Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza by Andrea Palladio. Relief of lower floor plan by D'Agaro 1968, accessed on nov 5th, 2017
Can Utopia be Contextual?

R a d u    P o n t a  


Utopia is always contextual in the most vital and profound way: it is fed by the very context it provides an alternative for. This may not be the same understanding of «context» that the professional literature points to when it so often abuses the term. However, this understanding does not only allow one to unearth the roots of a specific project, but it is a standpoint that places context (and the reaction to it) at the very foundation of the architectural profession. It also almost always suggests that architecture be used as a tool for the construction of an ideally better alternative – not only to the existing architecture of a certain place and time, but rather – to other social, cultural or political conditions that architecture either empowers, validates or allows.


The more important question for me is how can a project be both utopian and contextual, or better yet, why should one strive to achieve this. The answer to the first question is far from simple, all the more so since it is highly likely that a general, theoretical answer be in itself a contradiction. As to the question of why, one should hope and even demand that the invention of something new remains a possibility – at the same time an open promise and a stake for the architecture that is to come. This invention can only stem from a critical appraisal of what is already there, while not destroying everything in its way; all other options are not only too easy, but seem to miss the very point of alluding to the new while also constantly keeping it out of reach. This is not only the art of preserving the contextual heredities of a project, but also that of «constructing a utopia» that preserves its utopian character.

Radu Ponta is a practicing architect, senior partner at Republic of Architects. He is also teaching the theory of architecture at UAUIM as a lecturer.

His PhD thesis develops a meditation on the relationship between written and built thoughts of Le Corbusier, a contextual utopian himself.