Arthropods – New Design Futures, from 1972

Like many architects I have a lot of books.  Monographs full of beautiful photos of beautiful buildings seem to dominate my collection at work.  However, there is one book, found at a used bookshop many years ago, that I have to admit fascinates me more than many of the others.  Arthropods: New Design Futures, written or assembled by Jim Burns in 1972, is a very interesting artifact of its day, teeming with “projects” and “environments” that were the architectural analogues to the cultural revolution of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The book is composed of lots of photos and little text (not dissimilar to current fad in architectural publishing) highlighting radical experiments in the formation of “human environments” more akin to love-ins than architectural seminars.  What I find most interesting are the drawings, clearly showing the influence of counter-cultural comics and graphics of the day and making a distinct break with the modes of normative architectural expression of the day.

And as interesting as the drawings are, it is the photos that are really more to the point.  So many of these experiments of disposing bodies in spaces are engaged with temporary, momentary happenings, more disposed in time than space.

I have heard and read in a number of places that the economic downturn of the early 1970’s forced a lot of young architects to find expressions in architecture divorced from making actual buildings.  The experimental drawings and events of this books pre-date that forced-unemployment and became the goundwork for the frankly more radical departure from conventional architecture that was to become deconstructivism.  You can see the ancestors to those early deconstructivist drawings of Libeskind and Hadid, Eisenman and Coop Himmelblau, in this work.

What will come of the current economic downturn?  Will we see a radical departure in the ways we think about and make buildings based on the experiments and musing of the architects now bidding their time in coffee shops and unemployment offices?  Are issues of green construction and sustainability already a part of that departure or simply a construction technology shift?