The new cover for George Orwell’s 1984.
The term ‘utopia’ was coined almost five hundred years ago, and by naming this ideal Sir Thomas More realised it as more than just hypothetical. This title gave substance to what was previously just a fantasy, popularising the notion of a society which possessed the perfect system for living.
Between 1810 and 1850 America becoame a hotbed for such “utopias” and during this time many secular religious groups attempted to start new lives away from mainstream civilisation. However it was the social climate of the 1960s that saw people migrating in their thousands back to the rural land. Fuelled by their dissatisfaction with the negatives of modern life, dreamers, progressives and non-conformists began to set up self-sustainable communities based on shared ownership and responsibility. With little money at hand, the groups were forced to rely on their innovative creativity and natural resources instead. This pushed aesthetic design of the communities in a new direction in an attempt to make their reality as forward thinking as their ideals.
In 1968 Whole Earth Catalog was first published, becoming the most instrumental publication in the growth of sixties and seventies counterculture communities. Founded by Stewart Brand, the catalogue offered an amazing range of tools, services and information, not only for back-to-the-land communities but also for progressive minds in the fields of architecture and technology. The catalogue attributed its founding to Buckminster Fuller, the systems theorist, inventor and futurist designer and architect who popularised the geodesic dome. One of the first rural communes of the sixties, Drop City, was also inspired by Fuller’s work. The commune was based on the principle of ‘life as art’ and their iconic domes built from salvaged parts became the crowning representation of this new way of living.
The Golden Age of Neglect -Ed Templeton
The Golden Age of Neglect is a body of work that remains true to its subject matter, Templeton has for a long time now been a fixture of the Los Angeles skateboarding scene. From that position he documents the youth that occupy the scene with all their raw energy and spontaneity they project as well as the art, sport, sex, drugs, violence and fashion within it. Templeton is not an observer keen to impose his own values but a true insider who’s photographs are based on familiarity and a passion that boarders obsession.
Aspirations for a better – even a perfect – society have existed throughout history, often imagined in intricate detail by philosophers, poets, social reformers, architects and artists.
Gregory Claeys surveys the influence of the idea of Utopia on history. Central to his exploration of ideal worlds are creation myths; archetypes of heaven and the afterlife; new worlds and voyages of discovery; ages of revolution and technological progress; model communities and kibbutzim; political and ecological dystopias; space travel and science fiction. The most significant utopias throughout history – whether envisaged or attempted – are covered, including visions of the ideal society in the West as well as American, Asian, African and the Arab worlds.
-What I’ve been reading this week. I recommend it!
On July 21, 1969, only 21 layers of fabric, most gossamer-thin, stood between the skin of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and the lethal desolation of a lunar vacuum. They wore spacesuits made by Playtex: 21 layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book by architect and assistant professor at UC Berkeley Nicholas de Monchaux is the story of those spacesuits.
It is the story of an unexpected victory: that of the International Latex Corporation —best known by its consumer brand of “Playtex”, maker of underwear— over the military-industrial complex. A victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.
Playtex’s spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by military contractors and favored by NASA’s engineers. It was only when those suits failed—when traditional engineering firms could not successfully turn astronauts into “cyborgs” —that Playtex, with its fashion and tailoring expertise, got the job. More than just a piece of technology, the A7L suit is also a piece of couture.
It offers, de Monchaux argues, an object lesson. It tells us about interdependence, the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity and the victory by redundancy and adaptation over systems engineering; it teaches us to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.
Much like architecture –-and unlike the systems thinking of the military-industrial complex so central to the history of Apollo-– the A7L suit layered and adapted preexisting materials and techniques to new contexts instead of reinventing the wheel. It literally fashioned an environment for extreme living by placing the astronauts in an intimate architectural embrace, enabling them to explore an inhospitable environment.