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DESIGN AND CULTURE

VOLUME 4, ISSUE 3
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Diagrams of
Countercultural
Architecture
Simon Sadler
is Professor of
Architectural and
Urban History at the
University of California,
Davis. His publications
include Archigram:
Architecture Without
Architecture (MIT
Press, 2005), Non-Plan:
Essays on Freedom,
Participation and
Change in Modern
Architecture and
Urbanism (co-edited
with Jonathan Hughes;
Architectural Press,
2000), and The
Situationist City (MIT
Press, 1998). He is
currently researching
countercultural design.
sjsadler@ucdavis.edu

Abstract The concept of the diagram


has been promoted since the 1990s as an
advanced mode of designing and thinking
about design. This article proposes that the
diagram helps us understand a different
architectural moment wrestling with the
convergence of overwhelming political,
technical, and philosophical challenges:
that of the pioneering ecological scene
associated with 1960s counterculture in the
United States. This approach is helpful in
understanding the countercultural mind
and the way in which it understood the
ecological and ontological relationships
between design, place, nature, the social,
and the whole. The overreaching ambitions
of countercultural architecture stand in
contrast to the narrowing of architectures
agendas since the 1960s, and it reminds us
that architecture is hermeneutic that it is
a way of interpreting the world. Readers of

345 Design and Culture DOI: 10.2752/175470812X13361292229195

Simon Sadler

Simon Sadler

the books and magazines in which these diagrams


were published were likely inexpert, forming their
ideas about the very means and ends of design.
The study of architectural diagrams assists in
the comparative study of different modes and
periods of design which aspire to register the
bigger parameters in which design is formed.
Though countercultural architecture was the chaos
of diagrams without an agreed formal language,
diagram architecture nonetheless produced rich
formal abstraction.
Keywords: counterculture, ecology, diagrams, ontology, Drop
City, Lama Foundation, New Alchemy, Arcology

346 Design and Culture

Introduction: Inverse Historiography for


Inverse Architecture
The concept of the diagram has been promoted since the 1990s
as an advanced mode of designing and thinking about design.1 The
diagram replaced the role formerly occupied by drawing because
it unifies thinking and making, it can be claimed (see Vidler 2000:
120). And its adoption became widespread, particularly in vanguard
practices of contemporary architecture, as a means of generating
form from the fluid physical and conceptual process associated
with the convergence of globalization, computer-aided design, and
post-structuralist thought. But this article goes back a little further
in recent history, to propose that the diagram helps us understand
another architectural moment wrestling with the convergence of
overwhelming political, technical, and philosophical challenges by
unifying thinking and making.
This was the moment of the pioneering ecological scene associated with 1960s counterculture in the United States. Reading
the diagrams of the counterculture helps us appreciate the countercultural mind and the way in which it understood the grandly
ecological and ontological relationships between design, place,
nature, the social, and the whole. Because for all the problems of
countercultural architecture and its diagrams, its majestic ambition
stands in contrast to the narrowing of architectures goals since the
1960s, and it reminds us that architecture is hermeneutic that it
is a way of interpreting the world. If the counterculture began when
the Beats went on the road, its diagrammatization of architecture
shows the counterculture coming off the road (if we may borrow
and reverse Jack Kerouacs epochal title): its architects stop acting
as their own vector for the reinvention of culture, instead putting
down roots and projecting their cultural vector outward.
It is scarcely possible to fully study the architecture of counterculture through its buildings alone, which probably wouldnt be admitted

to the canon on the Vitruvian grounds of firmitas, utilitas, venustas


that is, few of the hippies buildings proved to be particularly
durable, useful, or beautiful. So is it possible, instead, to imagine a
history of architecture without focusing on buildings? Countercultural
architectural diagrams schematic representations of the workings
of architecture within the workings of the world, mostly published as
book illustrations afford insight into something arguably much more
fundamental than building. Diagrams arent simply supplementary
evidence for the study of countercultural architecture; the buildings
of counterculture, extant, extinct and unbuilt, were supplements to
the diagrams.
Countercultural architecture might otherwise slip through the net
of architectural and design history. The countercultures deflection
from conventional taste is so profound as to place its architecture
beyond the norms of form, function, and representation. Historical
method usually begins by looking at buildings from the outside
in, as compositions and pictures contributing to a public visual
culture, whereas countercultural architecture seems as though it
is looking back at the world, from the inside out, sometimes a little
self-importantly. This means in turn that countercultural buildings
often arent very enjoyable to look at, and may fairly be regarded as
naive failures by the standards of fine architecture. And yet they are
too deliberate to be regarded as naive, or as the unconscious accumulation of a communal culture. Nor then are they obvious objects
for scholars of vernacular style and material culture.
Reading the buildings as diagrams encourages an empathy with
countercultural ontology overall (a little like the way in which know
ledge of sacred geometry or Cartesian rationalism is helpful to the
student of Islamic tiling and European modernism). It also alerts us
to the distinctions between types of countercultural architecture.
Though each iteration of countercultural architecture likely harbored
ambitions to serve as a universalizing model for repetition (to take
examples from this article, Drop City as the first of many Drop Cities,
Lama as the first of many Lamas), each in retrospect is more like a
momentary plateau within the crisscrossing of cultural upheaval.2
Some countercultural designs diagram a basically positivist understanding of the relationship between entities (between sunlight,
glass, water, plants, and bacteria at the New Alchemy Institute, for
instance). Other schemes are much more metaphysical.
The diagrams offer a snapshot of an unusual moment in the
history of architectural consumption, too. If the typical reader of
architectural literature seeks fresh styles, inspirations, and technical solutions, readers of the books and magazines in which these
diagrams were published were likely forming their ideas about the
very means and ends of design. They were educating themselves.
What remains admirable about countercultures diagrams is that they
tried to furnish nonexpert observers with a view to the outside, to the
whole, to a revised future, even if that view was misguided. One set

