U t o p i a, . A r c h i t e c t u r e, & .S p i r i t u a l i t y

General Information

The Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality hosted its 2016 International Symposium in the town of New Harmony, Indiana, whose origins can be traced to the religious and secular utopianism of Georg Rapp and Robert Owen. The central theme of ACS8 was utopia as an idea and ideal, real and imagined, in all of its ramifications for architecture and the built environment, culture, politics, and spirituality. We sought to reflect on utopias past, to explore utopia in the presence of reality, and to speculate on how designers can take up utopian ideas and action in the future.

The Eighth Annual Meeting of the Forum took place June 23-26, 2016 at Macleod Barn Abbey in the historic town of New Harmony, Indiana (population 915). Amid the thirty historic buildings left behind by the two communities are a number of cutting edge sites of modern architecture and landscape commissioned by Jane Blaffer Owen. New Harmony is located on the Wabash River in Southwest, Indiana, about two hours from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (156 miles from New Harmoy)). Surrounded by cornfields, the agrarian environment made the ideal setting to explore the conference theme in a place that juxtaposes high civic aspirations with the realities of a mediated natural world. New Harmony is a work-in-progress for Utopian ideas.

As in the past, the symposium was structured around several subtopics focusing on various aspects of the general theme, and paper proposals were carefully evaluated to ensure an atmosphere conducive to personal connections and in-depth dialogue. Optional meditation was offered each morning and there was some free time for connecting to oneself, other people, and the surroundings. A Pre-conference Worskhop: Sitting: does it belong in Utopia? by Galen Cranz (UC Berkeley) and Chelsea Rushton (University of Calgary) offered participants preparation for attentive engagement. Opening night, Ben Nicholson (Art Institute of Chicago) and Michelangelo Sabatino (Illinois Institute of Technology) gave a preview of their forthcoming book on modern architecture, landscape, and preservation in twentieth-century New Harmony. Another evening was filled by a keynote address by Donald Pitzer (University of Southern Indiana) “New Harmony's Utopian Foundation,” followed by a reading by Nancy Mangum McCaslin editor of Jane Blaffer Owen’s Like a River, Not a Lake: A Memoir. Ben Nicholson lectured on labyrinths (complementing a candlelight visit to New Harmony Labyrinth). Together we toured New Harmony including historic architecture, gardens, and landscapes, and contemporary sites including Philip Johnson’s Roofless Church, Richard Meier’s Atheneum, and Zion & Breen’s Paul Tillich Park.

The Architecture, Culture and Spirituality Forum is an international scholarly group established in 2007 to advance the development and dissemination of architectural and interdisciplinary scholarship, research, practice, and education on the significance, experience, and meaning of the built environment.