The Architecture of Closed Worlds

The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit?
Lydia Kallipoliti
Lars Müller Publishers, November 2018



Paperback | 7-3/4 x 10-3/4 inches | 360 pages | 300 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3037785805 | $40.00

Publisher's Description:
What do outer space capsules, submarines, and office buildings have in common? Each is conceived as a closed system: a self-sustaining physical environment demarcated from its surroundings by a boundary that does not allow for the transfer of matter or energy. The Architecture of Closed Worlds is a genealogy of self-reliant environments. Contemporary discussions about global warming, recycling, and sustainability have emerged as direct conceptual constructs related to the study and analysis of closed systems.

From the space program to countercultural architectural groups experimenting with autonomous living, this publication documents a disciplinary transformation and the rise of a new environmental consensus in the form of a synthetic naturalism. It presents an archive of 37 historical living prototypes from 1928 to the present that put forth an unexplored genealogy of closed resource regeneration systems.

In The Architecture of Closed Worlds prototypes are presented through unique discursive narratives with historical images. Each includes new analysis in the form of a feedback drawing that problematizes the language of environmental representation by illustrating loss, derailment, and the production of new substances and atmospheres.
dDAB Commentary:
In 1960 R. Buckminster Fuller, with Shoji Sadao, unveiled the Dome Over Manhattan, a speculative project for encasing Midtown Manhattan in a giant transparent dome stretching river to river. The same year as that fantasy saw the completion of a very real Bucky Dome in St. Louis: the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Although my copy of The Building Art in St. Louis: Two Centuries, the 1967 guidebook published by the St. Louis Chapter of the AIA Guide, attributes the design to architects Murphy & Mackey, many sources attribute it exclusively to Fuller, who invented geodesic domes but did not play a role in its application in the Climatron (it was engineered by Synergetics, Inc. after Fuller left in 1958).

Lydia Kallipoliti, in her excellent The Architecture of Closed Worlds, discusses the "ghost" of Fuller permeating accounts of the Climatron, but she focuses most of her words on the project on Fritz Went, the horticulturalist who directed MBG at the time and really drove how the air-conditioned spaces beneath the dome worked. It is one of 37 case studies of hermetically sealed "closed worlds" examined by Kallipoliti in words and images. I'm highlighting the Climatron here because I've actually been inside the dome a few times (a photo from a visit five years ago), and because I think the approach evident in the technical history of the place can be applied to the other 36 narratives in the book. By focusing on Went, who had previously developed the "phytotron" for growing crops in air-conditioned environments, over Fuller and the rest, the author limits the story of the project to the manipulation of air, energy, water, and waste — or shit, in Kallipoliti's preferred term.

The most informative and revealing images of the Climatron and the 36 other projects are the color-coded drawings that diagram the flows of air, energy, water, and shit, and label the precise mechanisms that make those work. Well, things didn't work all the time, so it's great that Kallipoliti included sidebars with "Key Words" as well as "Key Failures" for each case study. In the case of the Climatron, we learn about Went's Phytotron as a key word, for instance, but also how the dome had to be reglazed less than 30 years after opening and and other failure, why Went left in 1963, just five years after his appointment as MBG director.

With people's COVID-quarantined brains increasingly reflecting on their indoor environments — not to mention the release this month of Spaceship Earth, a documentary about Biosphere 2 — it seemed like a good time to dig into this book. The Architecture of Closed Worlds may be two years old and be based on an exhibition that is four years old, but it is very much a book for this moment.
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Author Bio:
Lydia Kallipoliti is an architect, engineer, and scholar with a PhD from Princeton University and a SMArchS from MIT.She is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the Master of Science Program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as well as the principal of ANAcycle thinktank in Brooklyn, New York.
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