The development of utopia-driven projective research is necessary given the general condition of unsettlement our society finds itself in – a condition that raises the issue of how to maintain the habitability of our world in view of climate change and other societal challenges (Janssens 2012). This condition urges us to take on other ways of thinking, since conventional engineering and technology approaches tend to only produce more of the same. We argue that the mode of thinking embodied in imagineering and projecting is a viable route towards a critical and utopian approach that allows to produce alternatives. Utopia-driven projective research is grounded in architecture and urbanism and aims to integrate scientific modes of knowledge production and design-based, poetic modes of knowledge building. We see it as critical – disagreeing with some protagonists of the so-called ‘criticality-debate’ (Fischer 2012; Heynen 2007) – because utopian thinking starts from a basic uneasiness about current conditions, striving to formulate desirable futures. Likewise, projective thinking can be tuned towards the finding of alternatives for the present, unsustainable urbanization models.
We will substantiate this argument by showing, in a diagrammatic way, how conceptual design projects open up a space of possibilities, helping us to start exploring other modes of building communities and relating to the environment. We will refer to four projects that have an urban and landscape scale and scope: The Unadapted City (TOP Office 1995-2004), M.U.D (FLCextended2005), COASTOMIZE! (FLCextended2008), The Future Commons 2070 (magnificentsurroundings.org 2008-2011). Using design-thinking can help us to better imagine and conceive how values and judgments can be made productive as active agents in the development of future counterforms for society (Schuman 1981). These counterforms should not be seen as a kind of fixed and definitive blueprints, but rather as mediating forces that enable and stimulate social transformations. We thus argue for utopian-driven projective research as a form of social transformation in the making – the effort to work through the possibilities of fragmentary change and incomplete, unfinished projects that harbor the desire for better worlds.