Dr Tessa Morrison has reconstructed unbuilt utopian cities from 1460-1900 to analyse the interconnection of architecture and political philosophy.

Reconstructing Utopia

Dr Tessa Morrison has reconstructed unbuilt utopian cities from 1460-1900 to analyse the interconnection of architecture and political philosophy.

Tessa Morrison in front of the Helenic Community and Cultural Centre of Newcastle  

Utopia' is a word with many connotations both negative and positive, something that is ideal or something that is impossible to ever achieve. Yet the utopian dream of the ideal society and city dates back to Plato and probably beyond. The ideal society has two elements, its political structure and the city or urban plan that enhances the political structure. Researcher Dr Tessa Morrison analyses ten key utopian cities over 500 year period to assess their evolution in social and political philosophies and how their architecture informs this political philosophical or social agenda.

Morrison, whose background is in fine arts, mathematics and philosophy, completed a PhD on labyrinthine structures at the University of Newcastle in 2004. Her interest in architectural history developed while she was working as a research assistant for Professor Michael Ostwald in the School of Architecture and Built Environment.

After receiving a five-year research fellowship from the University in 2007, Morrison embarked upon studies on utopian cities. In the course of that research, she came across the circa-1680s Newton manuscript in the digital archives of the Babson Library in Massachusetts. The manuscript contained a detailed architectural description of Solomon's Temple, which is said in the Old Testament to have stood on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Morrison used it to construct, for the first time, a model of the building as envisaged by Newton. This research was awarded three-year ARC postdoctoral fellowship and resulted in the publication of Isaac Newton's Temple of Solomon and his Reconstruction of Sacred Architecture published by Springer.

Part of the methodological approach in the Newton project was to reconstruct Isaac Newton's architectural vision to further understand Newton's religious beliefs and his interest in the symbolism of architecture. This project gave new insight into Morrison's research on utopian cities. Returning to utopian studies she brought together ten utopian works that mark important points in the history of social and political philosophies, this project not only reflects on the utopian texts and their political philosophy and implications, but also on their architecture and how that architecture informs the political philosophy that the author intended. Each of the ten authors expressed their theory through concepts of community and utopian architecture, but each featured an architectural solution at the centre of their social and political philosophy, as none of the cities were ever built, they have remained as utopian literature. This research has resulted in a monograph published by Ashgate entitled Unbuilt Utopian Cities 1460 to 1900: Reconstructing their Architecture and Political Philosophy

Some of the works she has examined have been very well known such as Tommaso Campanella's Civitas Solis, Johann Valentin Andreae's Christianopolis or Robert Owen's Villages of Unity and Cooperation, while others such as Joseph Michael Gandy's Designs for Cottages, Robert Pemberton's Happy Colony or Bradford Peck's The World a Department Store, are relatively obscure. However, even with the best known works, this research offers new insights by focusing on the architecture of the cities and how that architecture represents the author's political philosophy. The research also brings an increased insight into other authors such as Albercht Dürer, who is known mainly as a sixteenth century printmaker, painter and art theorist and not as an architect and architectural theorist. Morrison's current research reveals that he made a significant contribution to architectural theory and practice and his influence carried on through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This repositioning of Albercht Dürer as an architectural theorist is the focus of her current research.

Visit the Centre for Interdisciplinary Built Environment Research

Books by Tessa Morrison