A temporary city

The case of Whiz Bang Quick City

In recent years, pop-up cities and urban laboratories - such as Les Grands Voisins in Paris, AVL-Ville in Rotterdam and L’Estaque in Marseille, to name a few - have underlined the importance of communal alternatives and counter living solutions within "normal" cities. Far from being a novelty though, these initiatives have many forerunners - some more utopian than others - of which Whiz Bang Quick City surely is one of them.


“Picture 500 people converging on a 50-acre wooded site, with a bunch of prefabs, do it yourself parts (tents, inflatables, etc.) and building a city in one day!” [1] This is precisely what happened in April 1971 and May 1972, near Woodstock (New York, USA), on the occasion of Whiz Bang Quick City - a project that saw the building of two temporary villages out of “cheap materials." [1] Developed under the impulsion of Les Walker and Robert Mangurian - both teaching design at the City College in New York at the time - Whiz Bang Quick City aimed at encouraging young architects “to share community experience” and at fostering “self-sufficiency.” [2] The two experiments brought together students of some of the top American universities - among which were Harvard University, Rhode Island School of Design, Parsons School of Design and Arts School of Visual Arts.

Curious to know more about Whiz Bang Quick City, we asked the environmental artist Aleksandra Kasuba - who participated in the 1972's edition - to share some of her memories with us.


“In early 1972, I was teaching at the School of Visual Arts in NYC when I heard about Whiz Bang Quick City #2. My students at the School of Visual Arts never heard me talk about architecture, as I was there substituting for a friend and the course was Creative Processes. Not knowing what to say, I introduced myself by telling the students a short story: “What we are looking for is a door that you knock on and it opens and lets you in where the magic happens. So you knock and knock on doors for years and nothing happens. And yet if you watch your step and do this long enough, a door does open enough for a hand to stick out, give you a lollipop, and close again.”

I invited the students to share their hunches in hope that together we might stumble upon some stepping stones that might by chance pave the way to that magic door. And as we shared experiences and explored each suggestion, we made lists on the blackboard of any hunches that rang a bell in someone’s head. These lists took us off in directions that vaguely related to creative processes.

Fourteen students came with me to Woodstock, and although I brought to the site all the tools and materials we might possibly need, I had no idea how the structure would look - this would depend on the branches of the tree we chose. On location, I illustrated the procedure on paper, to show the students what the installation would entail.


"the procedure was enjoyed not only by my students but also by neighbouring participants who gathered to watch the happening"

Once the fabric was attached to tree branches, I asked several students to join me in grabbing the edge of the hung fabric at certain points and pull, and others to step back and guide us. One of them would say, “Mark, move the fabric to the left - now out - go back a step - align it with...,” and so on; that point would then be stapled to a stake not yet fully driven into the ground. Since students switched positions, all participated in the process.

Once the parameters of the structure were staked out, the structure floating above the grass, we all stepped back to see what we had gotten; and after walking around and making adjustments here and there, we went to work on the details. Where the fabric bunched up, we used wooden hoops hung inside the shape of nylon fishing tackle which, pulled at an angle, pulled out the sagging fabric creating three interior compartments. As none of us - myself included - had ever seen anything similar unfold in space, the procedure was enjoyed not only by my students but also by neighbouring participants who gathered to watch the happening.” *


COVER_Construction of the temporary structure developed during Whiz Bang Quick City #2, May/June 1972, courtesy of Aleksandra Kasuba; 1-2_Construction of the temporary structure developed during Whiz Bang Quick City #2, May/June 1972, courtesy of Aleksandra Kasuba; 3_Aleksandra Kasuba, drawing realised on site, May 1972, courtesy of Aleksandra Kasuba; 4-5_Construction of the temporary structure developed during Whiz Bang Quick City #2, May/June 1972, courtesy of Aleksandra Kasuba;

* All words from a text written by Aleksandra Kasuba for The Offbeats in August 2017. [1] “Out of car trunks and knapsacks came pre-made temporary habitations of ingenious variety, dreamed up in college drafting rooms, using cheap materials. (...) Homemade geodesic domes were framed cheaply with conduit pipe. Someone ran out of plastic and fell back on his mother’s flowered shower curtain (...) This coming generation of architects maintains stubbornly that appearances as such are not important anymore, either in the woods or in the city (...)” reported Walter McQuade in his article “Momentary Community For a Mobile Era”, in LIFE, 23th July 1971, p.8, see link [2] Felicity D. Scott, “Global Village Media : Coming together in the early 1970s at Whiz Bang Quick City”, pp. 78-85, in Leon van Schaik and Fleur Watson (Guest Ed.), Architectural Design - Pavilions, Pop-ups and Parasols : The Impact of Real and Virtual Meeting on Physical Space, May-June 2015, n°235, see link. [3] Cass Wester, "A Temporary City Celebrates Cooperation and Creativity", Mother Earth News, July/August 1972, see link.

Published: 15 Nov. 2017

#pioneers #Counterculture #WhizBangQuickCity #InstantCity #LightweightArchitecture #TogethernessInDesign #AlexandraKasuba #Testimonies

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