Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

A brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about some beautiful - and eccentric - architectural plans for the future.

For as long as humans have had the concept of 'tomorrow,' they've dreamed about what a better world might be, and fantasized about living in a utopia.

Sure, those early fantasies were probably pretty crude: bigger bison, fewer big critters waiting in the shadows to eat you, plenty of fire ... that kind of thing. But as humans got more sophisticated so did their fantasies of what tomorrow -- and the day after that and the day after that -- might be.

Some dreamers have tried to be realistic, to ground their fantasies in the brick and mortar of today, to go all out and be outrageous but always with a realistic foundation. But then there are those whose architectural visions of the World Of Tomorrow has been more ... well, visionary.

If not totally hallucinatory.

Frank Lloyd Wright was -- without hyperbole -- brilliant. Looking at his designs, it's easy to view them as simple in their loveliness: elegant mixtures of natural and artificial, Asian and Western, minimal and dramatic. But it's easy to forget that Wright completely rewrote architecture when the cars parked in front of his houses like Falling Water, his Taliesin studios, and the long lost Imperial Hotel in Tokyo were Model T Fords. It's one thing to dream about the future when you're in a world -- like today -- that's always looking forward, always thinking of grandly dramatic tomorrows, but quite another when you're in a time when men are wearing spats, and women hoop skirts -- and the future was relegated to cheap pulps, at best.

And Wright certainly had his eyes to the future. One of his most visionary designs was of a decentralized city, called Broadacre. Although not as striking as some of his other designs, it was radical for its time. But even more radical was what was to be Wright's masterpiece, a single soaring accomplishment: The Illinois.

Soaring is right, as the Illinois was to be a skyscraper -- a rare thing for Wright. But not just any twenty or thirty or forty floor pinnacle of his skill. Nope, The Illinois was to be a Chicago landmark to end all landmarks: a mile-high skyscraper.

Alas, Wright never came close to seeing his creation as anything but sketches and blueprints.

Another architectural visionary with very long-distance sight was Buckminster Fuller. Bucky created what some consider overly practical geodesic and polished steel future with a staggering array of designs and inventions -- many of which had gone beyond the blueprint stage and could be seen, touched, or even driven. Like Wright's, his designs were often even more incredible in light of when they were created. His Dymaxion House, for example, was created in 1929, and his amazing Dymaxion car actually drove the streets of New York in 1933. Fuller's designs were, to put it mildly, rigorously practical: his Dymaxion Houses were to be created on an assembly line with inflexible specifications, not in their manufacture but for those who were to live in them. The houses might have been absolutely brilliant in their design -- integrating many inspired features such as their ability to recycle water -- and his car literally could have driven rings around the cars of 1944, but in Fuller's future visions humanity would have been less flesh and blood and more like uniform parts in his many intricate mechanisms.

Other architects and visionaries have taken a much more natural approach to their far-forward speculations and designs. Luc Schuiten, for instance, looked at tomorrow and saw not steel and chrome, metal and heavy industry but instead a world of living green. His designs are for cities grown and tended like orchards. Living in Luc's world would be like existing in a city of skyscraper trees, hedgerow houses, forest stores, and prairie parks -- a magnificent dream for those who long for man to finally live with -- and not against -- nature ... though maybe a ring of hell if you have an hay fever.

Wright is art, Fuller is cold logic, Luc is nature, but if you want a vision of the future that's none of the above, in every way, you have to look at the work of Superstudio. Created in 1966 by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo, Superstudio's plans for the future are outrageous, disturbing, and -- most of all -- surreal. To be fair, Natalini and Toraldo never really thought about actually creating their visions of the future -- unlike Wright and Fuler and Luc -- and, considering some of their designs, that might be a very good thing.

Take, for example, their plan to make all the buildings in Pisa lean -- every building except for the town's famous tower; or their famous "Brain City" where the residents would be just that: brains in jars, with the concept of a perfect city fed into their cortexes via direct stimulation.

A contemporary of Superstudio, Archigram created designs that weren't quite as avant guard -- in fact they were almost realistic, at least in comparison. One of their most famous visions is for a city that perambulates across the countryside ... and before you leap to your dictionary, they meant for their cities of the future to be monstrous walking machines, strolling from one part of the world to the other. Another of their designs was for a "Plug In" city, where the metropolis would be a framework providing the necessities and the residents would simply connect where they wanted to be at any time. Although it might sound like a Fuller concept, Archigram at least tried to create something the residents might actually enjoy, giving their residents a choice of where and when to go and live.

Tomorrow might not be here yet, but thankfully there have been, and still are, some dreamers who have tried to look forward to how we might be living. All we can do is hope that some of their more outrageous visions become a reality, and that others never do.

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