The architecture of happiness: building utopia in the last romances of William Morris

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Abstract

This paper considers the crucial role architecture plays in the development of William Morris’s utopian vision, focusing specifically on his last romances.

It examines how Morris’s understanding of the built environment is consistently informed by the wider social and cultural context in which buildings are constructed, and suggest that the early utopian aspirations demonstrated in the design and construction of Red House were modified and broadened through his later commitment to the Socialist movement. It considers how the vision of social transformation Morris repeatedly articulates in his political lectures is given visual and tangible expression in the architecture of a renewed society, suggesting that for Morris the health and justice of a community is always reflected in the fabric of its buildings.

The article briefly considers the importance of architecture as both social and aesthetic statement in News from Nowhere before considering in more detail the role of buildings in Morris’s last romances. It suggests that it is in his imaginative return to the buildings of the past rather than his speculative contemplation of the buildings of the future that Morris is best able to envisage a vital and socially expressive architecture. It proceeds to argue that the imaginative freedom offered by his extraordinary final narratives allows Morris to explore comprehensively what it means to build both practically and beautifully and to recognize architecture as one of the most enduring celebrations of communal values and aspirations. Hence, the article concludes, it is in his last romances that Morris constructs his most potent vision of an architecture of happiness, demonstrating through the utopian spaces of the cottages, castles and cathedrals that populate these narratives how we might build, rather than how we build now.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSpaces of Utopia
Volume1
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2007

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