We Need To Talk About...Architecture and Urbanism in Transition

29 Jul 2020

The quote 'To speak of cities and present them only as buildings' by Greek architect and urban planner Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis (1967) presents a fascinating provocation, as we constantly reconsider the role of buildings and public space. What is the relationship between utopian urbanism and real life cities? And who was Doxiadis? What influence has he had in the world of architecture and urban design? What relevance do his ideas have today? As part of UQ Art Museum's exhibition To Speak of Cities, join UQ School of Architecture Lecturer Peter Besley and artist Sam Cranstoun for a lively discussion, chaired by UQ School of Architecture Senior Lecturer Dr Susan Holden.


In the second of UQ Art Museum’s window commissions, Brisbane artist Sam Cranstoun has rendered a phrase that conflates futurist typography, Ed Ruscha-style lettering, and 1990s Microsoft Word art. The phrase ‘to speak of cities and present them only as buildings’ is drawn from a 1967 essay written by the accomplished Greek town planner, architect and engineer Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis (1913 – 1975), which describes the flawed system of human settlements. The essay outlines the trajectory for the cities of the future, and how we must take into account their ‘human’ pathology. Doxiadis acutely understood that humankind is expanding at an unprecedented rate and that our cities must address this on a human scale. He imagined the sci-fi concept of Ecumenopolis, an idea that in the future urban areas and megalopolises would eventually fuse into a single continuous worldwide city. This would accommodate our population growth and transport networks. Current projections by the United Nations state that the global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, so how many people can our planet support?

Even now, the 1967 phrase gestures to a chasm in theory and practice around civic organisation. Cities are aspirational, with the ‘individual’ considered through services such as waste, water, transport, and housing. The spread of cities through these civic services, however, deprives us of the right to be connected to one another, and for many of us a third of our lives is lost to the commute. Doxiadis calls for a closer study of the entire system of the city, which today is increasingly underscored by conversations of climate crisis and mass migration.

The work To Speak of Cities is neither a question or a statement, but rather a riddle. Placed on UQ Art Museum’s exterior, the concerns inherent in the artwork are rendered literally over a brutalist structure with a mirror façade. This reflects the sandstone exterior of the Forgan Smith Building, opposite. Each word is treated individually, its direction altering so as to place emphasis on each syllable. In this way, the phrase is part-spoken word and part-manifesto.

Cranstoun continues to research the life and work of Doxiadis, especially around his time spent in Brisbane’s Rochedale in the 1950s. After arriving in Australia from Greece, Doxiadis failed to have any of his qualifications recognised and returned to Athens after spending three years farming tomatoes in Queensland. Back in Greece, Doxiadis immediately gained recognition, working as a town planner and architect throughout Europe, the Middle East, North East Africa, as well as the United States. He developed a system of town planning theory known as Ekistics, the science of human settlements and systems, and eventually founded his own university in Athens.

Date and Time
Discussion: 29 July 2020, 1:00pm–2:00pm
Exhibition: 22 February 2020 – 16 January 2021
UQ Art Museum
Image Credit
Sam Cranstoun
Between Dystopia And Utopia, 2019
Acrylic on cardboard
22 parts, each 150 x 120 cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2019.
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Photo: Thomas Oliver