347 Design and Culture

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

Simon Sadler

348 Design and Culture

of diagrams discussed below was published in Architectural Design,


for instance, a magazine which was at the time so dedicated to its
vanguard and largely student audience that it had to seek an alternative business model to one based on advertising revenue. Other
diagrams were found in handbooks for countercultural seekers for
whom professional architecture was an alien world. But all of them
confirm the deepening relationship between media and architecture. The actual built structures of countercultural architecture are a
means for producing photographs, drawings, and prose. And those
photographs, drawings, and prose cultivate a grassroots quality.
The diagrams are usually hand-drawn and inexpert, and the writing
accompanying them is usually hip in its lack of literary polish. When
technical in their emphasis, the diagrams have the charm of a home
science project. More often, they are simply poetic.
The study of architectural diagrams, ontologies, and hermeneutics assists in the comparative study of different modes of design,
lending fresh perspectives on objects that might otherwise seem like
apples and oranges. Consider again whether anything relates countercultural architecture and more recent diagram architecture. Most
strikingly, something of the yearning for design to register or yield to
the bigger parameters in which it is formed for example, through
stratified and non-Euclidean building forms may have carried over
from countercultural architecture to contemporary architecture. But
the parametric sensibility has obviously changed too, as though
countercultural architectures bid to be at one with a wondrous
and dreadful whole proved unrealistically confident, founded on a
vision of totality which was unitary, at least in an ecological sense.
Countercultural diagrams offer evidence about the putative transition
between modern and postmodern worldviews, then between faith
in a coherent epistemology and capitulation to the irreconcilability of
different epistemologies, systems, and forces. Counterculture sought
relative constants like energy, religion, place; contemporary architectural diagramming opts for the more fluid parameters of economics,
meaning, site. The architecture of counterculture, correspondingly,
feels a little overweening and its diagramming overwrought. Yet
all diagram architectures, countercultural or contemporary, share
a commitment to delineate through design the concerns of the
commons.

From Engineering to Ashram: The Geodesic and


Post-Geodesic Diagram
Richard Buckminster Fullers main body of work was not buildings
but diagrams, pictorial and three-dimensional, from the powerful
imagery of his 4D projects of the 1930s to the schema of forces
embodied in the geodesic dome.3 Fuller was the godfather of
countercultural architecture, so reading countercultural architecture
diagrammatically makes all the more dramatic the shift from the
scientific insight of Fuller and the intuitiveness of the counterculture

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

that followed. The jagged seams, eccentric shapes, and outlandish colors of the pioneering countercultural commune of Drop
City, Colorado, founded in 1965, act as envoys of a philosophical
shift between Fullers design method modeled on science and the
Droppers method modeled on a Nietzschean gay science: Drop
City remains reverential towards science, yes, but only as one of
several life-affirming forces in the world which must be followed
spontaneously (Figure 1). The domes at Drop City show what the
Fuller ideal looks like after the acceptance of fate, of poetry, and
their magnification through narcotics. The shift is nicely illustrated in
a contemporary photograph in which a Fullerine geodesic sphere,
delicately crafted by Droppers, hangs from the apex of their Cartop
zome, a geodesic distorted first by its noncircular plan, then by
its highly unconventional construction from bonded car panels. The
diagram of forces running through the Cartop zome becomes wonky
and Aquarian, pushed and pulled by the myriad interconnections, as
one Dropper account put it, of Materials, Structure, Energy, Man,
Magic, Evolution, and Consciousness (Alloy Report [1969] 1971:
114).
One senses in the structures at Drop City the presence of
diagrams in that purer form described and made famous by Gilles
Deleuze, for whom the diagram traces the forms, differences, and

349 Design and Culture

Figure 1
Steve Baer and Droppers, Cartop zome, Drop City, Trinidad, CO. Environmental Communications, 1966.

