Constant’s Nomadic City

Francesca Terrenato


In the period 1954-1974 the Dutch artist known as Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuys, 1920-2005) elaborated a series of artworks and writings depicting a future urban agglomeration: New Babylon. Stretching over the whole globe, New Babylon hosts wandering individuals who freely move around the interactive space of the hyper-city without any fixed abode, or any reference to an established culture and habits. As the progressing automation of all productive activity allows the people to dispose of free time without any limitation, the main activities of New Babylonians are of a ludic kind.

After a concise introduction, this article concentrates on the written work accompanying the project, by focusing on two recurring key terms: “nomadism” and “play”.  These are the “travelling concepts” (Bal 2002) surfacing in a number of texts by other authors, diverse in scope, disciplinary field, and date of composition. Next to Deleuze and Guattari’s Nomadologie (Mille plateaux, 1980), Edouard Glissant’s Poétique de la Relation (1990), Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938), the net of relations among texts outlined in this article comes to encompass also Dutch authors such as Menno ter Braak (1902-1940) and Simon Vinkenoog (1928-2009), with the aim of reconnecting New Babylon with its Dutch background, too often underplayed in scholarship on this subject. Urban planning, social trends and the development of counter-cultures in the Netherlands in the Fifties and Sixties offer a better insight into Constant’s internationally revered artwork. Final considerations concern the significance of Constant’s project in relation to the present stage of global urban development, with the aim of providing a few suggestions for further research, as the interest aroused by New Babylon in today’s debate on the future of the city is still alive.

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