Drop City

Upcycling Bucky’s solution

Richard Buckminster Fuller described domes as the best possible “art shelter solution for the postwar consumer”

With their circular shape, their easy-to-build, strong and flexible structure, domes have long been - and still are - the standard vocabulary of many communal experiments.

They were first popularised by American engineer Richard Buckminster Fuller who, since the late 1940s, went on a crusade-like promotion - by means of lectures, workshops and publications - of the advantages of such futuristic architectures. The engineer described domes as “lightweight, portable, spherical like the earth and therefore more natural” and as the best possible “art shelter solution for the postwar consumer”[1].

The structure however was progressively embraced by an unexpected typology of “consumers” - a diverse crowd of DIY partisans, hippie communards and counterculture artists -, who fell in love with the concept thanks to a series of underground publications - starting with Steve Baer's 1968's Dome Cookbook.

Thought as a short manual, the Dome Cookbook reveals, through drawings and handwritten notes, how its author came to build domes “out of car tops, following the shapes of garnet crystals”[2]. Baer's approach was quick, cheap, easy to reproduce and highly understandable, the perfect combination to inaugurate the upcoming domes’ glory days!

Known as the “first American hippie dome commune built (...) out of acid visions, idealism and chopped-out car top panels”[3], Drop City was founded in 1965 by a group of four artists on the outskirts of Trinidad (Colorado, USA).

Driven by their passion for geometry and naive admiration for dome-master-engineer Buckminster Fuller – the four founders “decided to go with geodesic domes” to give shape and sense to their newly bought property - a desolated 7-acre piece of landscape.

After figuring out what the structure of a geodesic dome was like, Clark Richert - one of the commune's founder - recalls ending up “with a five-fold symmetrical structure that looks like a geodesic dome but definitely was not a Fuller design.” [4]

Called “dodecahedron”, the new structures - which were entirely made of colourful and geometrical pieces upcycled from society's leftovers - became the distinctive feature of Drop City and of the whole counterculture movement.

1_From Steve Baer’s Dome Cookbook, a guide to domes construction, published in 1968; 2_View of the car top dome and theatre dome at Drop City. Both structures were built out of cars leftovers; 3_Peter Rabbit’s home at Drop City, 4_The henhouse; 5_The theatre dome - one of the first structure built on site - was thought as a gathering place and creative hub; 6_The Ultimate Painting standing in front of the theatre dome. Painted in 1966, this acrylic on canvas is a collective work by Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, JoAnn Bernofsky, Gene Bernofsky and Charles DiJulio - Drop City’s first inhabitants. © Richard Kallweit

[1] Eva Diaz, The experimenters; chance and design at Black Mountain College, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (USA), 2015, pp. 101-125;
[2] Steve Baer, Dome Cookbook, Lama Foundation, 1968;
[3] Lloyd Khan, “Drop City Revisited”, Shelter, p. 118;
[4] Adam Gildar, “An interview with Clark Richert and Richard Kallweit”, in Hippie Modernism, Walker Art Center, Chicago, 2015, pp. 383-394; Cover of “Autoconstruction”, Vroutsch (Strasbourg), N°6-7, p. 1972, in Caroline Maniaque, Go West!, p.172;

Published: 11 Dec. 2016

#Pioneers #TogethernessInDesign #DropCity #DomesStory #InCommonFacilities #Appropriation #Architecture #DropEverything #IntentionalCommunities

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