350 Design and Culture

Simon Sadler

relations of matter and energy as one (prior to their bifurcation into


form and content) (Deleuze [1986] 1988: 34 passim). The peculiar
cutlines and geometries, in other words, present rather than represent process. This reading is reinforced by the zome inventor Steve
Baers site notes at Drop City published as the Dome Cookbook
(1969), in which design, method, and social relationships collide
on the page, often diagrammatically, and rarely as linear text. In
unreleased archival footage recently collected by filmmaker and
communications scholar Tom McCourt, Drop City presents itself as
an existential experiment convened by the actions of design and
construction. The work is signal to a sense of being in which mind,
body, and architecture construct one another.
I therefore suggest that countercultural architecture be credited
with a purposively ontological approach to building, by which I mean
the employment of architecture toward the revelation of the nature
of being, of the existence of entities, and the relationships between
them. We can point to any number of earlier overtly ontological
schema in the history of architecture for instance in the theological
arraignment of a Christian cathedral or Buddhist stupa, or more
abstractly, as we approach the era of Western modernity, in the
Cartesian grid of modernist planning, and in the Deleuzian plane of
immanence purposely hinted at in some architecture of the 1990s
and 2000s, as buildings apparently erupt from the cues offered by
their sites. All of these schemes consciously afford to their users
and creators a perspective on their relationship to other entities to
other people, to other species, to materials, economies, beliefs,
weather, cosmologies, and so forth. And all therefore encourage the
diagrammatical purview.
The ontological quality of countercultures architectural diagrams becomes explicit with the founding and construction of the
Lama Foundation in New Mexico, the spiritual retreat founded in
1967, shortly after Drop City started construction (Figure 2). In fact
Steve Baers Dome Cookbook was published by Lama, and Lama
was again designed in part by Steve Baer with his associates, the
Lama Foundations Steve Durkee and Barbara Durkee. Lama also
published Baers reprint of Fullers book 4D in 1972. Yet the diagrammatic emphasis has altered again: if Drop Citys diagram was
explosive, then Lama draws its communal energies inward and
outward with a meditative precision, a still spot beneath its central
dome. The diagrammatic emphasis has been assigned priority by
this date: When Architectural Design asked Lama to publish its
project in 1971, most of the article was dedicated not to buildings,
as we might expect, but to an exposition on the relationships that
make the settlement relationships to community, to people, and to
the land (see Lama Foundation 1971: 74352) (Figure 3).
Lama served as a center for spiritualist belief systems synthesizing Christianity with Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, so its
experiential mission was as a countercultural equivalent of an Indian

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

Figure 3
Diagram from Lama Foundation, Architectural Design, 42 (December 1971).

351 Design and Culture

Figure 2
Lama Foundation, nr. Taos, NM, 1969present. Environmental Communications.

Simon Sadler

352 Design and Culture

ashram (a retreat for religious and cultural instruction). Specifically, it


was inspired by the Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry, India (founded
1926), but appears to be derived architecturally from no one source,
compelling the historian to look to contextual evidence for Lamas
ontological or theological scheme. One piece of evidence we have
to hand is Ram Dasss fantastically popular, million-selling version of
Eastern philosophy, Be Here Now, which was published from Lama in
1971 (Figure 4). The cover image of a rustic chair inscribed in a circle
crisscrossed by geometric lines connecting a dozen points along its
circumference invoked that most basic architectural existentialism
the plain act of sitting down and finding ones place in a universe of
connective order. More specifically, the frontispiece of Be Here Now
reproduced the plan of the ninth-century stupa at Borobudur, Java,
and though there is no explicit employment at Lama of a concentric
circle-in-square mandala like that governing Borobudur, there was
an analogy of the mandala in the Lama structure, of the unification
of microcosm and macrocosm, of circle (heaven) inside a square
(Earth). It was a rather trancelike analogy, perhaps like the appearance of a mandala symbol in a dream to represent the Jungian
psychoanalytic search for personal completeness.4

Figure 4
Ram Dass, Be Here Now. Hanuman Foundation, 1971.

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

On a mountain high above the surrounding plains, Lamas


symmetrical plan raised a domical form, flanked by rectangular
structures, and crowned with a crystalline faceted roof. It promised
to draw the seeker to his or her own tranquil center. Writer Alastair
Gordon succinctly summarizes the design:

Lamas crystalline dome invoked some sort of sacred geometry,


its interlocked squares and triangles hinting at the metaphysics of
mathematical relation, its pointed dome reminiscent of Bruno Tauts
1914 Glass House at the Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne. The
aspect of the design that was given most space in the Architectural
Design essay was not the building, though. It was its diagrammatic orientation to the site, to the landscape, to the world. The
Architectural Design essay offers a topographical description of the
site near Taos, an area popular with hippies, which hosted several
intentional communities. The description in Architectural Design integrates myth and mysticism, aligning Lama with other sites, visible or
known, into a scheme that we might label as a sacred geography,
with the sacred geometry of Lamas dome functioning as a triangulation point. Lamas residents notated a concordance between
their location and Tibet, for example, reminding the architectural
historian of the orientation of any number of ancient structures to
landscapes of ritual importance (see, for instance, Scully 1962). And
again Lama explains itself, in part, through diagrams that appear to
the reader like some new version of ley lines, or as a mystical revision
of Patrick Geddess seminal 1909 Valley Section diagram of organic
humanland relationships.
Read diagrammatically, the warping of the geodesic figure from
Fuller to Lama neatly illustrates the shifting ontological concerns
within a community of designers. Fullers paradigm of engineering
performance was deformed and reformed so that it could diagram
intuited processes and formative belief systems. And this quirky

