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Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review: Spaced Out

Spaced Out: Crash Pads, Hippie Communes, Infinity Machines, and Other Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties by Alastair Gordon
Rizzoli, 2008

By completely rejecting the fruits of capitalism and the living and working requirements necessary to sustain this economic system, the young revolutionaries of the 1960s never managed to find an architectural vocabulary that could both change society and offer viable schemes for construction.
This quote by James Wines, from his book De-Architecture, targets part of the nagging wonder of why this decade was so influential yet so fleeting, its principles shuffled aside in favor of less idealistic but more practical alternatives. Wines chaulks it up to the fact so few examples were built, yet believing that the relevant ideas explored at that time still linger in architectural discourse. Many professors who today find themselves in higher positions in academia came of age in that era. Now they are able to instill their idealistic principles on accepting students who see sustainability as a valuable start towards positive changes in architecture and urbanism. Of course today's realignment of architectural construction and urban planning is light years removed from the Drop City communes and other environments of the 1960s, where going back to the land was much more than planting some vegetables on a green roof or in the backyard of a suburban house.

Alastair Gordon has assembled a rich visual compendium of Drop City and other psychedelic-era environments, most fleeting constructions that didn't last the changes of time like Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti, an apparent anomoly in the mix. One flip through the myriad images of naked hippies amongst bubbles, domes, and other structures, and one reason is clear why most construction didn't last: unlike Soler's concrete city in the desert built for generations, the geodesic domes, for example, were constructed to be as fleeting as the drug trips that inspired their use. Much of this can be attributed to Wines' assertion that capitalist means were eschewed, as well as the level of quality that money affords, as well as a mindset that focuses on the now, not the future. Of course the reality is much more complex, but the fact remains that communes and other places in these pages exist more in our minds than in the physical world. Gordon's book helps make these environments accessible to a wider audience, in the ongoing "struggle for a certain mental space, a place without boundaries or divisions that would foster wild creativity, nurture new experiences, and even change human consciousness."

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