THERE’S A PHOTO in The Tale of Tomorrow, a new book about the mid-century utopian architecture movement, of a building in Jerusalem. It’s composed of hundreds of wooden, dodecahedron-shaped structures, each at least the size of a room. It’s more orderly than favela architecture, but still has an air of chaos—like the beehive of geometric modules might tumble to the ground at any moment. This is Ramot Polin, an experimental housing project that architect Zvi Hecker built in the 1970s, just after the Six Day War.
With Ramot Polin, Hecker envisioned a society of the future, one that shared resources, like an interior courtyard, and looked nothing like the monotonous, rectangular apartment-blocks found in cities throughout the world. For its idyllic aspirations, it certainly deserves a place in The Tale of Tomorrow. “But people hated it,” says Sofia Borges, who edited the book. “It’s so formally amazing, but the corridors were dark, it was super hot, and basically over time there’s been this really aggressive adaptation of it by the residents.”
The idea of “utopian architecture” is a fraught one. Utopia, by definition, is a place where things are perfect. But who, exactly, gets to decide what is perfect? The Tale of Tomorrow ($68) offers a more measured interpretation. First, projects should have had manifestos. Specifically, ones angled at upending the status quo. Second, these buildings should be examples of wild experimentation in design and engineering. If that experimentation happened on many levels, even better. There was no single school of utopian architecture; instead, in the book’s introduction, Borges refers to a “broad tent under which communists and individualists, engineers and artists, modernists and metabolists all gathered.”
Borges attributes the movement’s origins to the surge in scientific developments that followed World War II. “The whole Space Age had this momentum—people were on the moon!” she says. And if we could send people to the moon, the thinking went, our buildings, cars, and product designs should all convey a similar level of excitement.