I'm fascinated by the “Visionary Architecture” show put on at MoMA in the fall of 1960. The exhibit consisted of materials (photographs of models, plans, drawings) from 28 ideas for cities and urban structures “considered too revolutionary to build.” “Ideal projects,” writes the show's curator Arthur Drexler, “afford the sole occasions when [the architect] can rebuild the world as he knows it ought to be.” And: “When ideal projects are inspired by criticism of the existing structure of society, as well as by the architect’s longing for a private world of his own, they may bring forth ideas that make history.” Theory and practice — vision and realism — merge in this presentation. “Today virtually nothing an architect can think of is technically impossible to realize.” Here, then, comes a definition: “Social usage, which includes economics, determines what is visionary and what is not.”
Buckminster Fuller's project on display here was brand new — done in 1960, just before the show opened. The wall label from the MoMA exhibit is reproduced above. This is vintage dome-obsessed Fuller, but now with a hint of ambient-coverage aesthetic the manner that would emerge with Christo and others. A dome over “a large part” of Manhattan.
Ecopoetics as remaking the household (oikos) may entail moving out of the house altogether, a shift from home-making to camping. For instance, in a remarkable (and painfully ironic) appropriation of refugee architecture, an urban tent city lines the median of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv—middle class Israelis protesting the high cost and scarcity of housing. (There are plans afoot for a similar occupation of Wall Street.)
One of the best “art shows” I saw in recent years was the exhibit Into the Open, the official United States representation at the 2008 Venice Biennale. (I caught it at the New School, in NYC; the Slought Foundation also ran it in Philadelphia.)
This show indicted modernist architecture as “an aesthetic style—an abstract form in a landscape, photographed aerially and devoid of social relations[, whose i]conic buildings, formalism, and myopic obsession with the upper class . . . became the hallmarks of much American architecture.” Into the Open’s installations ask architecture “to mitigate its current celebrity obsessed approach, encouraging instead a new type of collaborative thinking about design and space that highlights local, periphery, and even edge conditions.”
My former student Paul Andersen has now created a design studio in Denver called "IndieArchitecture." It's a design and research group that takes on a variety of projects—-from designing buildings to writing books to curating contemporary art exhibitions. As an alternative to mainstream, mass produced, and corporately funded architecture, the office embraces its small market status, is associated with collegiate backpack intellectualism, and consistently seeks new ways of disseminating architectural and urban ideas. Paul, the director, has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Cornell University, and is a guest curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. "Conceptually," says Paul, "we maintain an ongoing interest in patterns—visual patterns, but also behavioral, structural, organizational and other types of patterns. Patterns have a unique capacity for integrating a wide range of materials, functions, forms, environmental systems, and even cultural trends in a coherent and technically precise project. They bridge worlds of knowledge and matter, art and science, and for us, research and practice." [web site]