How the 1960s and 1970s inspired radical architecture

Imagine hanging out inside a PVC bubble, moving to a town made up of construction cranes, or living in a house built ...

Posted: May 16, 2018 11:53 AM
Updated: May 16, 2018 11:53 AM

Imagine hanging out inside a PVC bubble, moving to a town made up of construction cranes, or living in a house built with metal mesh. These are the kinds of futuristic architectural designs dreamed up during the 1960s and 1970s: a period when politics, pop culture and technology collided to spawn a new era of radical creativity in architecture.

In the US, the 1960s and 70s was a time of unrivalled socio-political activism -- hippies protested against war with a message of love, the civil rights movement reached a crescendo with the death of Martin Luther King, the LGBT community celebrated the first Gay Liberation Day, and the world stood still to witness the Apollo 11 moon landing.

"The events that were happening on a local, national and regional scale arguably affected the way in which architects and designers started to approach not only for whom they were designing, but why (they were designing)," says Sean Anderson, associate curator for the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Seminal American architect and scientist Buckminster Fuller, who passed away in 1983, is one of the earliest and most celebrated minds of the radical period. Fuller famously popularized the concept of the geodesic dome -- a spherical structure made with a network of connecting lines, rather than from a singular curved surface. It was displayed for the first time at the 1954 Triennale in Milan, Italy, and paved the way for radical architecture in the decades that followed.

Read more: The rise of mimetic architecture

"He gave rise to a whole realm of production that is about really rethinking the way we build ... and radicalizing the way we live," Anderson says.

While Fuller worked alone, many architects who came after him put their minds together to bring their ideas to life.

Haus-Rucker-Co: ahead of its time

Architectural firm Haus-Rucker-Co was founded in 1967 in Vienna by Austrian architects Gunter Zamp Kelp and Laurids Ortner, and artist Klaus Pinter. The collective created "Mind Expander," a series of air-inflated installations that came out of a desire to look at space and the urban environment through a different light.

"We intended to give something to society -- (to) look at and experience spacial conditions of the world in a new way," says Zamp Kelp, who is now aged 77 and lives in Berlin.

"Balloon For Two," created in 1967, is a transparent PVC inflated bubble that is designed as an expansion of an existing structure, envisioned as a relaxation area with seating for two.

There is a "temporary aspect" to Haus-Rucker-Co's designs, he explains. "The balloon came out every hour for 10 minutes, out of a window, (or) an apartment ... then it disappeared again. So there's a provisional aspect (to it), and a contrast to the normal, urban environment."

In the same vein was "Cover: Survival in a Polluted Environment," unveiled in 1971. Haus-Rucker-Co covered the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany, with a translucent material made of reinforced PVC, resulting in a spherical, dome-like layer. "It is a look into a possible future, when air in the cities is polluted and living spaces have to be covered with shelters of clean air," explains Zamp Kelp.

The "Mind Expander" series was created from a "dystopian perspective," Kelp says. But he thinks that the concerns behind his designs are very much relevant today.

"Balloon for Two" could encourage communication between people, for example. "If you look at our situation now, everybody is looking at their personal little computer."

Read more: Why postmodern architecture is making a comeback

"'Cover: Survival in a Polluted Environment' is unfortunately becoming a reality," he says. "It was a revolutionary idea in the 1960s ... (but) a visionary statement has become, in some way, realized."

Haus-Rucker-Co, which had offices in Dusseldorf and New York, closed in 1992. Much of their work went on display in museums around Europe.

Archigram: an alternate reality

UK collective Archigram, headed by British architect Peter Cook, emerged around 1963-1964 and was active until 1975.

The group of six was formed "in response to the 'boring-ness' of much British architecture," says Cook, who designed one of Archigram's best-known projects, the "Plug-in City," in 1964.

It's a radical proposal: a mega-structure that calls for the use of construction cranes as permanent buildings that can be used as residences and offices alike. These can be added and removed constantly to facilitate development. Depicted in drawings, the complex designs of "Plug-in City" could be likened to science fiction -- even more than 50 years on.

Read more: How to fund a British stately home

"We always thought that many of the design ideas could be implemented," says Cook, who now runs London-based architectural firm CRAB Studio with fellow British architect Gavin Robotham.

"The purpose (of these futuristic designs) was to move architecture forward," Cook says. "It was to challenge existing concepts in architecture."

Ant Farm: malleable architecture

Chip Lord and the late Doug Michels ran architectural practice Ant Farm between 1968 and 1978.

