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Affirmative architectural dystopias

Author: • Aug 23rd, 2010 •

Category: academia, architecture, Ballardosphere, enviro-disaster

Next week, I’ll be speaking at Monash University’s conference Changing the Climate: Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe. I’m also helping to organise the event with Andrew Milner, and I’m looking forward to meeting our esteemed guests, among them Kim Stanley Robinson, whose Red Mars I have been re-reading and enjoying all over again. My paper is on Wednesday, 1 September, part of a panel representing Pia Ednie-Brown’s Plastic Futures project at the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, RMIT University. The panel consists of Pia, myself and another SIAL/Plastic Futures colleague, Andy Miller.

My abstract is below. The title references my PhD subtitle from 2008, ‘J.G. Ballard’s affirmative dystopias’, and alongside François Roche, Greg Lynn and Ballard, I will touch upon the work of Nic Clear, Archigram, Bruce Sterling, Geoff Manaugh and Marion Shoard.

If you’re in Melbourne next week, please come along. Registration details are available here, and the full program is here. To whet your appetite, read Manaugh’s excellent interview with Robinson, which anticipates the key themes of the conference.


Simon Sellars: ‘Affirmative architectural dystopias: experimental relations between humans and the built environment’

In a time of environmental concern, architecture is dominated by the mantra of sustainability. This is the ‘new high priest of moralism’ according to François Roche, a ‘green wash’ cordoning off nature as a sterile theme park. But can alternative solutions be found within the archetypal dystopia, within the fraught intertwining of the human and natural worlds that negatively generates the utopian rhetoric of sustainability? In this paper, I explore recent architectural practice that explicitly deploys science fiction, utopia and dystopia to investigate experimental relationships between humans, the built environment and the natural world. Juxtaposing the SF texts of architects including Greg Lynn and Roche with the work of novelist J.G. Ballard, an influence on many practitioners within this new discourse, I consider the suggestion that the movement towards the ‘dystopian’ in these texts can perhaps be simply read as ‘embracing change’, a new relationship that generates a new outcome: ‘affirmative architectural dystopias’.


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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Simon Sellars, Jim Lawrence, sabine w, Lee Rourke, John D and others. John D said: RT @ballardian I'm speaking next week at Utopia, #Dystopia & Catastophe Topics include Roche, Lynn… http://bit.ly/bwlABU #psychogeography [...]

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