City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

As noted here a while ago, the Barbican has an exhibition detailing various visions of future cities and utopian urban architecture. I finally went to see it today, and can report that it’s absolutely fantastic. The Barbican’s been on a bit of a roll recently, with the excellent Araki exhibition followed by the almost-fantastic Tropicalia exhibition, but this is the best of the lot. It also trounces the V&A’s recent Modernism exhibition, good as that was, through the depth of its supporting information, sheer range of material, use of sound and video and imagination of the exhibition design.

The sound was particularly welcome, odd bits of early synth and ring modulator firing off erratically, sometimes commingling with Cedric Price‘s wonderfully plummy voice lecturing us about Rochdale. Magnificent. The latter, as ever, almost stole the show, but other highlights include a great cartoon strip of Archigram’s Instant City descending on Bournemouth, Koolhaas from Exodus to the CCTV building, Parent and Virilio’s Oblique City, Will Alsop’s superbly bonkers masterplan for Barnsley (please make it happen!), James Wines & SITE’s tree-covered high-rise and BEST showroom, Shigeru Ban’s elegant and humane Paper Log House, and MVRDV’s Pig City. Of particular interest were the Metabolists, the Japanese 1960s movement comprising Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, Kenzo Tange and others. The late Tange was the only Metabolist I’d heard of previously, for his famous expandable modular  Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Centre in Kofu, so it was fantastic to see more of his work and the hugely imaginative marine and floating cities of the others. Beautiful. Lots of great stuff in general about perennial concerns of sustainable, scalable, modular, adaptive, transient and rooted, high-density development.

Only off note sounded in the whole experience is that the otherwise thorough exhibition catalogue manages to omit Cedric Price altogether, and can be generally said to be not as thorough as the exhibition. I don’t think a book should attempt to ‘equal’ the exhibition – they’re different things – but surely it’s the place for further depth and exposition? It’s still worth the dosh though; chock-full of great photographs and prints.

Credit to Foreign Office Architects for the exhibition design. The poster displays, with great graphic design and perfectly selected typography by Studio Myerscough, were a great way of conveying context, as if wallpaper-pasted manifestos. The Barbican is of course an excellent setting for it too.

Some snaps below. (As ever, shot surreptiously, as taking photos was deemed ‘illegal’. Honestly, it’s like playing Pacman avoiding those exhibition guards.)

Metabolists display

Metabolists display

Kiyonoiri Kikutake Marine City

Kisho Kurokawa Floating City Kasumigaura

Superstudio display

Delirious Metropolis display

Delirious Metropolis display

Koolhaas Exodus

Concept City display

Lower display area

Koolhaas OMA Arup CCTV building Beijing

Future City catalogue

Momus has some good snaps too, and was also taken by The Metabolists: "I liked Metabolist Kiyonori Kikutake’s idea that "a Japanese room was determined by information, whereas a Western room relied on objects."

The Barbican: Future City exhibition (until 17 September 2006, London)


8 responses to “‘Future City: Experiment and Utopia in Architecture 1956-2006’ exhibition, The Barbican, London”

  1. MacDara Avatar

    Thanks a lot for this. I went last month during my flying visit to London and haven’t yet had time to turn my notes from my three hours there into coherent thoughts.
    By the way, is the catalogue worth getting? I passed on it on the day as I didn’t have any room to pack it for home, and I was anyway a little disappointed that they didn’t have a paperback version like the V&A had/has for the Modernism show, but I might shell out for it now.


  2. Christian Marc Schmidt Avatar

    Thanks for posting these images. Not only an interesting topic, but also well designed, it appears. I too am considering ordering the catalog–any thoughts?


  3. molly Avatar

    I’m passing through London in the next couple of weeks (I am! I will email more when I know the date) and absolutely will stop by to see this. This is what I’m researching right now and it will be great to see it all.


  4. Dan Hill Avatar

    Thanks all.
    On the catalogue, I’d say it’s worth it as re-presents such a strong collection of interesting work. As I point out, there’s some odd ommissions (Price, and a few others) which are present in the show. Also, although the catalogue reproduces the introductory text for each exhibit, it doesn’t capture all the great quotations, manifesto and detail on individual projects, which are pasted up alongside the work (often in fantastic ‘period’ typefaces by Studio Myerscough too). That’s a real shame.
    But of course, it can’t aim to emulate being there, capturing the sound, video and physicality of the models. And it does have a good section on the individual architects in the back of the book, which is not in the show. Equally, come 18 September, the exhibition won’t be there at all, and the book – plus sites like this – will be the only record and reference available. I always think it’s worth getting the catalogue of an exhibition you enjoyed, to help trigger memories if nothing else.
    So go to the show and then get the book 🙂


  5. Jones Avatar

    Wow, sounds cool. I really should go to that 😉


  6. AG Avatar

    Heartbroken that I won’t be able to catch this, an exhibit designed with me in mind if ever there was one. As broke as I am, too, I’m going to have to wait awhile before ordering the catalogue. I hope they’ve printed up a stack.
    I’m delighted to see the Metabolists get more scholarly attention, as well. It’s such a curious movement to me – for all of the vigor of its critique, its prime adherents seemed surprisingly content to have their highest-profile work see the light of day as ossified, almost parodic sketches of the ideas animating them. I’m thinking particularly of the Nakagin Capsule Tower and the Yamanishi Broadcast Center, both of which preserve the iconic outward form of plug-in modularity while affording none of the intended functionality. (Can you imagine Archigram submitting their Plug-In City to a similar indignity?)
    At any rate, the content looks amazing, the graphic treatment nothing sort of delicious, and I’m willing to bet that the show constitues something close to mandatory research for the book I’m trying to write. Why, oh why, would they go to all the trouble of mounting something that cool, and then not plan for it to travel? The next sound that you hear will be that of me eating my heart out.


  7. susana Avatar

    Do someone know if this exposition Future City is going to travel to another city, I am from Madrid And I suppose it is going to move, but if not I inmediately buy a flight to london.Thanks.Susana


  8. Eleni Avatar

    Where can I please get hold of a catalogue for the Future City exhibition at Barbican, summer 2006?
    many thanks


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