The Parisian group “Utopie” was an interdisciplinary group of architects, social scientists, mostly related to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beux-Arts (ENSBA) and unhappy with the reactionary climate of the school. In the mid-Sixties, the group initiated an otherwise absent interdisciplinary dialogue on urbanism, mostly disseminated through their magazine “Utopie: Sociologie de l’urbain”, published between 1967 and 1978.

“The arguments developed in Utopie were designed for reproduction; the physical manner in which they were laid out and shaped by the media used to disseminate them are a key part of their meaning. (…) Utopie was an intensely collective group project, yet it was not one that sought strict ideological uniformity, but rather deliberately placed ideological and iconographic differences in the foreground” (Buckley, “Utopie. Texts and projects, 1967-1978”, 2011, p.10)

This invitation to the debate was made evident by the colonne critique that was used in the first two issues of the magazine. The colonne critique (critical column) was visual editorial device consisting in a large page margin containing texts and images that contradict, problematise or sometimes simply made fun of the content presented in the central column. The colonne critique was always written or illustrated by somebody who wasn’t involved in the article in the main column.

Jean Aubert, one of the founders of the group interviewed by Beatriz Colomina (2010, p.197), finds the value of the column in the way “it produced fights, overlaps, critiques, everything you can imagine”.

This column (and the loose graphic grid) makes the layout a semiotic mode (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2006 ) that structures the magazine as a dialogue of more voices, rather than a coherent text (Colomina, 2010).

A reproduction of the first issue of Utopie (translated into English) on the book
A reproduction of the first issue of Utopie (translated into English) on the book “Utopie. Texts and Projects, 1967-1978” (Edited by Craig Buckley and Jean Louis Violeau). The “critical column” is marked in blue.

While the juxtaposition of dissonant voices was always an important feature of the Utopie magazines, the colonne critique had to be abandoned after the first issues, when the format changed from square (expensive to produce) to a standard one, cheaper, but too narrow to host the column. Nevertheless, layout arrangements designed to visualise the dialogue without the aid of the column remained important, particularly while the architects were still in the group. In the earlier issues of Utopie visual language was in fact very often adopted as the predominant mode.

Isabelle Auricoste points out: “the form was worked out at the same time as the text. The page layout was for us as important as the texts. The collages were considered as articles. They were not illustrations: for us they were really a different way of writing” (Auricoste, interviewed by Colomina, 2010)

Collage from the magazine

While the magazine kept being published until 1978, the architects of the group left after the 2/3 issues. Later issues, therefore, are significantly less visual and more focussed on sociological essays. Moreover, while the concept of “dialectic utopia” was central in the first issues (published while the group was also experimenting with inflatable structures), later on the focus shifted from imagining better futures to “exposing what cities lacked” (Pinder, 2013, p. 41) Read more:

  • Buckley, Craig, and Jean-louis Violeau. 2011. Utopie: Texts and Projects, 1967–1978. Los Angeles, Calif. : Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Beatriz Colomina, 2010, “Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines, 196X to 197X”