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Perfect Horror

A philosophical provocation on Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Hochhausstadt (1924)



Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Platform 9: Still Life

What do you prefer: reality (no lies, no truths) or idealism (lies and truths)?


The dehumanized urban landscape of the Hochhausstadt casts
a shadow on a coherent urban proposal to reorder the chaos of the metropolis.

A chaos provoked, according to the architect Ludwig Hilberseimer,
by industrialization and speculation as economic and aesthetic category.

The overwhelming reality eclipses any urban project.


The radicalism of Ludwig Hilberseimer relies on his lucid and realist analysis of the capitalist city,
according to Pier Vittorio Aureli.

Reality is radical.


The Real is what it is, no imagination, no symbolism, no humans.

There is no idealism.

The Hochhausstadt is a framework, not a messianic solution, which emerged from and for the Real.

A Real that is impossible, according to Jacques Lacan,
because it doesn’t have fissures.

 The fissures proposed by the dialectic of symbolism,
therefore reality is radical.

You can’t hide your miseries anymore.

Perfection is impossible.

Is reality perfect?


The paradoxical “radicalism” of reality emerges within a territory of fairy tales with happy endings.

Utopias lie when they promise better futures.

The dream will vanish sooner or later.


Hilberseimer echoed the ambitions of the Modern Movement and

aspired to provide order to disorder,

a perfectible architecture for a perfectible world.

In 1963, he would write: “The repetition of the blocks resulted in too much uniformity.
Every natural thing was excluded: no tree or grassy area broke the monotony . . .
the result was more a necropolis than a metropolis,
a sterile landscape of asphalt and cement, inhuman in every aspect.”

The latter describes the apocalyptic reality depicted in the Hochhausstadt from which humans have been obliterated.

Hilberseimer seeks redemption.

Don't do good things that may seem bad.


The apocalyptic reality acquires a positive connotation when it becomes a means to an end,
when it is not diminished by perfect futures.

The apocalyptic reality becomes part of the process of designing an alternative urban landscape.

An alternative urban landscape that emerges not to confront,
but as a consequence of reality and its horrors.
“Against from within” as a method in which the critique comes from inside,
when we don’t escape,
when we challenge the reflected image in the mirror.


Different interpretations present reality as:

what appears to us,

what appears to most people,

what we don’t make up,

where the buck stops and

what is there anyway.

If reality is what it is, then we have to go through it in order to arrive to a coherent urban proposal.

An urban proposal that embraces the real rather than rejects it with the aspirations of idealism.

Idealism follows reality?


Since the world is a world we have been waiting for,

a better future that is yet to come.

During the history of architecture,
we have witnessed several frustrated promises supported by the flexibility of idealism,
which changes according to the Monday-morning mood.

Idealism as intangible horror, with a messianic tone.

Reality as tangible horror without the mediation of idealism between us and the mirror.

Reality is radical.


Don’t turn away from pain.

Don’t turn away from your own image.

Reality as shock therapy.

Reality as design process, as a means to an imperfect end.


The horror is not expensive, it is at hand.

Choose your own horror.

What do you prefer: reality (no lies, no truths) or idealism (lies and truths)?

Liquid or material horror?

Messianic or apocalyptic horror?

Go and embrace it, don’t be shy.

Don’t be afraid, it is harmless.


The future won’t be perfect.

Lacanian Reality is impossible.

Perfection is impossible.

Look around!

The horror is pervasive.

Let’s give it a chance.

The horror might be perfect . . .

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