Last Futures by Douglas Murphy – utopian architecture, from space colonies to ziggurats

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Last Futures by Douglas Murphy - utopian architecture, from space colonies to ziggurats
US pavilion at Expo 67

How the shining architectural optimism of the 1960s and 70s has ultimately produced buildings such as supermarkets, open-plan offices and other spaces of control

During the anxious early 1970s, when the west was spooked by the oil crisis and economic stagnation, by the first widespread fears for the environment and predictions of global overpopulation, a giddy alternative to it all began to seize the imaginations of some Americans: space colonies. “Large cylinders, potentially over a kilometre long,” Douglas Murphy writes in Last Futures, “would spin at a constant rate to recreate the effects of gravity … [and] would be partially glazed to allow for sunlight … while large shades and baffles would protect the inhabitants from glare and cosmic rays … with water features, trees, animals and people all sheltered within this artificial environment, and outside the blank vacuum of space”.

For several years the space colony craze spread, from the most speculative edges of academia to the more intellectually active parts of the counterculture, to the American government itself. Murphy records that Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton University particle physicist and space colony advocate, “gave evidence to the US Senate on the prospect … and Nasa began to publicise the idea”. It was not until the late 70s that funding cuts ended this official interest, and condemned the artists’ impressions of space colonies produced by Nasa to be remembered, if at all, as science fiction kitsch. […]