Paolo's observation in 1961 about the fatal flaw of our auto dependency was not hard to digest when I encountered it at Cosanti in 1962. I'd had doubts since my childhood about how our material culture was evolving, Cosanti was a fine place to ruminate about that particular flaw, among others.
But ease of digestion surely was abetted by the way our work day started, at dawn, music blasting out across the whole compound, echoing over the desert landscape to summon us to our posts. In those days, the music was usually Wagner - the Ring Cycle, if you please...even though Paolo swore he was not an opera fan...
Much of our work day was spent in the North Studio, which had only just been put into place. We were called "apprentices" and for a brief while in 1962, we all managed to live in the EarthHouse.
Floy Damon, however (in the photo above, with Paolo), after arriving back at Cosanti with Ivan Pintar - the two of them had spent the summer in California seeing friends, working with upscale golf course designer Desmond Muirhead - wanted space apart. Floy, seemingly afraid of nothing and no-one, made a place for herself away from the structures in which the rest of us lived and worked.
She very carefully dug a cylindrical pit, not very deep, over which she welded together several pieces of rebar to create a dome-like frame, using stove burners as joins. Upon the whole she tied down a silk parachute as a canopy.
Floy's space remained in use for a few scant years after she left - Jacob Portnoy was one of those who claimed it for a while - but it was ill-fated, I daresay, as early one morning, in 1969 if I recall correctly, it was summarily bulldozed, no trace of it remaining.
Those early 60's workdays were days of plaster-cast bridge and dam models. Among the earliest arcology designs and in many ways still my favorites, I hungered to work on one of the dams but Deborah and I were given the task of finishing two of the bridges. Cuyler worked on the most intricate one, Deb and I got to fine-tune models that were, design-wise, less detailed, less complex.
Still, finishing them required painstaking attention, more than I'd ever before been required to pay to any one single object. I might have likened it to dressmaking (I was taught to sew by a conscientious Englishwoman who'd been a couturiere in Paris, where the atelier's seamstresses couched padded silk rosebuds into brassiere cups so that a man dancing close enough to feel them would think his partner's nipples were swollen.) Doris would have turned me into a tailor, if she could have - but even if she had, I doubt I could have leapt from plaster as a design medium to any textile I'd previously had any meaningful encounter with.
Now, of course I can see the connection easily but that's not because I've developed a penchant for tailoring. In any case, patience, I supposed, was the exercise's most useful object-lesson ("Virtue and value are to be found beneath the heap of seldom-inspiring ineptitudes" was a Paolo-ism I took away with me from that time) but in retrospect, I find myself focused on how much I liked the idea of bridges and dams incorporating human settlement. I could esily appreciate why those grand monumental structures, in and of themselves, could be meant to be habitable rather than passed over or serve solely as utilities.
A few years later, while traveling with a busload group of students, many of them international students, attending universities in western Canada, we visited the site of a huge hydroelectric project in Quebec. The dams at Manicouagan reservoir provide power for people whose dwellings are geographically very far away from Manicouagan.
The Manicouagan reservoir itself is enormous and the site is quite beautiful. But the dam complex, which is huge, was constructed by crews of numerous workers who were made to tear down the shelters after the dam complex was completely erected. Bye-bye forever to the shelters in which they'd lived while it was under construction.
Post-encounter Cosanti (like post-modern, perhaps?) - which was the case while viewing Manicouagan, it struck me that it was a huge, incredible waste of resources not to have incorporated habitation into those dam structures. Why not? Why wasn't that done, why hadn't that been done? Why was power transmission to Rimouski or Baie Comeau more valuable than the potential of the Manicouagan site itself as a place to live? Why wouldn't people want to live there?
I don't know. I didn't, at the time, have enough of a grasp on Quebec history or politics to ask. But I do see now that those were questions that could have been asked even if apparently they never were.
Nor are similar questions being asked presently. Why do we not consider the consequences of our addictions - to war, to the automobile? Why are we not investing in our infrastructure in a sustainable manner? Why did we (the USA) let Dubya give $12 billion dollars to the airline industry after 9/11 rather than demand that at least that much be invested in R&D for high speed rail? If a single lane in each direction or the center of every interstate in the country could be given over to a mag-lev or linear induction rail system, we'd not only have a vibrant economy, we'd formidably reduce pollution.
That wasn't done after 9/11 but what is worse, not only isn't it being done now, it's not yet even been proposed, not by even one single elected federal official. No-one in office has suggested that we do this. Not a single Congressional Representative, not one Senator thinks we need to pay some immediate and serious attention to how we move ourselves and our material goods within the United States, much less over all of North America.
Paolo agreed, when I asked him, that arcology without sustainable transportation measures is unthinkable. Makes sense to me when we talked about it in the mid-90s, still does. I'm still convinced - it's still totally clear to me - that the shopping list for the automobile is way, way, way too long.
Yes, the car is indeed an instrument of war. Yet only a few decades ago, rail was respected. Look here: