Utopia Revisited, Revisited: An end of year review for Studio M1.

Studio M1’s year-long speculation on new utopias has yielded some fascinating and provocative outcomes. Our students have proposed fifteen rural utopias at the scale of the village, all of them located somewhere between Brighton and London. The proposals range from Jennifer Cheung’s super-dense Vertical Village, a multi-programmed tower standing surreally in the South Downs, to Richard Caddy’s ‘hedgerow houses’, a series of low-key terraces that follow the field pattern and The Path of Least Resistance.

Many of the projects tackle pressing contemporary social and ecological issues. There are utopias that deal with our ageing population and demographic shifts (Whiteley Revisited by Ben Walker) and the challenges of increasing automation (Post Work Village by Chloe Maunder). Xiayou Wang (Housing in a Flood Plain) and Regina Kong (Inhabitable Flood Defences) both tackle climate change and the threats posed by flooding and rising sea levels. Iny Lao’s project (Can Mayfields Feed Itself?) asks how in the context of Brexit and an increasing need to import less food we can develop new sustainable agricultural systems.

In Velloville, Natasha Pyemont proposes a village based around cycling where the routes, speeds and turning circles of bicycles re-shape the domestic realm. Annabelle Egbunike’s project The Young Village addresses the lack of affordable housing for young people and instead chooses to celebrate temporary and transient communities. Banke Adesina explores the potential for a Multi-faith Village focused around a building combining elements from numerous religious building types. And Weijing Zhao bases her village on a survey of obscure rituals and folk mythology, proposing a layout that draws on chalk drawings and ancient land art.

A number of the projects tackle ‘Nimbyism’ and an aversion to building in rural areas head-on. Jessie Morley offers a charm offensive through the creation of a village as a picturesque route between two existing hamlets (Betwyneham). Goldie Hawkins proposes a village that literally grows along the edge of the South Downs National Park called Shifting Boundaries. Adam Knell Taylor riffs on a genuine attempt by Ikea to develop new housing near Shoreham by proposing Chalkham Upon Adur, a retail park disguised as a village. And Josh Hancock’s Unscheduled Modern Monument adds a new ‘Paragraph 55.1’ clause to the NPPF allowing exceptional new villages.

All these projects offer positive visions to tackle genuine and pressing problems. They suggest that rather than grimly accepting lowest common denominator new development we should re-embrace architecture’s capacity for transforming the possible. They tap into a latent utopian impulse, one long suppressed by the forces of political conservatism. They deal with the real but in a way that imagines a better world.