Posts Tagged ‘hippie’

Arcosanti, by Paolo Soleri

Thursday, January 5th, 2012



Arcosanti, designed by Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri, is an experimental architectural complex perched on the side of a gulch in the Arizona desert, about 70 miles north of Phoenix. Arcosanti was begun in 1970 as a multi-stage project, but it is not—and perhaps may never be—finished. Ultimately meant to house 5000, it currently houses far fewer but nevertheless still exists as a proposition for a new hyper-dense, ecologically sensitive mode of human settlement.

Soleri arrived in Arizona in 1946 to study with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale. However, apart from a shared interest in making architecture in a manner sensitive to its environment, Soleri and Wright took different paths with Soleri producing complexes distinct from Wright’s both aesthetically and functionally. As a friend of mine pointed out, Arcosanti’s concrete circles and arches are more reminiscent of Louis Kahn, though they also remind me of the quasi-islamic desert settlements in Dune. As with the sietches in Dune, Arcosanti is focused on water and resource reclamation. I appreciated the sign above the toilets, warning not to drink the toilet water as it’s reclaimed. Sadly dogs can not read. I’m kidding. It was just nice to see that type of dedicated water conservation in the desert.

Soleri was a follower of philosopher, paleontologist and theologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and there’s a strong mystical component in his work.He is also a member of the Lindsifarne Association, whose precepts include:

• The fostering of a new and healthier balance between nature and culture through the research and development of appropriate technologies, architectural settlements and compassionate economies for meta-industrial villages and convivial cities.
• The illumination of the spiritual foundations of political governance through scholarship and artistic communications that foster a global ecology of consciousness beyond the present ideological systems of warring industrial nation-states, outraged traditional societies, and ravaged lands and seas.

Soleri’s idea was that Arcosanti would house 5000 people comfortably without sprawl and while sitting lightly on the land. It would feature multiple common areas and on-site recycling of resources including water, energy production and general self-sufficiency. Soleri describes this project as “arcology”—the marriage of architecture and ecology. He seems to like that type of neologism, n aminghis Scottsdale home/studio “Cosanti,” a combination of “anti” with “cosa” meaning thing in Italian.

The concept of Arcosanti is interesting, and aesthetically I loved many of its features, especially the huge round windows and the geometic concrete shapes. Aesthetically there are a few things I would change, both internally and externally. The complex’s shape is formally confusing from the highway, almost giving a sense of a debris field, though its aspect resolves as you approach. Leaving the highway, you approach Arcosanti via a dry, rather uninviting dirt road. As you get closer, you find a weathered chain link fence made more windproof by a plastic yellow weave flapping in the wind, and we began to wonder if the whole place is abandoned. But beyond the dusty gravel parking lot and some kind of works yard, the actual entrance is quite lovely as you can see below. The interior provides inspiring airy spaces that allow light and protect you from the desert sun. When we were there the place did seem a little forgotten, and though a number of people live there, it had the feeling of an underfunded university—it turned out though that most residents were away for the holidays. The quiet cafeteria was only populated by some Aussies discussing Being and Essence.

The Cosanti foundation makes income by selling Soleri’s famous bells and windchimes, which are everywhere. Their sale is a major funding source for the complex. The bells sound very pretty but to me have an overdecorated, very specifically folksy/hippie feel incongruous with all the simple geometry, but then the conflict between brutalism/minimalism on the one hand and florid drawings of Gaia etc. on the other has been ongoing since the 60s. The common areas do have a short of hippie, overstuffed couch/bad-art sort of feel. An architect friend said that when she toured the centre she suggested that Arcosanti make money in additional ways, perhaps by enhancing the centre’s influence by hosting workshops or conferences. Taliesin West has done a good job of networking and disseminating ideas and there’s no reason why Arcosanti could not do the same.

Finally, I was taken aback by the tall pillar cypresses dotted around the complex; they seem really incongruous in the Arizona desert landcape, as if the whole place had been flown in from Italy or Turkey and gave it the feel of an archictectural folly or science fiction set, rather than a settlement in harmony with its specific natural environment. This is particularly noticeable after you’ve driven many miles through that desert to Arcosanti, acclimatizing yourself to the  silvery cacti, chaparral and jojoba and scrubby round juniper. I may just be a purist, and I should also disclose that I’ve never liked those trees.

These are all minor quibbles. Even when semi-deserted and maintained in less than pristine condition Arcosanti is quite an amazing place, providing comfort in a harsh landscape, and its contribution to the field of environmentally sensitive sustainable design for dense settlements is historically important.

Soleri participated in the UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements in Vancouver in 1976 and lectured on the Arcosanti project there (see my research website for my upcoming book on that event) along with Buckminster Fuller. This is how I first learned of his body of work.