353 Design and Culture

The Centers domed roof was a thirty-two-foot-high enenacontrahedron, a shape that drew energy from the earth while also
celebrating the sky and the sun. A helix of diamond-shaped
sections echoed the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,
while one-story wings tapered down on either side hugging
the ground. One wing contained a communal bathhouse and
the other housed a library and prayer room. The outer walls
were made from traditional adobe bricks, packed and stacked
in the style of the local Pueblo Indians. All doors in the eightsided building pointed east, and all windows were positioned
in alignment with the sun and moon. Light streamed through
the star-shaped skylight and played across the walls of the
great meditation space. An eight-foot-high octagon window
something like a third eye looked west toward the Rio
Grande. (Gordon 2008: 201)

Simon Sadler

sequence of diagrammatic structures and drawings is illustrative


of conundrums faced by designers more generally. The warping
geodesic figure assists in a comparative study of ontology: the
sense of being described in these structures is changing not only
from one generation to another (that of Fuller, born 1895, to that of
Baer, born 1938), but from synchronous subculture to subculture
(Drop City to Lama). Through the deployment of putatively abstract
figures, designers choose between affecting a mechanical neutrality
or metaphysical emotiveness. They choose which of the parameters
that hem in the design process to diagram. The geodesic figure
became an icon of ecology not so much for its efficiency (more or
less surrendered by Fullers countercultural acolytes) but because
of strenuous contact with and relation to an outside. And since
the geometries and building methods of Drop City and Lama were
increasingly remote from Fullers Dymaxion world, we can conclude
that the perception of that outside, that ecological totality, was itself
evolving. If Fullers structures described a knowable and impersonal
universe shrunken and crystallized, Drop City and Lama described
the acquisition of knowledge about the whole as a daily struggle,
personal and interpersonal. Linking them was the posing of a question: what is the whole in which we live and design?

354 Design and Culture

Diagramming from Nature to Culture, and from


Counterculture to Mainstream Culture
One answer agreed between countercultural designers was that the
whole is linked by pattern and energy. As a small illustration of this,
note how the counterculture diverts that biological diagram most
beloved by scientists, mathematicians, and artists, the nautilus shell,
to become the icon of countercultural design. After its introduction
into the modernist canon by DArcy Wentworth Thompsons classic
and curious 1917 volume of natural history On Growth and Form,
through its illustration by mid-century artist and art theorist Gyrgy
Kepes,5 the nautilus shell begins to appear in, say, Dasss Be Here
Now and in Lawrence Halprins RSVP Cycles (1970, discussed
below). With each reappearance, the shell represents not simply the
rules of nature but also the rules of culture.
Pathological dysfunction in the world would be corrected by
attending to what the world supposedly really is or wants to be
as revealed in object lessons like the nautilus shell, counterculturalists contended. The shell divulged patterns and energies which
could be disrupted (through dogmatic rationalism, inflexible social
institutions, etc.) only at great cost to people and their environment.
Here is not the place to discuss whether this view of the world, this
ultimately bio-determinist ontology, is true or not suffice to say
that many find it overbearing, while to others it still rings true. The
point to note is that the architectural diagrams under scrutiny here
all acknowledge the call to synchronize with an underlying pattern

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

of the whole, and that the diagrams indicated some key to this
harmonious coexistence of people, places, and energy.
Seen like this, even the bid to defer utterly to the patterns and
energies of the world by creating a closed loop ecosystem in which
everything (humans, plants, air, bacteria) has its place assigned by
scientific-ecological authority should be read as an ontology (Figure
5). At the New Alchemy polyculture farms and research stations,
begun in 1969, inhabitants combined the roles of stewardship earlier
developed by the Bible, Aldo Leopold, and laboratory science, and
submitted the labor of their bodies to the alchemical loop: the
diagrammatic comparison called to mind is of New Alchemy arks
bearing the seed of a new civilization practically in the mode of the
Benedictine St. Gall plan of 81926 ce. Inevitably, ecology itself was
a culture, one formed through the obsessive interest in pattern,
energy, and relation. In The Book of the New Alchemists (1977),
William Irwin Thompson concluded that this techno-scientific cycling
of organisms through the New Alchemy ark had indeed to be
experienced as a (counter)culture:

This retreat by the American counterculture into organicism


and suprarationalism in the face of successive threats to modern
American civilization, from the Cold War to the Energy Crisis, can
be compared to, or seen as part of, the successive moments of
philosophical crisis in the modern history of design aesthetics from
Augustus Pugin, John Ruskin, and William Morris in mid-nineteenthcentury Britain to Martin Heidegger in mid-twentieth-century
Germany, who also variously embraced the study of nature and the
patterns abstracted from it as a moral articulation of life in the face
of unfettered mercantilism and rationalization. The New Alchemists
were, in short, impressing upon readers the need to grapple with
their place in the world as the absolute necessity of a thinking being.
What the diagrams also make clear is that the counterculture
unevenly acknowledges the paradigm of natural pattern and energy.
The closed loop diagrams of virtuous self-sufficiency seen in New
Alchemy and in Sim van der Ryns Integral Urban House project
of c.1973 (Figure 6) are somewhat mechanical, physiological, agronomic, and circadian. Contrasted with this scientific, positivist

