NEOutopia: Architecture and the Politics of ‘the New’ – Part Two, Aug 2012

First published: CITY journal, Vol 6 Issue 5, Aug 2012

This article forms an introduction to Part Two of the Special Feature ‘NEOutopia: Architecture and the Politics of ‘the New’.  It is available to download in full via Taylor & Francis’ website and is excerpted below.

Heygate Estate, London, city-bound collective, 2012
Heygate Estate, London, city-bound collective, 2012

Architecture and urbanism abound with peculiarly, paradoxical terms. Simultaneously connoting newness and renascence, terms such as ‘regeneration’ and ‘urban renaissance’ purport that the past is a place to be salvaged and superseded – that ‘the new’ can emerge through a process of looking back. This unique blend of temporalities, where the past, present and future become strangely interchangeable, is particularly pertinent to the field of urban development. If, as Owen Hatherley suggests, ‘the paucity of ambition and grotesque inequalities of the present’ are revealed through nostalgia for the architecture of the past (2008, p.8); does the messy reality of the present require new, more creative modes of interpretation? 1

As explored in this feature, the progressive objectives of urban regeneration belie a striking, yet very real irony: development is never really new. As Caspar Pearson suggests, ‘the majority of urbanism relates to cities that already exist. It seeks to maintain and improve them.’ 2 Why then, if the production of architecture is shaped by the lure of the past, do architects, developers and governments insist that their projects are novel or somehow pioneering? ‘ NEOutopia : Architecture and the Politics of ‘the New’’ investigates this problem whilst suggesting that the aspirational claims of development disguise a dangerous ‘social pathology’: the inability of capitalism to produce a genuine form of “newness”. 3

Connected through an interest in the language of regeneration – its portrayal in development plans, real estate advertising and political discourse – the papers in this two-part feature conflate architectural analysis with artistic, political and philosophical critique.

1 Here, Hatherley is referring to the ‘remnants of social democracy’, as seen in the ‘concrete walkways’ and ‘windswept precincts’ of post-war, British architecture.

2 Pearson, C., ‘New Labour: New Renaissance’, Part Two of this special feature for City.
3 Moreno, L., ‘Looking Backward: towards the critique of neo-modernity’, Part One of this feature, City (Issue 16:3, pp. 345–354).