Slavecity by Atelier van Lieshout


Atelier van Lieshout’s SlaveCity (2005) is a design project presenting an imaginary city in the form of a dystopian concentration camp. It is an artistic exercise in “anti-utopia”, drawing from and combining the dystopian writings of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. The design narrates the story of this imagined city by presenting its organization, models of economic growth, public policies and hypertrophic educational system. The imaginary citizens of Slavecity are totally subjected to this dystopian scenario.

The logic behind the design of the city is to experiment with the scenario of a city that, although built by humanists and admirers of human creativity, takes the shape of a totalitarian regime. At the same time, this intention reminds us of Jacques Lacan’s premonition of the late 20th century University being the new “Master” e.g. the new effective social authority. The artists seek to investigate how modern humanist ideals -such as education, science, ecology, welfare, academic specialization- can also generate monstrous social and political fantasies. The design logic shares ecological values and evolves into the spectacle of a corporatist city: a city as a body (corpus) whose units are not merely living spaces but internalized general functions of a total organization.

Education is the ideal behind Slavecity’s structure. The only form of paid labor is the job of professors. Educational facilities are used as models for the entire design: there is a Female Slave University with 12 auditoriums surrounded by labor space. Professors meet in a separate room on the top of the university’s structure. The city’s 24/7 operational scheme demands 7 hours of study, 7 hours of work on labor grounds, 7 hours of rest and 3 hours of personal care (eating/washing/relaxing) replacing the idea of leisure time. The university alone can offer room to 1896 students, 632 work placements, 632 positions in dormitory structures s and 124 toilet units linked to an environmentally friendly bio gas installation. Jobs in Slavecity’s sections such as customer service, IT, telemarketing, computer programming are not paid with usual currency but with specific privileges like the right to visit a brothel. There is a central public area with a luxurious baroque shopping center and entertainment park, art galleries, food markets, pharmacies and medical facilities. 


The social responsibility of the project lies in the way such a practice rethinks art and design’s social engagement. When architecture and design meet dystopian literature and critical art practice, a new concept of the “social responsible design” can perhaps emerge. What is the social significance of this imaginary/dystopian reduction of the ideal of the city into a “human battery”? In this case, social responsibility is not merely the alerting effect of a, well realized, totalitarian fantasy. With Slavecity, Atelier van Lieshout attempt to “practice a way of thinking” – to occupy of hijack totalitarian discourse and design as a premise for subverting it.  


Slavecity by Atelier van Lieshout gr 01 extra a

Slavecity by Atelier van Lieshout gr 01 extra b

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Atelier van Lieshout