This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Space Settlements, about the architectural, historical, social, and science-fictional contexts surrounding NASA’s efforts to design large-scale human habitats in orbit during the 1970s. Space Settlements will be published by Columbia Books on Architecture and the City in fall 2018. In 1975, Big Science and the counterculture teamed up with two illustrators to design the cities of the future. But, unlike the communes and megastructures that we’re familiar with from the speculative architecture of that era, these would not be located on Earth. Stewart Brand, the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, and engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center both supported a project—first proposed by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill—to build huge habitats in orbit that would house millions of people. At a Summer Study conference in what was even then known as Silicon Valley, NASA and O’Neill hired painters Don Davis and Rick Guidice to create renderings of these new worlds. Most previous plans for space stations had consisted of a disconnected series of capsules or chambers. The Summer Study habitats were large enough that they were effectively new ground surfaces, spun for artificial gravity, on which any kind of city or landscape could be constructed. NASA’s team architect Patrick Hill—of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo—specified that, in order to achieve maximum efficiency and space-saving, the buildings inside should be made from systems of prefabricated parts that could be assembled quickly, offering variety and adaptability. Beyond these constraints, the two illustrators had broad latitude to design the architecture that would be shown in the renderings. Both drew on their unique combinations of backgrounds to offer their own interpretation of the future of space occupation. Davis was originally an illustrator for planetary scientists like Carl Sagan, and had also worked on book covers for science fiction novels like Larry Niven’s Ringworld of 1970, depicting a habitat design concept not unlike the “Stanford Torus” sketched by O’Neill’s team. Davis focused on the landscape, and the challenges of creating planetary ecosystems within small closed worlds. Human inhabitation, in Davis’s paintings, touches the artificial ground lightly. To depict it, Davis drew on his fondness for Buckminster Fuller’s domes and other self-built architecture like the “Zomes” made by Steve Baer at the famous Drop City commune. Davis would have been familiar with this work as a reader of Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, which included Baer’s “Zome Primer,” an instruction manual for building these structures out of repurposed car hoods. Other buildings painted by Davis are more reminiscent of the kind of Googie architecture related to an earlier generation of pop science fiction painters like Frank R. Paul. In an interview, Davis also admitted he would go to the library and read copies of Progressive Architecture magazine for inspiration. Guidice, on the other hand, had been trained as an architect, and had made the shift from there to commercial illustration and work promoting space exploration and aviation concepts for NASA. Guidice’s paintings take the kit-of-parts concepts from work like Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, and remix them to create even more individuality. Reyner Banham wrote about the concept of the “Terrassenhaus,” the scheme of terracing trays that megastructural projects use to shape space, in his book Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past. Safdie used the resulting platforms as the basis for his notion of “for everyone, a garden,” combining high-rise density with a suburban Garden City ethos. In Guidice’s renderings the friendly modernist Garden Cities like Columbia, outside Baltimore, take their comfortable combination of vernacular and contemporary into new high-density suburbs in space. These speculations strike a compromised balance between the displacing conditions in space—like the unfamiliar inverted horizon, the hostile environment outside, and the small size of the habitat—and the excitement inherent in exploring and making new worlds. The speculative contemporary architecture of the 1960s and ’70s—small-scale personal construction with sheet metal, and large-scale New Towns made of reinforced concrete—is put to use to show that space is for you. The two illustrators, acting as designers, show that the architecture of the future space city can be adapted to your lifestyle, whether you’re a dropout desert communalist, or a cosmopolitan terrace urbanite. Fred Scharmen teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University and is the author of the upcoming book Space Settlements.
Posts tagged with "Space":
The purpose of the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) was debated by congress last month. Congress agreed on the role NASA could potentially play in the future, contemplating the possibility of a hotel on the International Space Station (ISS) and and camp base on the moon. Despite the somewhat whimsical ideas being thrown about, the notion of re-aligning NASA's objectives was paramount. The race for the next frontier in space may have already started with Russian firm Orbital Technologies. That company has put forward the idea for a Commercial Space Station (CSS), though space get-away's wouldn't be cheap. Travel costs are estimated to begin at $800,000 with another $160,000 piled on for your stay. The space hotel concept relies solely on prefabricated components, a method successfully employed for the ISS. Architects and engineers, however, would be free from the earthly worries of damp-proofing, load bearing walls, vapor checks though envelope performance, and making sure the structure is sturdy. When a new addition is sent up to the ISS, it is primarily function-orientated with little attention given to its aesthetic qualities. For a commercial space station, this would likely change. The debate for moon camps in congress however, only arose as an idea to give astronauts six-month training prior to lengthier expeditions to Mars. Whether NASA plans to construct such a spectacle remains to be seen, though it appears the decision is out of their hands.
There's water flowing on Mars, and one day NASA could build this ice-covered human dwelling on the Red Planet
With the recent discovery by NASA that water is flowing on Mars, the call for housing on on the red planet has never been more relevant. And right on time with the outpouring of interplanetary news, the "3D Printed Habitat Challenge for Mars" competition, sponsored by NASA and America Makes, has unveiled its winning designs. The competition attracted over 160 applicants including Foster + Partners and the European Space Agency. Triumphing above all was a joint submission by SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office), an architecture and space research collective which was awarded $25,000 in the process. It's especially fitting since SEArch and Clouds AO's submission uses a "follow the water" approach to conceptualize, site, and construct the winning design. In the brief, participants were challenged with creating a livable space for a four-person crew utilizing materials available on the Martian planet with a 3D printing device. SEArch and Clouds AO said the so-called ICE HOUSE proposal seeks to capture light and bridge the connection with the harsh external landscape of Mars and human life. According to the judges, ICE HOUSE was notable for bucking the trend of creating an underground dwelling (a solution which the majority of applicants pursued). The proposal instead would make use of the anticipated abundance of surface ice, constructing a thin, yet sturdy 0.2 inch-wide ice shell structure, suitably protecting the four crew members. Such a feature would allow the inhabitants to gaze upon Mars' landscape in the safety of a dwelling while also saving energy by not using artificial lighting. Natural light is also expected to boost morale. During the research phase of the submission, the team of scientists, astrophysicists, geologists, structural and 3D printing engineers, and eight designers went through various testing procedures to ensure the durability and feasibility of the proposal. The extensive research they went to can be found on their website.
