Sadia Pineda Hameed: Utypia
Writing commission by Sadia Pineda Hameed
I was thinking about the summer I became enamoured with forging Mondrians on Paint and building cities on Word. Microserfs, Douglas Coupland: Because everyone’s so poor these days, the ‘90s will be a decade with no architectural legacy or style– everyone’s too poor to put up new buildings. Code is the architecture of the ‘90s. Maybe not in the same way, I was 8, but I was architecting the grids of New York in ASCII on the COMPAQ computer— moved to my room to make way for a laptop permanently stationed by the ethernet cable. I drew ideas of places on Notepad or Wordpad, which always turned out to be some variant of a barchart city because it was the easiest thing to make with dashes and slashes and sometimes tildes.
An Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, Robert Owen: men have hitherto been directed by their inventive faculties, and have almost entirely disregarded the only guide that can lead to true knowledge on any subject — experience. They have been governed, in the most important concerns of life, by mere illusions of the imagination. Illustrative plans of New Lanark look just like my city and its samey skyscrapers: straight rows of buildings with subtly varying heights, a steeple of some kind to draw the eye, and any curves (the rounded walls of the millhouse and waterhouses nearest the curving river) flattened. I think about when I tried to map out the brutalist Alexandra Road housing estate via my keyboard after driving past it one day, and how its slight curve also became lost, its residents lost in empty dashed windows, the vibrations from the adjacent trainline lost in its rubber foundations, detail lost by my bored, impatient hand; and the flattened rendering saved then abandoned on an ICT room computer. Kids in my class would ask me to type out hearts for them (sometimes I would add cupid's arrows going through them) so they could email them to their crushes, and I would also make these out of dashes and slashes and the curves would be lost then too.
Walden 7 looks like my heart. Last summer I walked around the housing complex with friends, and gazed up at the lack of curves. I looked for but could only find inferences of curves; curves straightened into actual underscores and vertical lines (its balconies are easily exclamation marks, or H’s). There are curves inside, but you’re not allowed to go inside or lean in to take photos of the inside unless you book onto a tour. So we kept walking around, now talking about how small the windows seem. Architect Ricardo Bofill of the Taller de Arquitectura group designed them to prioritise shade: who would want sun flooding in when you live in such a hot climate? We noticed that all the lowermost windows had fabrics, in particular clothes, still needing to be pegged up to block the sun or maybe to stop people like us from looking in. I imagined the interior courtyards and rounded balconies painted turquoise and tiled Kellogg's blue. The outside is a terracotta red.
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An experiment in social housing in 1975, the apartments of Walden 7 are modular: one unit can be occupied by a couple; when they have children, they can occupy two or three; when the children grow up and move out, the couple revert to one. Taller Bofill architect Gabor Somssich and his partner live in five units over two upper floors, and the largest occupancy is said to be a couple with eight units over the two top floors. I read that, today, the highest floors are significantly more expensive, with residents said to enjoy better kept courtyards, bracing breezes, unobstructed views towards Barcelona, and sun-filled rooms. Gabor Somssich: Waldenites who start out with apartments on lower floors aspire to elevate to larger spaces at higher altitudes. 15% of Taller Bofill’s staff live in Walden 7. Do Microsoft employees still live on campuses?
A few summers ago I passed out on the tube. I came to on a platform bench where a boy was sitting next to me, telling me that my blood sugar must be low, that I’d be fine. I concentrated on keeping my eyes open, the cool bench against my skin. I watched him— like you watch in a dream, in a completely attentive delirium— unfurl a rolltop backpack, and begin to bring out what seemed like an endless supply of smoothies and juices. He asked me to pick one. I had no idea what was going on. Eventually he just handed me the Bolt from the Blue (electrolytes for dehydration, vitamin C for fatigue), and I quietly drank until his features became recognisable as someone I went to highschool with. I listened in a daze to how he now works at Innocent, and how they have hammocks there, and unlimited smoothies, and dieticians and fitness classes, and foosball, and thinking pods and art supplies and edible gardens for employees’ daily, paid, self-designated creativity time. Soon I became lucid again and asked if they had beanbags like they do at Google; he laughed and said yes, they do have beanbags.
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Also from An Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, Robert Owen: The whole, as though they had been delineated on a map, were laid open to me. Shall I now at this eventful crisis make the world known to itself? Can you be anti-work and still be deserving of nurturing and autonomous living conditions? I am now remembering that the boy from my highschool said his office was carpeted with astroturf. From Here to Utopia, Pat the Bunny: I’m too unemployed to organise a union, I’m too intoxicated to tear down a building. A friend told me to look this song up after I saw it printed on the cover of their notebook. We were walking through Abergavenny on a cooler summer’s day this year, trying to think of a term we were sure we’d heard somewhere, for a specific type of utopia; where, to set up the utopia, one has to go elsewhere. We thought that maybe it was just utopian socialism, moving outside of capital to create this new kind of living. New Harmony, Fordlândia, Y Wladfa all come to mind. The only other term that fits is settler-colonialism: setting up on the elsewhere Walden Ponds of the world.
I am making a New Lanark ASCII picture, one line at a time, following an illustrated plan of the mills from a Scottish tourism website. Is there utopia that isn’t concerned with reproducing itself over and over, and better and better? The Earthly Community, Achille Mbembe: The body that these powers seek to manufacture is a body haunted by the ever-imminent possibility of being no more.…At the same time, it is a body that unrelentingly harvests all the material of the living world for its sole profit. It seeks to place itself above everything and at the center of everything. And is there utopia that isn’t concerned with creating itself at all? Revolutionary workplace social reform may just be efficient capitalism, the tourism website poses above the ticket sale link. I am typing out the same series of dashes and slashes and underscores as Walden 7, my naive New York skylines even, repeating the architecture in linear procedure like an inkjet printer. I am thinking about how the Googleplex is the spiritual descendent of New Lanark. I type the rare, curved ‘O’ for the clocktower, decide between slashes or carets for the eaves, squared brackets or exclamation marks for doorways; and as I reach the ground, intuit tildes, asterisks, semi-colons for an imagined forest, grass, flowers, fields and fields and fields beyond the fixed widths.
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Sadia Pineda Hameed