After graduating with a degree in architecture in New Orleans in 1968, Lord wanted to do something different. "We were all facing the draft and the Vietnam War was still raging," he says. "It felt like there was revolution in the air, and none in my graduating class wanted to go to work for corporate architecture." He moved to San Francisco, where he met Michels and founded what they dubbed an "alternative" practice.

Ant Farm's ideas pushed the envelope on what "architecture" meant, with performances, installations and videos that often had an activist undertone. They were influenced by Buckminster Fuller, as well as Archigram.

Read more: Can the building industry break its addiction to concrete?

Their use of inflatables -- made with polyethylene and tape -- became the hallmark of Ant Farm's work. "Inflatables were lightweight, malleable, transportable, and they were alive in a sense," he says. Ant Farm designed them as temporary, affordable structures that could be used as a shelter, in response to excessive consumerism in America. Their experiments were documented in "Inflatocookbook," published in the early 1970s.

Then there was "The House of the Century," built in 1971, commissioned by a friend of Lord's. Working with architect Richard Jost, they built the home on the edge of a man-made lake southeast of Houston. The cutting-edge shape of the house paid tribute to the major developments in space. It had a shell made with ferrocement: a layer of cement applied over wired mesh. "It was, in a sense, an inflatable made into stone," remembers Lord.

Today, Lord is based in San Francisco. His works are exhibited at MoMA in New York and the Tate Modern in London, among others.

"We strove to define what psychedelic architecture might be," he says.

Terre Haute
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 80°
Robinson
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 97°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 87°
Rockville
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 91°
Casey
Clear
91° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 94°
Brazil
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 80°
Marshall
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 80°
Hot and humid!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 147865

Reported Deaths: 7026
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook927814630
Lake10007423
DuPage9364475
Kane7877275
Will6957320
Winnebago310996
McHenry212097
St. Clair2037137
Kankakee131165
Rock Island106129
Madison104269
Kendall100021
Champaign96015
Boone61021
DeKalb58220
Peoria56728
Sangamon45532
Jackson34019
Randolph2887
McLean28513
Stephenson2785
Ogle2754
Clinton24217
Macon23622
LaSalle22817
Union19619
Whiteside19615
Coles17817
Grundy1775
Iroquois1645
Tazewell1528
Knox1470
Warren1450
Monroe13713
Cass1367
Williamson1334
Adams1311
Morgan1303
Jefferson10717
Lee1032
McDonough10215
Henry981
Pulaski790
Vermilion792
Marion700
Macoupin583
Perry581
Douglas540
Unassigned530
Livingston522
Montgomery491
Christian474
Jasper477
Jo Daviess471
Ford401
Woodford362
Jersey351
Franklin310
Bureau302
Menard250
Mercer250
Fayette233
Mason230
Wabash230
Alexander220
Carroll212
Washington210
Johnson200
Piatt200
Effingham191
Hancock191
Moultrie190
Shelby191
Crawford180
Logan180
Cumberland170
Bond161
Clark150
Fulton150
Massac150
Wayne141
Schuyler130
De Witt120
Marshall110
Brown100
Edgar100
Greene90
Saline90
Henderson80
White80
Lawrence70
Hamilton60
Richland40
Stark40
Gallatin30
Out of IL30
Pike30
Clay20
Edwards20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott10

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 48524

Reported Deaths: 2698
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11682684
Lake5180242
Elkhart330146
Allen2798132
St. Joseph196466
Cass16389
Hamilton1563101
Hendricks1410100
Johnson1288118
Porter73237
Tippecanoe7268
Madison65964
Clark65544
Bartholomew58644
LaPorte58026
Howard57757
Kosciusko5494
Vanderburgh5486
Marshall4904
Noble48228
Jackson4723
LaGrange4709
Hancock45035
Boone44543
Delaware44550
Shelby42625
Floyd38144
Morgan32931
Monroe30028
Grant29526
Montgomery29420
Clinton2892
Henry27415
Dubois2736
White26510
Decatur25032
Lawrence24625
Dearborn23823
Vigo2358
Harrison21822
Warrick21829
Unassigned193193
Greene18932
Miami1832
Jennings17611
Putnam1698
DeKalb1624
Scott1627
Daviess14317
Wayne1406
Orange13623
Perry1299
Steuben1292
Franklin1248
Jasper1212
Ripley1177
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette997
Newton9810
Starke933
Whitley925
Gibson812
Huntington812
Randolph794
Wells731
Fulton721
Jefferson722
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Adams501
Owen491
Benton480
Sullivan451
Posey420
Brown391
Spencer381
Blackford372
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton321
Switzerland270
Parke230
Martin220
Ohio170
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110