Utopia is a slippery idea. For as many times as utopian projects have dismally failed, some have left legacies that linger in our landscapes, lasting testament to humankind’s idealistic efforts to break with the status quo.
Extending her by now well-known exploration of Brutalist architecture, Seher Shah examines utopia as a succession of single moments—these isolated “uprisings” when ideology and technology fused in an architectural expression of social reform.
For her Art Basel project, Shah continues to work across drawing and sculpture, contemplating the aesthetics of two buildings that encapsulate solemn materiality and sculptural might, but also a singular idealism. Golconde (1935-42) in Pondicherry, India, is a humble building, almost insular in its stance. A dormitory for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Golconde is the union of the Modernist credo with the vernacular context, at the fulcrum of ideology and spirituality. Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972), an emblem of the Japanese Metabolism movement, is a tower composed of modules—that mainstay of Modernism. The repetitive, cantilevered capsules captured a spirit of social reform hovering between pragmatism and idealism. In settling her gaze on these two structures, Shah visually and materially interrogates how architecture responds to ideology.