Soleri still lives at Arcosanti and Cosanti. He is 92.


Above, imported cypresses flank the main building housing the cafeteria and bookshop. Below, looking in the other direction, part of a metal workshop area where windchimes are manufactured by students and volunteers.


Arcosanti Project, Near Phoenix Arizona
Above from Glen on Flickr, originally from Omni Magazine in the early 1980s. Below, bell workshop.








Arcosanti - bedroom








The full set of photos is here.


Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Bumper stickers at Beckwoman's

At Beckwoman’s, an old Vancouver institution on Commercial Drive. DON’T PRAY IN MY SCHOOL AND I WON’T THINK IN YOUR CHURCH. And lots more where that came from, if you want slogans. More photos here. Photo below by waferboard on Flickr.

hidden entrance

The Dome Show – Intermedia builds geodesic domes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1970

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Installing the Dome Show, 1970, Vancouver Art Gallery

These photos of The Dome Show, an exhibition by art collective Intermedia at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1970, are all from the web archive Ruins In Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties. (See another post on this absolutely amazing site here.) The Dome Show was an experimental art show involving architecture, sculpture, performance, music, improvised happenings, a giant public dinner party, bonfires, public home movie nights and many other things over the months of its exhibition. Above, Installing the Dome Show at the VAG.

From the site: “The unifying structure of the Dome Show was Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. Each Intermedia member who was interested was invited to build domes individually or communally for the exhibition. Before the exhibition installation Intermedia members constructed their domes in a variety of public spaces, including the Maplewood Mud Flats, at 4th and Arbutus, Kitsilano Beach, in front of the Bentall Center in Downtown Vancouver, and outside of the Vancouver planetarium.”

Buckminster’s geodesic dome was obviously at the height of its popularity then. Now, forty years later, there seems to be a revival of interest in its utopian promise or its grooviness or its sheer architectural difference or what, exactly? It reappears during times of environmental crisis, war, or general turmoil? Or when staid protestantism makes you want to flee to a stately hippie pleasure dome? The critique of Buckminster Fuller’s dome as a product of the military industrial complex is only one element in its contradictory history. Wherever the appeal of the dome derives from, I’m grateful to Ruins in Process for the documentation. The website is particularly valuable not just because of the beards and the fashions, but because it d0cuments a period of art that for all its notoriety is actually not all that well known, not just because it was pre-internet, but also perhaps because of the tendency of the work to be temporary, performative, process-based and dependent upon happenings, and in so many other ways difficult to document. Also, as Carole Itter says in her interview on the site, if you were present at a happening and were documenting, it meant you weren’t in the moment, and that wasn’t cool. Her comments on the role of women in Intermedia are also pretty interesting.

Dome Show, 1970 Vancouver Art Gallery, Georgia Straight ad insert

Above, an art insert in the Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight. Below, construction of a dome in the Mudflats, Vancouver.

Dome construction, mudflats, Vancouver 1970

dancer in geodesic dome

Above and below, dancers in a dome near the Burrard Street Bridge.

Dome Show, Georgia Straight insert

Meeting at Intermedia on Beatty Street

Above, meeting of Intermedia on Beatty Street. Below, “100 flutes” performance in aluminum dome.

The Dome Show, 100 flutes

DomeShow, closing party, City Feast, Bingo

Above,”Bingo,” an event at City Feast, a city-wide public dinner to close The Dome Show. Below, End of the Dome Show – burning of a dome out in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, on the night of City Feast at the close of the show. A bonfire on one of Vancouver’s main arteries could so not happen now.

burning of dome outside Vancouver Art Gallery at end of Dome Show, 1970

When bric-a-brac was part of a revolutionary politics

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Artists Gregg Simpson and Al Neil and others, photo by Michael de Courcy

Vancouver curator Scott Watson’s essay Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos and Squats is part of the impressive and totally compelling Vancouver Art in the Sixties website project. It’s a well-organized archive of Vancouver’s 1960s art production and it’s far too large a topic for one post. What I found immediately interesting though was Watson’s historical contextualization of residential architecture and interior aesthetics in the 60s, especially its turn away from modernist minimalism and toward more baroque historical styles. He suggests that the Edwardian bric-a-brac and Art Nouveau styles that were adopted by Vancouver’s arts and hippie communities in the 60s were a reaction against the City of Vancouver’s move to demolish the crumbling inner-city Edwardian houses, which housed its art and social protest, and replace them with corporate architectural brutalism and strata-controlled condos. This was no doubt replayed in cities all across North America. Watson’s essay is particularly interesting in light of the current revival of Edwardian/Victorian granny chic in interior design and craft. It seems to me this is revival without any politics, but I could be wrong. In many cases it seems the farthest thing from radical, however you understand that word, but it could also be an echo of a similar problem in urban planning. Photo above by Michael de Courcy shows a screening on December 31, 1969 of a collaborative video at Vancouver’s Intermedia art centre.

