Building Utopia

‘Only one way in and one way out’: Staging Utopian Spaces



This polyphonic paper draws together methods, content and impressions from a workshop on utopian spatial practice. It provides a critical reflection on the utopian possibilities inherent in small scale performances of spatial re-organization which re-structure existing patterns of behaviour. 

Over the course of this workshop, held as part of the ‘Utopian Acts’ conference, the mundane space of a university seminar room was briefly transformed. Participants were asked to read extracts from three works of feminist utopian science fiction (sf): Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’, Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ and Sally Miller Gearhart’s ‘The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women’. They then worked in groups to rearrange the furniture into an echo of the utopian space of the text. By inhabiting these temporary stagings of utopian space the participants disrupted existing patterns of behaviour and opened up a site for alternatives.

This process of imaginative construction is extended into this paper which crosses the fields of architecture, utopian studies, drawing and performance. A series of narrative architectural drawings by the author are presented alongside commentary from the workshop participants to reflect on multiple voices and modes of interpretation which shaped these overlapping utopian acts of construction.

This act of remaking space is considered in terms of space as social practice to ask how the re-staging of a single room can open up alternative possibilities for wider socio-spatial action. It draws on Dolan’s conception of utopian performatives to ask whether the non-hierarchical engagement of participants in an act of construction offers a utopian mode of practice. From this, it asks whether the re-staging of spaces drawn from utopian sf can be considered an ‘act of imagination’ as called for in Levitas’ ‘Utopia as Method’.

Through drawings, descriptions, critical theory and transcribed conversation this paper reflects on an attempt to establish a fragment of utopian space, establishing an alternative way of being, however small and fleeting.

Keywords: Utopia, Architecture, Science Fiction, Feminism

How to Cite: Butt, A. (2019) “‘Only one way in and one way out’: Staging Utopian Spaces”, Studies in Arts and Humanities. 5(1). doi: