Book Review: Spaced Out by Alastair Gordon

Nobody takes the hippies seriously any more; even this website's name is a joke about them. But there were literal treehuggers, in rancid ponchos and Birkenstocks living in communes. It was also an incredibly exciting time to be an architecture student, with everything up in the air, new ideas, new ways of putting things together, an incredible optimism that we could all build a better world. Our bibles were the Whole Earth Catalogue and everything ever written by Bucky Fuller. Now we have the history, in Alastair Gordon's absolutely spectacular Spaced Out.

As Alastair says in his overview, "The music and drugs have been well documented, but the fractured sense of space, the softened corners, the communal élan are less easily reclaimed. Where are the landmarks and monuments of the psychedelic revolution, and how do we go back if we don't even know where to begin?


Pop, Plastic and Haight-Ashbury

So Alistair takes us back to the beginning, when music was changing, when drugs wer modifying perception. Designers "wanted to liberate architectural space the way musicians like Jimi Hendrix were liberating rock music, to create scenarios in which interiors, even whole buildings, would appear as cellular entities, detached from conventional engineering, floating, almost nonexistent." Inflatables, foams, domes, every new technology and material was played with. It was such an optimistic age.

Until it all came crashing down in the carnage and murder of 1968. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to get out of town, to build a new life.

"What everyone shared in common was boundless faith mixed with a willingness to relearn everything, to embrace poverty and live as voluntary peasants. Inspired by Thoreau, they made little encampments with tents and tepees or in temporary sheds made from boughs and leaves. They weren't afraid. Some lived in converted trucks or vans. By 1969 there were thousands of rural communes sprouting up around the world, as many as eight thousand in North America alone."

Many built domes; others built from found materials, scraps of wood, junk from construction sites. The concepts of recycling, of living with less, found fertile ground here.

Past is prologue; Once again people are growing their own food, practicing voluntary simplicity, thinking about how to build with recycled materials, setting up modern versions of communes. Spaced Out is an invaluable guide to what worked and what didn't; as we enter an era where we have to look at every aspect of how we live, it is important to look back so that we don't have to repeat the mistakes of an earlier generation.

Alastair Gordon has put together a powerful mix of words and images that convey the spirit and imagination of the time. It is a must for every, um, treehugger.

Great website at ::Spaced Out

See also:
Architectural Lessons from the 60s Counterculture
Geodesic Domes Gain Weight and Settle Down

Tags: Books