355 Design and Culture

In the nineteenth century the polarities of culture were the


romantic artist and the industrial engineer. Then Shelley could
say that: Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the
world. But in the shift from civilization to planetization it is
the mystic who has become the unacknowledged legislator
of the world Art is dead. Science is dead. Our entire
civilization is dying. So now we need to dance out the death
of industrial civilization and experience not its painful, apocalyptic destruction, but its joyous, millennial de-structuring.
(Thompson 1977: 14853)

356 Design and Culture

Simon Sadler

Figure 5
New Alchemy Institute, Tropical Lowlands Farm, from Book of the New Alchemists, edited by
Nancy Jack Todd, copyright 1977 by New Alchemy Institute, Inc. Used by permission of
Dutton, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

bent are the subjective and metaphysical priorities of Drop City and
Lama, in which pattern and energy exist at some meta-state which
necessitate their diagrammatization in the absence of any scientific
instrument for their measurement. The architecture itself is that instrument. New Alchemy and the Integral Urban House are machines
of biomechanical reproduction, while Drop City and Lama act like
devices to track and inflect energies and patterns, framing views,
gathering communities, dispersing straight thinking. As mechanisms they are tuned separately, Drop City to the safe release of
dysfunction through eruptive will and creativity, Lama to the making
of stillness as the negation of dysfunction, day-to-day life conducted
semimonastically. Nonetheless, all the diagrams convert (supposed)
physical and metaphysical principles into culture. This culture was
one of exile from a world in crisis, the basics of life rotating around
the individual body like a survival mechanism in an age of seemingly
imminent political and environmental collapse.
The politics of this cultural exile are troubling, needless to say,
and will be reviewed in a moment. One thing seems clear: these
diagrams did not scale up to civilization at large. Micro-diagrams

357 Design and Culture

Figure 6
Sim van der Ryn, diagram of Integral Urban House, Berkeley, CA, c.1973.
Courtesy of Sim van der Ryn.

Simon Sadler

offer little more than models of virtue, we might worry, and sometimes appear ludicrous beyond that gauge (as memorably proven
by Buckminster Fullers renderings of gigantic geodesics in the sky
and over Manhattan). Probably the best approach is dialectical,
then imagining oneself on the inside and outside of the diagram,
charmed but distanced. As it happens, designers are trained to think
in this way, back and forth from the inside of designs to the outside
(between the orderly interior of a building, say, and its environment),
and from center to periphery (connecting a villa back to town, for
instance).
And this experience of traverse was known, we can fairly speculate, to many countercultural searchers in the late 1960s and 1970s,
among them surely designers, who left the cities and suburbs,
perhaps pointing their cars toward the communes for a sojourn
before returning to the cities and suburbs days or months or years
later. The return to mainstream America was practically as significant
as the departure: sociological research refutes the myth that former communards became remorseful bourgeois disavowing their
youthful experiments. Most retained an idealism about community
and familial relationships. Nearly all [of those interviewed], reports
commune historian Timothy Miller, were [now] teachers, health care
workers, artists, organic farmers, social workers, and the like (Miller
2002: 349) the like, in other words, of middle-class reformists from
whose ranks the design discipline historically hails.
To traverse Cold War, Vietnam era America did not entail absolute
retreat from it, but its mental and physical crisscrossing diagramming it; cognitively mapping it. The archive of countercultural architecture is not safely back there, then it is not something
either architecture or architectural history can disown. Todays senior
architects were training during the Age of Aquarius, and it is inconceivable that countercultural architecture had no impact at all,
positive or negative, on the formation of subsequent architectural
culture. Its ambitions are too cognate with ecological tendencies
and diagrammatic methods surviving in contemporary architecture
for the point of comparison to be ignored.

358 Design and Culture

The Mapping of Common Sense


Driving the countercultures utopian retreat from agonistic discourse
and politics, we might wonder, was the search for a renewed common sense upon which to initiate the reconstitution of a shared
world. Such was both the radicalism of the counterculture, and its
intensely bourgeois lineage, that it felt at liberty (following, say, the
UC Berkeley Free Speech movement of 1965 or the 1968 Democrat
National Convention) to retreat from the public sphere, and from
confrontational politics, to an alternative space of communal meals,
guitar playing, and chopping wood to a contemplative sphere set
apart from relentless purposiveness. The contemplation could be
solitary, though the design of countercultural retreats pulls mostly in

