isozaki photomontage


This was a British group in which the members were fresh out of school. They were not too interested in politics and were more enthusiastic about the social aspects of built space and broader issues of urban livability. They were brough up in a time when destroyed cities were being rebuilt in short spans of time and lacked a sense of the vitality found in a living city. Seeing this and the desire for a better life spurred them to push the limits of architecture. Their proposals embraced emerging technologies and commerce to advance individual freedoms and enhance the lives of individuals. Their cities had a patterned look with a lot of alien-like spaceship-like pods that look like they are from some thing of Sci-Fi movie.

Those included are Peter Cook,Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb, Ron Herron.

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

SI (Constant)

This group was mainly based in the Netherlands and in France. Constant was from the Netherlands and like the Japanese and the British they were hit hard by the horrors of WW2. Constant’s most famous project was New Babylon. It was a sample of what maybe a Situationist city could look like. It focused on the city as an emphasis on the individual, social interactions and the presence of art as part of the environment. The city was an urban framework in which the occupants would be able to create, reconfigure and control their sensory environments.

Others associated with the SI are the activist, Guy Debord and artist, Asger Jorn

Constant's  New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: