Posts tagged with "Ecotopia":

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UCLA SUPRASTUDIO to Take On Elon Musk's Hyperloop Proposal

“This thing is real,” architect Craig Hodgetts said in an email about the Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s proposal for a high-speed transit system somewhere between a train and a human-scale pneumatique. Hodgetts would know: next year, he’ll direct a studio on the urban implications of the technology for SUPRASTUDIO, UCLA Architecture and Urban Design’s Master of Architecture II program. The partnership between SUPRASTUDIO, part of UCLA’s IDEAS laboratory, and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the startup company formed to make Musk’s concept a reality, is part of a strategy to crowd-source much of the research and development behind the Hyperloop. UCLA A.UD_03 For a full year beginning in the summer of 2014, post-professional students admitted to Hodgetts’s studio will research the social and spatial potential of the Hyperloop, in close cooperation with the engineers at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The physics of the system, Hodgetts said, are relatively straightforward. For him, the more interesting questions have to do with the passenger experience—with normalizing a new type of travel and counteracting the claustrophobic effects of the tightly-configured, windowless cars. Then there is the impact the Hyperloop will have on the cities it connects. In his studio, Hodgetts said, students will “start looking at new urban networks, at different priorities in terms of urban design. These are really exciting ideas from an urban design and architectural point of view.” Hodgetts, who is a principal at Hodgetts + Fung in Culver City, is no stranger to revolutionary ideas about urban transit. In 1969 he and Lester Walker introduced the Landliner, a straddle-bus that promised to turn sprawling metropolitan regions into continuous “Strip Cities.” Then, in 1978, Hodgetts produced drawings for an unmade movie version of the novel Ecotopia in which the primary form of transport was a network of mag-lev trains. (Like Musk’s Hyperloop, Hodgetts’s Ecotopia trains were propelled forward by pulses of solar-generated electricity.) Today, he’s not afraid to express his enthusiasm for the Hyperloop. After describing the basic principles of the system, he said, “I trust [Musk] totally on that, because we have a Tesla and it’s pretty much anything anybody said about it.” Hodgetts sees in the Hyperloop an “absolutely profound level of change.” It may do for transit, he said, what social media has done for communication. “The main thing that’s exciting to me is that one of the things that has made the biggest social changes is the relative lack of any friction whatsoever in social media...To have something in the physical world that leans in that direction is what I think is really profound.”
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Green '70s Flashback with Smiles and Shades of Blue

A recent New York Times article piqued not only a literary memory of the cult classic Ecotopia, but also a visual memory from an early work by the exemplary West Coast practitioner Craig Hodgetts.

Writing from what used to be called “Berserkley,” California, Scott Timberg begins his article with these observations:

"Sometimes a book, or an idea, can be obscure and widely influential at the same time. That’s the case with Ecotopia, a 1970s cult novel, originally self-published by its author, Ernest Callenbach, that has seeped into the American groundwater without becoming well known. The novel, now being rediscovered, speaks to our ecological present: in the flush of a financial crisis, the Pacific Northwest secedes from the United States, and its citizens establish a sustainable economy….

"White bicycles sit in public places, to be borrowed at will. A creek runs down Market Street in San Francisco. Strange receptacles called ‘recycle bins’ sit on trains, along with ‘hanging ferns and small plants.’ A female president, more Hillary Clinton than Sarah Palin, rules this nation, from Northern California up through Oregon and Washington.”

What the article doesn’t say is that in 1978 the architect Hodgetts produced a wondrous set of drawings for a Hollywood movie adaptation of the pulp classic. With plenty of savvy and pop-culture sensibility, the script was translated into awe-inspiring architectonic visuals. The drawings were exhibited and published, but alas, the project never made it to the silver screen.

We got in touch with Hodgetts to get his take on the reopening of this late-’70s time capsule. He responded via email (and supplied captions to these marvelous renderings) with wry amusement:

“Ernest Callenbach and I had distinctly different approaches. I was interested in making a popular movie with an appeal to 12-year-olds, complete with aftermarket consumables! And Ernest, with a pure, almost religious zeal, was preaching ecology. In fact, if the movie had been made—the producers had optioned the novel some years earlier—we were going to retitle it and make up our own story."

“Seems the right time for this rediscovery," Hodgetts added. "It was just 30 years too early, and yours truly could never get the film off the ground. Architects and publishers at the time were seriously not interested in the subject.”

Indeed a cultural re-examination of eco-science fiction would be a welcome development in architectural circles and beyond, since it seems we’ve been living within the dark cold-war schizoid-paranoia of sci-fi madman Philip K. Dick for far too long. And while we’re at it, why not—with a smile—revive the ecology flag from 1969, whose graphic design by Ron Cobb was proudly placed within the public domain and embraced by the environmental movement?

Maybe now is the time for a holiday blockbuster movie adaptation of Ecotopia, with lots of spin-off eco-toys for the kids (under a renewable tree, of course). And also for an alternative approach to our everyday life. Callenbach is quoted at the end of the Times article with a fitting call to action for the architect-visionaries among us: “It is so hard to imagine anything fundamentally different from what we have now,” he said. “But without these alternate visions, we get stuck on dead center.”

“And we’d better get ready,” he added. “We need to know where we’d like to go.”