the opposite direction away from the unsociable hut earlier known
to Henry David Thoreau and Martin Heidegger. For all its introversion,
the Integral Urban House was also purposively urban, too, sited in
a rundown area of Berkeley, California like some kernel for the next
generation of urban renewal.
Critical attention has recently focused on the degree to which the
new communalism of the 1960s and 1970s was modeled upon the
smooth self-regulation that was believed to govern the systems of
nature itself.6 Cybernetic self-regulation was certainly of interest to the
counterculture at large (witness their discussion in the Whole Earth
Catalog, founded in 1968), and as their diagrams show, residents of
the Arks and Integral Urban House were trying to apply something
comparable, a closed loop, at the biological level. This suggests the
end of politics and the initiation of bio-politics (the corporeal control
of subjects), aided by withdrawal from the heterogeneity of the city.
But it is difficult to prove that the cybernetic model was rigorously applied in theory or in practice to the social functioning of the intentional
communities cited in this article. The more immediate motivation to
form intentional community was the search for shared values. No one
was forcibly herded into countercultural camps, and though plenty
of accounts suggest that interns felt bullied by the silent politics that
the new communitarianism was meant to have left behind, so too are
people routinely oppressed in schools, workplaces, and streets. This
was why communards, mostly young, mostly white, privileged, and
educated, sought countercultural alternatives in the first place, preferring systematic solutions and a common culture to the perceived
systemic dysfunction of mainstream society. Their value systems
drew on sources ranging from cybernetics to religious beliefs, from
white settler and Native American traditions to communism.
In which case, we might speculate that secession from the Cold
War political sphere was motivated by a tacit quest for some new
common sense a sensus communis or general intellect.
Immanuel Kant suggested that this universal common sense was
shared by the whole human race and permitted individuals to intuit
not so much the actual as the merely possible judgments of
others, and [so] put ourselves in the position of everyone else
(Kant 1987: 160). It entailed, in other words, an empathy with what
matters to people at large with what it is to be fully human and it
is this enlarged cognitive sphere that also appears to be mapped in
countercultural diagrams. The space of communal meals, guitar playing and chopping wood was to be that noninstrumental space (the
communards surely dreamed) in which sensus communis might be
developed (Figure 7). Photographs of the new settlements published
by their residents, then and since, conveyed idyllic qualities, people
and built elements arrayed in a rustic, benign, ecological balance.7
The pictures sometimes evoke a still-life quality, as though inviting
comparison with the still-life genre in art, wherein purposiveness (of
the sort formed around scientific and moral reasoning, according to

359 Design and Culture

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

Simon Sadler

360 Design and Culture

Figure 7
Photograph of dining area, Lama Foundation. Environmental Communications, c.1970.

the eighteenth-century philosophical model) is suspended in favor of


the discovery of our sensus communis.8
To take a different sort of example, the seemingly hubristic diagrams of Paolo Soleris 1969 Arcology collection would be nothing
(and indeed mostly remain to this day nothing) without subscription
to them by common sense and group effort (Figure 8). Soleri
found several thousand volunteers willing to merge their labor and
intellectual activity into the collectivized construction of his Arcosanti
project.
Soleri maintained a modernists conviction that the destiny
of humankind depends on urbanism, the literal concretization of
civilization, condensing and monumentalizing it. Soleris Arcology
was a gargantuan volume that recaptured something of that same
shock value mastered by tienne-Louis Boulle in the late eighteenth
century and by Antonio SantElia in the early twentieth century (Soleri
1969). Nothing in the history of architecture can quite match Soleris
effort to imagine a changed relationship between the built edifice
and environmental complexity. Thus it offered a cognitive mapping
by which disoriented human subjects might regain their bearings.
Soleris diagrams, in truth, are indecipherable, and the commentary
he wrote to accompany them is barely more transparent. His materialism, moreover, is very different to that which would underwrite

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

the call for cognitive mapping famously issued by the Marxist literary
critic Frederic Jameson in 1990, based in turn on the cognitive
diagrams published by urban planner Kevin Lynch a decade before
Soleri published Arcology (see Jameson 1990; Lynch 1960).
In its pages Soleri places his idiosyncratic ontology on an equal
footing with his architectural design. Preceding the thirty specimen
arcologies, which he argues will reintegrate a set of natural interactions that have been severed by acquisitive society, Soleri details
his understanding of the relationships and processes undergirding
the cosmos in more than fifty fantastical diagrams. He cites but two
sources for his worldview, through his choice of epigrams by French
structuralist anthropologist Claude Lvi-Strauss and French Jesuit
theologian and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The effect
of these two sources is to frame arcology as an emanation of the
deep evolution of humans, of life on earth, and of the cosmos. What
I think he is trying to say, wrote Soleris friend, the architectural critic
Peter Blake, is this: there is an inherent logic in the structure and
nature of organisms that have grown on this planet. Any architecture,
any urban design, and any social order that violates that structure
and nature is destructive of itself and of us (Blake 1969: n.p.).
Again, the countercultural diagram is founded upon some lost
ecological order. There are also resonances, in arcologys tension
between matter, spirit, and the ideal, that characterize Western
philosophy more generally, such that Soleris text points, for todays
reader, in such contradictory directions as Hegelianism, phenomenology, and Deleuzianism. An idealism is present, for instance, in
Soleris contention that the mind desires to condense the universe
into a comprehensible whole in exactly the manner that produces
Arcology. And spirit is present in Soleris conviction that arcology

361 Design and Culture

Figure 8
Paolo Soleri, The Organism of a Thousand Minds: The Biological Organism and the Arcological Organism
(the City). Figure 17 from the book Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, by Paolo Soleri, first
published in 1969. Courtesy of the Cosanti Foundation.

