Proceedings of the ISUF International Conference ‘The Planned City?’ pages:1040-1044
ISUF International Conference ‘The Planned City?’ edition:2003 location:Trani date:3-6 July 2003
Almost parallel with his groundbreaking theoretical work Musiques formelles (Xenakis, 1963), the late composer and architect Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) published “The Cosmic City” (Xenakis, 1965). In this urban proposal, 5 million inhabitants are housed in a single megastructure, a hyperbolic paraboloid of more than 3000 meters high and 50 meters wide. This form is inspired by Xenakis’s concept of “volumetric architecture”, as exemplified in the famous Philips Pavilion in 1958. Totally independent from climatic conditions and topography, the Cosmic City includes homes, places of work, schools and other facilities, while the distribution of the population in the urban fabric is organized according to the same statistical laws and stochastic principles that form the basis of Xenakis’s musical composition.
Apart from situating the Cosmic City in Xenakis’s oeuvre, this paper will offer a critical reading and an investigation of its reception in the writings of Françoise Choay and Louis Marin. Both authors have conceptualised the notion of utopia and discussed Xenakis’s project in that context. For Choay, speaking from an anthropologic viewpoint, the Cosmic City is not only a perfect example of “Technotopia”, i.e., a sort of “reduced” utopia (Choay, 1965), but also, despite its visionary intentions, archaic and even irrelevant today (Choay, 2000). However, Marin places Xenakis’s project in a long literary and semiotic tradition. For him, the Cosmic City is a projection of More’s utopia of the New World into the Space Age (Marin, 1973). This paper considers the Cosmic City as a case study of avant-garde urbanism in France in the 1960s, and discusses the opposite appreciation by Choay and Marin as exemplary of its ambiguous reception.