Drop City / Domes
Drop City was a counterculture artists' community that formed in southern Colorado in 1965. Abandoned by the early 1970s, Drop City became known as the first rural "hippie commune".
In 1965, the four original founders, Gene Bernofsky ("Curly"), JoAnn Bernofsky ("Jo"), Richard Kallweit ("Lard"), and Clark Richert ("Clard"), art students and filmmakers from the University of Kansas and University of Colorado, bought a 7-acre tract of land about four miles north of Trinidad, in southeastern Colorado. Their intention was to create a live-in work of Drop Art, continuing an art concept they had developed earlier at the University of Kansas. Drop Art (sometimes called "droppings") was informed by the "happenings" of Allan Kaprow and the impromptu performances, a few years earlier, of John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller, at Black Mountain College.
As Drop City gained notoriety in the 1960s underground, people from around the world came to stay and work on the construction projects. Inspired by the architectural ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Steve Baer, residents constructed domes and zonohedra to house themselves, using geometric panels made from the metal of automobile roofs and other inexpensive materials. In 1967 the group, now consisting of 10 core people, won Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion award for their constructions. The Firesign Theatre folks had a commercial—"kids, tear the top off your daddy's car, and send it, together with 10 cents in cash or coin, to Drop City, Colorado..."
The community grew in reputation and size, accelerated by media attention, including news reports on national television networks. The peak of Drop City's fame was the Joy Festival in June 1967, which attracted hundreds of hippies, some of whom stayed on. With the complex of eight domes and geometric buildings constructed, Curly and Jo, the only official owners of the property, signed it over to a non-profit corporation consisting of the entire core group (then about a dozen). The deed stipulated that the land was "forever free and open to all people". But tensions and personality conflicts were already a problem within the group, and soon became unbearable. By the end of 1968, some of the original occupants of the community had moved to Boulder, Colorado, to start an artists' cooperative, "Criss-Cross", whose purpose, like Drop City's, was to function in a "synergetic" interaction between peers (no bosses) to create experimental artistic innovation.
During its creative heyday between 1965-1969, Drop City consisted of around 14-20 inhabitants whose main artistic output took the form of buildings. Inspired by the geodesic design principles of Buckminster Fuller, a number of domes were built, a kind of DIY version of Fuller's scientific and precise method.
It was the first time that geodesic domes were used for domestic living; until then they had only housed exhibitions or were used for industrial and institutional applications. At Drop City, the domes were built without a systematic kit or an exact design, using waste and salvaged material, including car roofs.
Mixed with vernacular building techniques, they were mutations of Fuller's ideas, and he acknowledged the community by awarding Drop City his first Dymaxion award for ""poetically economic structural achievements" in 1966. The award gave Drop City its place in the history of the US counter-cultural scene but also the mass media attention that eventually led to its demise.
Drop City was originally envisioned as a seed that would be replicated numerous times. Whilst this never happened, it did influence a number of experimental projects and at a time when governmental funding for environmental research was scarce, it functioned as an alternative research centre. It was here that Steve Baer developed his Zome design, a flexible version of Fuller's domes, which could be added to and extended easily.
The company Zomeworks was an eventual offspring of Drop City, whilst other experiments were in passive solar design including the construction of a large solar collector. It is perhaps in this legacy that the agency of the short-lived experiment is most apparent; Drop City also inspired a number of counter communities, as well as influencing the founders of the Whole Earth Catalog.
“ is impossible to define drop city. It fell out of a window in Kansas three years ago and landed in a goat pasture near Trinidad, Colorado. At first droppers lived in tents and tar paper shacks. And then other began to see the same vision and began making things.Geodesic domes. Now there are sixteen to twenty Droppers living in ten domes and as many different ideas of what Drop City is as there are droppers.
We have attempted to create in Drop City a total living environment, outside the structure of society, where the artist can remain in touch with himself, with other creative human beings.
We live in geodesic domes and domes of other crystalline forms because the dome shape is easier to construct. We live on a subsistence level and almost entirely scrounge the materials for our buildings. All materials are used. Car tops, cement, wood,plastic. The cheapest and least structural of building material are structurally sound when used in a true tension system.
We can buy car-tops in Albuquerque, N.M. for 20c each. We jump on top of a car with an ax and chop them out, stomp out the back glass, strip off the mirrors, and pull out the insulation. All of it can be used to cover a large dome for the small cost of about $30.
