Sorry, Out of Gas--Visited

What we learned today: way back in 1973 architects and community groups were building solar homes, using recycled materials and creating wind generators. What? They weren't just developed in response to the recent energy crisis? NO! There was a crisis in 1973 when OPEC decreased oil production by 5% and doubled the price per barrel. This caused huge panic in Europe and the US and in response all kinds of groups sprung up and developed housing projects. This is the subject of a fascinating exhibit, 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas at Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture (we had read about it in treehugger first, of course).

The show features pictures of dozens of houses built by concerned citizens all over Canada and the US and contrary to public belief, they weren't all done by hippies. The projects included the Ercol house in Montreal, the Ouroboros solar house in Minnesota, the Farallones Institute in San Francisco, and of course domes in New Mexico. Windworks was even offering wind generators by mail order.

Leave it to the market--board games were developed to take advantage of the situation. Some were about oil as a source of power and wealth (pictured), others about war and oil and some even about managing the crisis. Mad magazine had the environment as its cover story ( what me worry?).

A series of 9 t.v. sets, each showing a world leader speaking to their nation on the crisis, is illuminating. Richard Nixon is reading from hand-written notes, with phrases scratched out, and Sheik Yamani himself is warning that the world had better "adjust yourself to new circumstances". In the UK, Edward Heath announces limitations to electricity use in shops and offices of 3 days a week ( the UK also had coal miners on strike at the same time).

Jimmy Carter held the first national Sun Day in 1978 and set up a Department of Energy. He also had solar panels installed in the White House; later removed by Reagan.

Joe Naar, in 1975, travelled around the US taking thousands of photos of people who had built and lived in solar architecture. Now in his late '70's, he gamely gives an interview in french specially for the exhibiton.

Women pay heed; the first solar house was created in 1949 by a female engineer and a female architect for Amelia Peabody. There was no back-up heating system in this house in Massachusetts, just 18 heat collectors.

Steve Baer in New Mexico, in 1971, used pie plates (pictured) fixed to windows from the inside. The air trapped between the two provided insulation and the aluminum kept the heat from leaving. It actually looked quite attractive. In 1979 the Barney building in New York had wind turbines on top.

Michael Reynolds, who really was an old hippy, used old tires filled out of earth to create his "Earthship House" (pictured). He said that tires were a universal natural resource and were strong, resiliant and retained the temperature. He used cans for walls. :: Canadian Centre for Architecture

Tags: Ecology | Montreal | Quebec

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