The Situationist City
From 1957 to 1972 the artistic and political movement known as the Situationist International (SI) worked aggressively to subvert the conservative ideology of the Western world. The movement's broadside attack on "establishment" institutions and values left its mark upon the libertarian left, the counterculture, the revolutionary events of 1968, and more recent phenomena from punk to postmodernism. But over time it tended to obscure Situationism's own founding principles. In this book, Simon Sadler investigates the artistic, architectural, and cultural theories that were once the foundations of Situationist thought, particularly as they applied to the form of the modern city.
According to the Situationists, the benign professionalism of architecture and design had led to a sterilization of the world that threatened to wipe out any sense of spontaneity or playfulness. The Situationists hankered after the "pioneer spirit" of the modernist period, when new ideas, such as those of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, still felt fresh and vital.
By the late fifties, movements such as British and American Pop Art and French Nouveau Ralisme had become intensely interested in everyday life, space, and mass culture. The SI aimed to convert this interest into a revolution—at the level of the city itself. Their principle for the reorganization of cities was simple and seductive: let the citizens themselves decide what spaces and architecture they want to live in and how they wish to live in them. This would instantly undermine the powers of state, bureaucracy, capital, and imperialism, thereby revolutionizing people's everyday lives.
Simon Sadler searches for the Situationist City among the detritus of tracts, manifestos, and works of art that the SI left behind. The book is divided into three parts. The first, "The Naked City," outlines the Situationist critique of the urban environment as it then existed. The second, "Formulary for a New Urbanism," examines Situationist principles for the city and for city living. The third, "A New Babylon," describes actual designs proposed for a Situationist City.
About the Author
Simon Sadler is Associate Professor of Architectural and Urban History at the University of California, Davis.
“It is a pleasure to see a work that situates the Situationists. Sadler has performed a necessary and welcome correctiveto our understanding of this strange but endearing crew.”—Adam Sweeting, American Book Review
“This concise and clearly written work shines light on...this intriguing and increasingly influential 'hidden' avant-garde.”—John Held, Jr., San Francisco Bay Guardian
“With Sadler’s The Situationist City, the historification of the Situationists’ battle against a functionalist and dehumanizing urbanism centers a new level of thoroughness. With clarity and precision Sadler identifies the key concepts behind the Situationists’ encounter with the city and revealing places them within a context of other, too often neglected, attempts to build ‘the hacienda.’”
—Simon Ford, Victoria & Albert Museum, author of The Realization and Suppression of the Situationist International
“The Situationist City makes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on the Situationists International. Emphasizing the situationists’ initial phase of activity—unity urbanism—Simon Sadler locates the movement within European postwar culture, mapping the relation to mainstream architecture and urbanism as well as to more experimental architectural practices. Here, traced for the first time, are links between the situationist project and the ideas of Le Corbusier, Team 10, the Independent Group, Archigram, and others. A fascinating, engaging, and opinionated history of an avant-garde whose critique of architecture and culture seems ever more prescient.”
—Joan Ockman, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
“Imaginative, scrupulous, well-illustrated and very timely.”
—Sarah Wilson, Courtauld Institute of Art