We have discovered a new art form: creative scrounging. We dismantle abandoned bridges by moonlight. We are sort of advanced junkmen taking advantage of advanced obsolescence. Drop city was begun without money, built on practically nothing. None of us is employed or has a steady income. Somehow we have not gone hungry, or done without materials. Things come to us.
Droppers come in all sizes, shapes, colors: painters, writers, architects, panhandlers, film-makers, unclassifiables. Each has its own individual endeavours and achievements. These perhaps tell what we are doing more than anything else. But they cannot be enumerated. They have to be seen, read, touched, heard. They speak for themselves. But we do all have this in common - whatever art we produce is not separated from our lives.”
The forbearer of the dome craze was undoubtedly Lloyd Kahn, a California architect who started building domes in Big Sur in 1966. In 1969 he was invited to supervise the construction of seventeen domes at Pacific High School, an alternative school outside Santa Cruz.
Working with fifty students and a dozen teachers, Kahn experimented with a variety of materials and structures, ultimately drawing national attention and accumulating volumes of sketches and plans, together with extensive experience on what worked and what didn't. In 1970 Kahn borrowed the production facilities that the Whole Earth Catalog crew had used to produce their publication and put together a collection of materials under the title Domebook I.
Like Whole Earth, the pages of Dome-book were a buzzing arcade of illustrations, architectural diagrams, letters from various correspondents and participants, and photographs of domes. In 1971, the same group went on to compile Domebook II, which sold 175,000 copies.
In a New York Times review comparing Domebook II with the Whole Earth Catalog, a reviewer singled out the metaphoric attraction adhering to both publications: "These books are metaphors too: metaphors disguised as how-to-do-it and where-to-find-it manuals. The deepest need they satisfy is the need for such metaphors: a need that's propelling across bookstore counters, by the hundred thousands, what only two years ago was the information exchange of a nearly invisible subgroup."'
Jay Baldwin, a former student of Buckminster Fuller and contributor to the Whole Earth Catalog, also participated in these experimental building projects at the school. Kahn was coeditor of several of the Whole Earth Catalogs, and he used equipment from the Whole Earth office to produce the book. Domebook publications were extremely popular, and they directly influenced the dome-building trend that became emblematic of the back-to-land movement.
Ant Farm, founded in 1968, engaged in fringe research in architecture on two levels -- a utopian, image-based practice using media, and a practical, do-it-yourself activity in air-supported structures and nomadic living.
Ant Farm crossed disciplinary boundadries into performance, multi-media, and public art within the context of radical changes going on in the art world and the social landscape in the early 1970's.
During the ‘60s and early ‘70s, a collective of architects forever changed the way we envision the built environment. As a counterculture against the rationalism of Modernism, ‘Inflatable Architecture’, was born.
Inflatables were used as a way to critique political issues and test new ideas. For example, the in the Clean Air Pod project by Ant Farm brought to light the effect of air quality and pollution on the environment. Cushicle,was a nomadic, fully equipped portable unit designed by Archigram. It started to rethink the city as a living organism inhabited by nomadic dwellers. It's an example of the extreme of architecture—inflatable architecture- challenging the boundary between “building” and “installation”. This showed that architecture can be both soft and temporary.
These utopian structures blurred the boundaries between art and architecture, and shifted the conversation around architecture to one about temporality, transportability, experimentation, and low cost. They present a fully immersive environment, completely detached from the outside world, lightweight and devoid of 90 degree angles. For all these transgressive reasons, they have been continuously explored, being vastly influential and a huge source of inspiration in every single design field.
Inflatables continue to push the boundaries of architecture, art, and product design. From its conception, they began a conversation about immersive experiences, wearable technology, and revealed phenomenological qualities in a very different way. Their inherent softness, anti-gravity and playfulness, as well as the possibility of experimenting with new materials, is something that continues to excite us today.
Their early explorations of air and plastic culminated in a seminal DIY manual, Inflatocookbook, that offered instructions for making cheap inflatables at home using recycled polyethylene, tape, and used fans from Goodwill.
They promoted a type of architecture that moved away from a reliance on expert knowledge. Ant Farm produced a manual for making your own pneumatic structures, the Inflatocookbook. The inflatables thus constituted a type of participatory architecture that allowed the users to take control of their environment.
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