Translation – ‘Introduction’ Kommunen in der Neuen Welt, Liselotte and Oswald Matthias Ungers

Translation from German by TIM ALTENHOF (Phd Architecture) and CHARLOTTE ALGIE (MArch ’16)

“We are so fervently occupied here with countless projects of social reform. There is hardly an intellectual who would not have a concept for a new community in his waistcoat pocket.”

This is not a description of the scene today in Berlin, Paris or San Francisco, but a report by the American poet R.W. Emerson in an 1840 letter to Thomas Carlyle.

Through magazines, books and television today, we are informed about the experimentation which is currently undertaken both in the ‘old’ and ‘new’ worlds by groups of mostly young people exploring new ways of living together. In contrast, it is hardly known that already in the past century, America was a paradise for the founding of [so-called] Kommunen, which were called utopian because “their goals were not within the realm of what is, but, rather, in the realm of what could be.” Overall, during the period from 1800–1900 in America, there were more than 100 utopian communities with around 100,000 members. Some existed for a short time, others—exclusively religious—existed for more than 100 years. In this book, Liselotte and Oswald Matthias Ungers (presently Chairman of the Department of Architecture at Cornell University) write about the most important of these communities—the religions of Abana, Hutterite, Perfectionists, Shakers, Rappists, Moravians and the Socialist of Owenites, Fourierites and Icarians—collecting and comparing their intentions, structures and ideologies across the (at least) 2,000 new municipalities they founded. Since the late 1860s, these groups formed a mass movement of migration toward the United States, from New England to California. Despite their differences, all Kommunen share essential principles of an alternative concept to the existing society: the rejection of all violence and aggression, particularly of wars; the abolition or limitation of private property; the rejection of competition, profit taking, consumerism, inhuman mechanization and exploitation. In this regard, both the old and new Kommunen leave the door open for the notion of a social utopia, one which is attractive and reasonable, providing an experiment for the future through a constantly revived realization.