How the 1960s and 1970s inspired radical architecture

How the 1960s and 1970s inspired radical architecture

Updated 16th May 2018
The 1960s and 1970s saw unprecedented progressive changes in society -- and this spawned a wave of radical ideas from architects, who were creating out-of-the-world concepts in response to the major shifts taking place across the world. San Francisco "alternative architectural practice" Ant Farm created pieces that blurred the lines between architecture and performance. In the late 1960s the group conducted a series of experiments using inflatables, like the one here. Credit: Ant Farm
The "inflatable" theme was present in many of Ant Farm's works. In the 1970s, the practice was commissioned to build "The House of the Century" in Texas, which co-founder Chip Lord describes as "an inflatable made into stone." Credit: Ant Farm/ Courtesy of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives
It was built using ferrocement, a layer of cement applied over wired mesh. The shape of the house pays homage to the developments in space during the time period -- namely the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Credit: Ant Farm
Commissioned by a friend of Chip Lord's, the house stood on the edge of a man-made lake in Texas. Credit: Ant Farm/ Courtesy of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives
Later on, Ant Farm had moved into "the realm of the radically changing art world of the 1970s." Their creations ranged from performance and video to sculpture and public art. Inspired by the prevalence of TV in everyday life, "Media Burn" featured a Cadillac being driven into burning TV sets. The set was inspired by typical TV news coverage of a space launch. Credit: Ant Farm
Like their other works, "Media Burn" addressed changes in American culture as well as the influence of mass media. Credit: (B&W) Diane Andrews Hall
This installation -- which still stands today in Amarillo, Texas -- was created using old Cadillac automobiles from 1949 to 1963. It was inspired by the death of the tailfin design on Cadillacs, a signature feature that had been continued by 1965. Credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images
It was created by co-founders Chip Lord and Doug Michels, with artist Hudson Marquez. "We had all grown up in the post-war years and were 'car nuts' following the design changes introduced each year," remembers Lord. Credit: Ant Farm
In Ant Farm's early days, the group created a series of experiments with inflatables, which became a running theme in many of their later works. Credit: Ant Farm
"We photographed and (made collages of) these physical experiments to expand on our architectural ideas," Lord says. Credit: Ant Farm
Their creation of inflatables were documented in "Inflatocookbook", published in the 1970s. Lord says that the book is used by architectural schools today. Credit: Ant Farm
"Utopian architecture" was the name of the game at architectural firm Haus-Rucker Co, founded in Vienna and active from 1967 to 1992. Oasis No. 7, closely related to the firm's first design "Balloon for Two", is an inflatable structure made of PVC. The bubble features a steel structure supporting two palm trees.
It was a design that was considered visionary for the time period, says Gunter Zamp Kelp, one of the founders of Haus-Rucker-Co. It was first exhibited in Kassel, Germany. In 2008, the design was reproduced for an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Two years later, it was installed at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
"Balloon for Two" was the very first architectural design unveiled by the firm, featuring an inflatable PVC bubble that is capable of sitting on the facade of an existing structure. It comes with seating inside that accommodates two people. The concept was created to encourage communication between people -- and in this instance, between two. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
The design formed part of a series dubbed the "Mind Expanding Program," which Haus-Rucker-Co hoped would create new experiences for people through architecture. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
Haus-Rucker-Co created this project in response to increasing air pollution. It was exhibited at the Museum Haus Lange and Museum Haus Esters in Germany -- originally villas built in 1928 by German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The exhibition consisted of the museums being covered by a spherical translucent cover made of reinforced PVC. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
The dome covering the museums can be seen here. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
The dome pictured from afar. As part of the project, Haus-Rucker-Co also created conceptual drawings depicting climate-controlled spaces. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
UK collective Archigram, headed by Peter Cook, was known for its radical city plans and out-of-the-world designs. One of its most famous works was "Plug-in City," created by Cook. In the design, construction cranes would be used as permanent buildings, like offices and homes. Credit: Imaging Services, MoMA, N.Y.
Cook says one of the Archigram designs that stood out for him was "Walking City," created by the late Ron Herron. It involves the construction of giant robotic structures with artificial intelligence that are capable of roaming around a city to wherever their skills are needed. It also proposes building cities that are capable of connecting with each other to form a "walking metropolis," which can also detach when needed. Credit: Imaging Services, MoMA, N.Y.
Italian architect and designer Alessandro Mendini is behind the iconic "Proust" chair, which he created in 1978 after coming across chair designs from the Italian neo-baroque era in the late 19th century. The chair was considered revolutionary for the time period owing to the way it combined form and function -- such as the fixed multi-color fabric, which matches the colors of the base of the chair. "Proust" became his best-known work, and many modern revivals and recreations have been made. Credit: Jacques Brinon/AP
Alessandro Mendini also co-designed the Groningen art museum in the Netherlands -- but not in a way you may think. The three pavilions that make up this postmodern building were individually designed by Medini; fellow architect Philippe Starck; and Vienna-based architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. Credit: Moritz Vennemann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP
Written by Andrea Lo, CNN
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.
Buckminster Fuller and the model of a geodesic dome. Credit: Frank Lennon/Toronto Star/Getty Images
"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.
"Balloon for Two," erected outside an apartment building. Credit: Gunter Zamp Kelp
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.
"Cover: Survival in a Polluted Environment." Credit: Gunter 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."
"'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.
"Plug-in City." Credit: Imaging Services, MoMA, N.Y.
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.
"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.
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.
"The House of the Century," taken when it was nearing completion. Credit: Ant Farm
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.
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