The following are excerpts from Watson’s essay (click the link at top for the whole text).

“At the advent of what we now call postmodernism, the doomed Edwardian building inventory that provided bohemia’s living, studio and event spaces also provided an aesthetic opposed to Brutalism, the heavy concrete fortress style of public buildings that had arisen in response to the riots and demonstrations of the 60s. Late Victorian and Edwardian furniture and bric-a-brac furnished communal houses. In these spaces Art Nouveau was revived and deployed to advertise concerts and events. Rejection of the “brutality of the new” was, in essence, a very real concern about the disappearance of places to live, eat, congregate, exhibit and perform. In defnse of a crumbling inventory of modest, poorly built pioneer-era wooden and brick structures, the art community of the day rejected not only the Brutalist idioms of the 1960s and 1970s, but the gentler suburban modernism of the 1940s and 1950s. Or to be more precise, the authoritarian, normalizing, “design for living” modernism, with its unarticulated suppression of libidinal circulation, was an anathema for the generation of the 1960s and 1970s. The hippie movement as appropriated by fashion and popular music adopted Edwardian and Art Nouveau as its style of protest and renunciation of consumer/spectacle society.” [This excerpt was the last paragraph of several excerpts below. Click for more.]

Doors poster by Bob Masse, Vancouver, 1967Art Nouveau-influenced Doors poster by Bob Masse, Vancouver, 1967. Below, Bob Masse, William Tell & the Marksmen Great White Light, Vancouver, 1960s.

Bob Masse Poster, William Tell & the Marksmen Great White Light, Vancouver, 1960s

Will your home be next? Poster by Don Gutstein, poster, Vancouver, 1975Will your home be next? Poster by Don Gutstein, poster, Vancouver, 1975


Whatever happened to the “Beatles ashram” in Rishikesh?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 11

Paul Prudence, author of the blog dataisnature, took these photographs of the abandoned Rishikesh ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—celebrity yogi to the Beatles and an central figure in late 60s counterculture. The Beatles stayed at the ashram in 1968 to study with him. He apparently disapproved of their pot use, though I think that story could be apocryphal. John and George eventually left the ashram amidst rumours the yogi had made sexual advances on Mia Farrow, though apparently those rumours were discounted much later on. It is possible that nothing anyone ever said about the ashram is true. By the time the accusations were retracted the much-publicized 60s melodrama was already mostly forgotten. The disintegrating ashram is now minimally monitored by a security guard, but an image search online shows that many travelers and photographers trespass on the place regularly, out of homage or just curiosity or both. The Maharishi died last year at age 90 in the Netherlands, John and George are long gone, and it’s unclear exactly when the ashram was abandoned and the bees started to move in. I am not a Transcendental Meditationist, unlike David Lynch and Clint Eastwood, or any facsimile of one, but I like the architectural remains. They’re a reminder of the pervasive influence of Indian design and thought on 60s aesthetics in the west, and during my childhood in particular. Thanks to Paul Prudence for permission to reproduce these photos here.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 27

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 13

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 32

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 31

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 08

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 33

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 18

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 37

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 36

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 38

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 22

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 30

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 09

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Beatles) Ashram 03

Cosmic dust, on tumblr

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

white bedroom from cosmic_dust

If tumblr is a bellwether—and it may not be—then the sixties & seventies are back, in style if not in substance. So many of tumblr’s weird little blogs, each of them a kind of eclectic personal bulletin board, feature this kind of rock and roll Hair: The Musical meets back-to-the-land handmade-house thing. They have a taste for a simpler yet groovier style of living, but it’s never clear if there’s any politics behind the back to the land aesthetics.

They call it tumblr for a reason. Thanks to the way tumblr makes it simple to re-post an image from someone else’s tumblr blog in your own tumblr stream, while providing you with a link back to theirs, each tumblr collection instantly leads you on to many others with a similar world view. I’m not sure how I first came upon cosmic_dust, possibly it was here, but it led to alaskaneyes and self_romance which led to endless numbers of strange little worlds. These images are a tiny sample from the addictive cosmic_dust.

hippie house biomorphic from cosmic_dust

mick jagger, hippie, via cosmic_dust

white tree house via cosmic_dust

yurt, via cosmic_dust

glass house via cosmic_dust

landon by hello_bum on flickr via cosmic_dust

russian church joel-sternfeld

treehouse via cosmic_dust