362 Design and Culture

Simon Sadler

is necessitated at this moment in human history, as civilization


emerges from the primeval only to recalibrate, through its cognitive
powers of societal intelligence and group mind, a new contract
with, and manipulation of, nature. Soleri posited that architecture is
a component in the Earths noosphere, that is, the transformation
through human cognition of the biosphere of life, founded in turn on
Earths geosphere of matter (biological life).9 So Soleri is also thinking
as a cultural materialist, of sorts, seeking an ecological congruence
in which similarities between universal patterns and energies are
actively coordinated.
Many of arcologys basic motivating precepts about the central
role of urbanism in human history, about the relationship between
architecture and infrastructure, about the politics of food production,
and about sprawl (a 7-feet high pancake of space, as Soleri quipped)
are prescient of mainstream sustainability. But Soleri requires from
his audience a general acceptance of contentious and tacitly deterministic holistic philosophies. So I would like to turn to a final pair
of countercultural diagrams that admitted into the eco-ontological
worldview some vitiation, some running room for dialog and debate,
some concession that the world is not a fixed and stable entity
producing fixed and stable human subjects. Because at their most
ingenious, countercultural diagrams revived modernist interests in a
dynamic totality, but also acknowledged the monistic limitations of
ontological schema that project but a single container for all being.
The first of these dynamic countercultural diagrams is Stewart
Brands Whole Earth Catalog of 1968. The Catalog was strictly
speaking nothing more than a shopping catalog for hippies, an entrepreneurial alternative to Sears. But the de facto operating diagram
of the catalog was staggering in its reach and also discriminating
in its detail, the recto/verso of its covers depicting the whole Earth,
which is to say the monistic outer limits of the system, its interior
containing the multiplicities of group-edited content. It was virtual,
collective, totalizing, and localizing all at once a new global order
fashioned with insouciant ease. All modes of design praxis were
called upon by the Whole Earth Catalog to compete and coexist.
Quite suddenly, architecture, technology, consciousness, nature in
short, the very meeting of mind and matter that is the foundation
of materialist ontology were again in flux. The RSVP Cycles of
1970 by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin serves as a second
instance of the diagramming of ecology as an open work (Halprin
1970). The book represented spatial experience as a so-called
score performed through time (Figure 9). Halprins scores permitted an ontology of multiple entities place, belief, economy, nature,
the social spiraling out of the familiar nautilus shell pattern, rather
than converging into the rather ominous unity promised by traditional
ontology. The components of reality overlapped as a concert which
we might think of as life itself.10

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

Figure 9
Lawrence Halprin, Sea Ranch Ecoscore, c.1970 (later published in Lawrence Halprin, RSVP Cycles, 1970).
Courtesy Lawrence Halprin Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.

In his 1999 essay on architectural diagrams, Robert Somol briefly


contrasts the RSVP Cycles with Peter Eisenmans contemporaneous
diagrams of architecture. Halprin depicts program, performance,
and force; Eisenman depicts form, language, and representation
(Somol 1999: 7). Whereas Eisenman drew the observers attention
back to architecture-as-architecture, art-as-art, countercultural designers and builders were not especially lovers of architecture per se.
They preferred, in a tradition traceable at least to Thoreau, to direct
attention outward from structures of often limited intrinsic aesthetic
merit. And whereas American architectural thought since the 1960s
has been dominated by critique by the deconstruction of nature,
teleology, and truth under the successive influences of late Marxism,
structuralism, and postmodernism countercultural architecture
promoted the possibility of perceiving nature, teleology, and truth
viscerally, then diagramming them as a whole.11
Countercultural architecture can be juxtaposed with the pervading relativism of architecture since the 1970s, then. More surprisingly, countercultural architecture is also dissimilar to the somewhat
positivistic assumptions of the architectural sustainability that succeeded it. The sustainable architecture of the last few decades is
predominantly a conventional architecture built in ways that better
conserve energy. It is a true reform movement, like hygiene was for