NASA crowdsourcing proposals for a built environment on Mars: Shelter, food, water, and communications systems needed
NASA is on a mission to end our parasitic dependence on earthly resources with a planned hijack of Mars. Through the Journey to Mars challenge, NASA invites applicants to submit proposals for a built environment on the red planet that is conducive to long-term human habitation and sustenance. Proposals must describe one or more Mars surface systems or operations for a “technically achievable, economically sustainable” human living space. Priorities are the indispensables such as air, water, food and communication systems, calling for a brainwave that would enable scientists to circumvent climatic deterrents, including temperatures as unforgiving as minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, average temperature hovers around minus 80F. According to NASA, the proposed solutions must not depend on Earth for resources. Given a minimum interim of 500 days between each resupply opportunity and space as well as weight constraints on spacecraft, the only option left is to establish an in situ, self-replenishing food source. In the meantime, NASA has put out antennae in the form of spacecraft monitoring and rovers on the surface of Mars, while the International Space Station is investigating the health-related ramifications of long-term space travel. The brief requests only written submissions diagrams and charts are immaterial at this stage of the game. NASA elaborates that submissions “may consist of proposed approaches, capabilities, systems or a set of integrated systems that enable or enhance a sustained human presence on Mars. Solutions should include the assumptions, analysis, and data that justify their value. Submissions should include a process to develop, test, implement, and operate the system or capability. Submissions will be judged on relevance, creativity, simplicity, resource efficiency, feasibility, comprehensiveness and scalability.” The deadline to apply is July 6, 2015. NASA is awarding a total of $15,000 to three finalists, whose proposals will be used in conjunction with NASA’s concurrent Solar Electric Propulsion project, namely the rocket that is expected to launch the system. The aeronautics administration is also tinkering with a Space Launch System and several existing robotic landers such as the Curiosity Rover. The goal is to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
AN recently profiled the emerging architectural typology of spaceports across the country, and now there's news from the Houston site that helped launch the dream of space travel decades ago. Independence Shuttle, a full-scale replica of NASA’s iconic Space Shuttle, recently was moved from the Johnson Space Center (JSC) to its next-door neighbor, Space Center Houston. To some people, the relocation was a matter of mere logistics. To others, however, the transfer symbolized not just a lessening of power and precedence associated with Johnson Space Center, but with NASA’s space program as a whole. Johnson Space Center, formed in 1961, is one of ten major NASA field centers, and one of the most famous space travel establishments. The 40-foot deep swimming pool built for astronaut training, was, in its heyday, frequented by astronauts and the curious public alike. The control room oversaw the launch and devastating loss of the Challenger, received Armstrong’s transmission as he made his first steps on the moon, and rejoiced with the rest of America during the Apollo 13 recovery. To say that JSC is iconic, a cornerstone, and a piece of history is an understatement: it is a monolithic nexus of space travel, this world’s anchoring connection to the vast unknown. So as grand-scale space launches wane and commercial flight takes over, the creeping neglect of JSC’s facilities and consequent decline stabs into the hearts of those connected to NASA’s past—and not simply for nostalgic reasons. Astronauts associated with JSC’s glory days—men like Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell—have spoken out against the political shifts associated with JSC’s downsizing. One such maneuver occurred when President Obama cancelled Constellation—a Bush-era initiative to send astronauts to the moon—in order to shuttle a sizable chunk of NASA’s funding from the manned space exploration into commercial space flight. The shift denotes a decrease in specialist training aimed at greater expansion into grand scale space projects—missions to Mars, for example, or a continuation of low-orbiting space travel—towards everything that “commercial space travel” connotes: sending consumers, not specialists, into orbit; changing the pioneer frontier into a tourism industry. Armstrong and Levitt both argue that the change negates the $10 billion already funneled into Constellation. They claim that private enterprise is taking a major step backward, that government’s funding focal change will place the U.S. into a reliant relationship with Russia, thereby relegating the nation to a second-rate spot for space travel. These men are the voice, in a nutshell, of those deeply unhappy with the changes taking place. JSC countered these claims with an official statement claiming that the center is still relevant. It cited robotics projects and continued operation of Orion—a spacecraft designed to take astronauts to asteroids—as evidence. JSC, the statement said, is a cultural mainstay of Houston’s identity, and it will stay that way. Certain facts remain however, and seeing, in this case, is part of believing. The government’s retraction of funds has instilled the center with a calcified, weary demeanor. JSC has employed far fewer people in the past two years than ever before. Half the buildings have been torn down or consolidated. One of them is a new building, the NASA Johnson Space Center 20, which has upstaged its famous brother by being the first LEED platinum project of its kind in NASA. In comparison, the control room at JSC that once oversaw mankind’s greatest scientific achievements now has less technology than the average smart phone. “Nothing’s going on there,” said one former NASA employee. “People are leaving in waves.” The Independence Shuttle was just moved next door. But as far as interpreting symbols go, they might as well have launched it to the moon.