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Patrik Schumacher’s utopia design contest won’t be about architecture

Paul Finch
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The tough stuff about who owns (or controls) the land, and the consequences of that control, seem as mysterious as the actual ownership of the disputed site where Liberland would be created, says Paul Finch

The Liberland Design Competition 2020, as reported in the AJ, invites architects, urbanists, interior designers and students to draw up ‘radically creative, yet mature’ proposals for a new ‘nation’ based on anarcho-capitalist ideas where anything goes, including a variety of planning regimes (which seems like a contradiction in terms).

Since Patrik Schumacher is one of the promoters of this proposal, it is to be taken seriously. Whether one disagrees with his world view or not, he adds to discussion and, by taking polemical positions, forces you to think about why he is wrong, if you believe he is.

His famous lecture at World Architecture Festival made front-page headlines because he suggested, among other things, that Hyde Park could be used for housing, and that council tenants should not have pride of place in cities, that privilege being reserved for key workers which, not surprisingly, seemed to include young architects at ZHA!

The thing about Patrik is that he can take criticism and is funny. He laughed at a suggestion that in his ideal world oxygen would be sold as a free-market commodity, though I wondered at the time whether this would set off a line of thought about relating taxation of polluters to a notional price we might pay for unlimited supply of this essential commodity. After all, few get clean water for nothing.

As for the capitalist dream of ‘Liberland’, let’s see whether the design competition it has prompted produces ideas which might be deployed in tired old liberal democracies like the UK, so unsuccessful that nobody wants to come and live here.

Much has been made about how blockchain would help bypass all those pesky controls on financial systems which cause so much trouble to the minds of zealot free-marketeers. But, in the end, this system, like any other, may be subject to abuse and will require legal enforcements.

The phrase in the Liberland competition about proposals being ‘radically creative yet mature’ rather gives the game away. How can something untried be simultaneously mature? This has been the eternal problem with ideas about utopias. Unfortunately, it is rarely possibly to do just one new thing – you have to reinvent multiple systems which have interactive consequences difficult to foresee in advance.

Frankly, Liberland sounds like something that could have been invented by the Bow Group 50 years ago, having taken some illicit drugs. Imagine a new town that has no planning controls! Imagine it is called the London Dockland Development Corporation or Milton Keynes! Then imagine it becomes an independent state! Remember Passport to Pimlico?.

As ever, the tough stuff about who owns (or controls) the land, and the consequences of that control, seem as mysterious as the actual ownership of the disputed site where Liberland would be created.

Liberland flag. Image by Elevatorrailfan

Liberland flag. Image by Elevatorrailfan

Source: Image by Elevatorrailfan

Liberland flag. Image by Elevatorrailfan

This all reminds me of what happens when people can do whatever they want in the creation of new communities free of conventional controls. It is called the Wild West and was well portrayed in the  TV series Deadwood. Before long, law, governance and representation loom large in the imagination of the populace, who prefer some sort of control to the feudal behaviour of the people with power.

However, the prompting of ideas is a good thing, so I look forward to whatever the Liberland competition may generate. Unfortunately, the least interesting ideas will probably concern the architecture for this new Eden.

Putting a value on design

The City of London Corporation deserves credit for launching an architectural competition for smaller practices to revamp Finsbury Circus. It may seem curmudgeonly, therefore, to criticise them, but here goes: the five shortlisted firms, required to do a fair bit of work, will each be paid the princely sum of £1,000. Frankly, this is a joke. Come on City folk: add an extra nought. You will be getting fabulous value. And probably a model.

Finsbury image by david williams

Finsbury image by david williams

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Never mind the Bow Group on Acid (what a thought), Archigram designed several such cities yonks ago. Pity Schumacher does not study any history.
    Having read the design brief I do not take him seriously at all.
    Further it's yet another con on architects, to get entry fees and ideas for free.

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