363 Design and Culture

Conclusion: The Aesthetics of Ontology

364 Design and Culture

Simon Sadler

architects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, working within the parameters of an existing building industry and existing
stylistic conventions, and it is arguably an overly reflexive architecture
mitigating against risk.12 It was quite a different thing to posit, as the
counterculture originally attempted, that design should usher us into
a fundamentally altered relationship with society, with nature, with
economy, with the cosmos.
Architecturally, formally, stylistically, technically, the results of the
hippies diagrams were predictably chaotic, paltry whether compared with the engineered finesse of recent sustainable design or the
formal sophistication of recent diagram architecture. But of course
no architectural movement springs into being fully formed, and so
it was that the very attempt to sidestep style actually produced the
recognizable styles of countercultural architecture quizzical and
unselfconsciously pragmatic combinations of industrial technology
and shingles, adobe and steel, the vernacular and mathematics. It
follows that countercultural architecture was mostly bad according
to the measurements of conventional architecture, of durability,
beauty, and utility: countercultural architecture was the chaos of
diagrams without an agreed formal language.
And yet, diagrammatic continuities bridge countercultural designs
with the most remarkable of their diagrammatic successors. There
is, after all, a curious resemblance in the diagrams of the Droppers,
Soleri, Eisenman, and Rem Koolhaas as they trace in their own
ways complexity, struggle, and intuition, stratified forms and nonEuclidean geometry. They all follow the diagrams lead to abstract
form.13 Conversely, the countercultural architecture which proved
less compelling in terms of abstract, sculptural discovery (the world
encapsulated by a dome, for instance) was bland for the same
reason that some contemporary architecture is bland because it
annulled complexity and struggle.
This observation suggests a hypothesis about why some designs
are more interesting than other designs, cutting the architectural
canon laterally, from the 1960s to the present, rather than vertically along an epistemological and chronological rupture between
counterculture and postmodernism. Step back far enough from the
profound differences in programs, conditions of production, formal
languages, technical facilities, intellectual foibles, and worldviews,
and one notices how some designers are more inclined than others
to wrestle with the relationship between form, program, parameter,
and ontology. Their remarkable aesthetics trace their remarkable
ontologies, and thus their remarkable design ethics. It is not possible to form clean and simple diagrams relating the components
of totality. To do so would be to oversimplify the parameters which
architecture registers. Some diagrams successfully bring core processes like biorhythms to the designers attention; but that isolation
of one lived and literal parameter is unlikely to lead the designer to
a rich language of form. Contemplation of the intersecting abstract

Diagrams of Countercultural Architecture

components of lived reality, conversely, can lead the designer to


impressive intersections of abstract form. In the process, the relation
between architecture and reality is revealed as being mechanical
only in fairly limited ways, such as energy conservation. Authentic
diagram architecture has the quality of invention.

Acknowledgments
My thanks to Panayiota Pyla, convener of the Society of Architectural
Historians Conference session for which this paper was initially
written; to the editors and reviewers of Design and Culture; and to
Sim van der Ryn, the Cosanti Foundation, the Architectural Archives
of the University of Pennsylvania, the Penguin Group, and George
Braziller, Inc. for their generous assistance with illustrations and
permissions. The author made every effort to contact the copyright
holders of figures credited to Environmental Communications and
the Hanuman Foundation, but with no success. However, they are
invited to contact the author and publisher with any concerns.

1. See, for instance, ANY (1998); Somol (1999); Vidler (2001); Garcia
(2010).
2. Commune historian Timothy Miller explains that there was no
singular communal movement; several thousand communes of
the 1960s and 1970s followed a wide variety of philosophies,
social forms, and housings (often in commandeered traditional
houses), which we retrospectively see circumscribed as a single
counterculture (Miller 2002: 32751).
3. For instances of this diagrammatic reading of Fuller, see
Colquhoun (1962: 5965) and Kepes (1956: 3645).
4. Borobudur and Islamic patterns recur as examples of paths
for the body and eye in Bloomer and Moore (1977: 91). It is
worth noting, then, the overlapping interests of countercultural
architecture and the ascent of interest in phenomenology within
advanced architectural circles after the Second World War (see
Otero-Pailos 2010). The two are not quite equivalent, though;
countercultural architecture is more proactively trying to model
and form belief (about ecology, spiritualism, etc.) a sort of architectural phenomenology squared.
5. Note, for instance, its abstraction on the cover of the first edition
of Kepess The New Landscape in Art and Science.
6. Probably the most powerful synthesis of the view that ecology,
cybernetics, counterculture, and neoliberalism combine into a
single disquieting history is that forwarded by Adam Curtis (dir.)
in All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, screened on
BBC2 television (MayJune 2011), drawing (one deduces) from
many studies such as that by Peder Anker (2002).
7. See, for example, the slide sets distributed c.1970 by the
company Environmental Communications, and Roberta Price,

365 Design and Culture

Notes

Simon Sadler

8.

9.
10.

11.

12.
13.

Across the Great Divide: A Photo Chronicle of the Counterculture


(2010). Roberta Prices memoir Huerfano: A Memoir Of Life in
the Counterculture (2004) offsets her idyllic pictorial depiction of
the communes with a frank account of struggle.
My discussion of sensus communis (and ontology) is in part
adapted from the application suggested for contemporary
photography by Blake Stimson: see, for instance, Stimson
(2010: 417).
The noosphere was a motif adopted by Teilhard de Chardin
from Russian mineralogist and chemist Vladimir Vernadsky.
For Deleuze, ontology would turn out to be only a process of
differentiation which he summarized in the paradoxical formula
pluralism = monism.
Countercultural diagrams could be compared to the late modern
ideograms of designs overlapping concerns sketched, for
instance, by Charles Eamess amorphous Venn diagram of the
Eames Design Process for the Louvre show What is Design?
in 1969, and by Peter Smithson in the generative overlap of the
net of human relations represented in the 1962 diagram Play
Brubeck.
On the ascent of risk calculus, see Beck ([1986] 1992).
On the abstraction of parameters into form (in particular from
site) see, for instance, Heymann (2011).

366 Design and Culture

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