Rare – New Babylon by Constant
In 1956, the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys started working on a visionary architectural proposal for a future society; he didn’t stop for almost twenty years. Having been a co-founder of the Cobra group of artists in the late forties, he abandoned painting in 1953 to concentrate on the question of “construction”. He became a founding member of the Situationist International in 1957 and played a central role in their experiments until his resignation in 1960. New Babylon, as his project would eventually be called, is a situationist city intended as a polemical provocation.
I made this picture in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in an almost dark room. It is a very rare model of New Babylon and is approximately 1,5 x 2 metres in size.
New Babylon was elaborated in an endless series of models, sketches, etchings, lithographs, collages, architectural drawings, and photocollages, as well as in manifestos, essays, lectures, and films. New Babylon is a form of propaganda that critiques conventional social structures.
New Babylon envisages a society of total automation in which the need to work is replaced with a nomadic life of creative play, in which traditional architecture has disintegrated along with the social institutions that it propped up. A vast network of enormous multilevel interior spaces propagates to eventually cover the planet. These interconnected “sectors” float above the ground on tall columns. While vehicular traffic rushes underneath and air traffic lands on the roof, the inhabitants drift by foot through the huge labyrinthine interiors, endlessly reconstructing the atmospheres of the spaces. Every aspect of the environment can be be controlled and reconfigured spontaneously. Social life becomes architectural play. Architecture becomes a flickering display of interacting desires.
Constant always saw New Babylon as a realizable project, which provoked intense debates at schools of architecture and fine arts about the future role of the architect. Constant insisted that the traditional arts would be displaced by a collective form of creativity. He positioned his project at the threshold of the end of art and architecture. Yet it had a major influence on the work of subsequent generations of architects. It was published widely in the international press in the 1960s and Constant quickly attained a prominent position in the world of experimental architecture. But this influence would eventually be forgotten; the project has not been displayed since Constant stopped working on it in 1974.
Constant died 1 August 2005
Source:Text by Mark Wigley from ‘New Babylon. The Hyper-architecture of Desire’