Thorns For The Bailey House (CSH #21)

by Claudia Dias on July 18, 2009

Honestly, I think the garden of the Bailey House got forgotten by Pierre Koenig and his clients. Several pieces of Architectural Pottery were planted with sedum and the steel-framed reflective pools where decorated for the early photo shoots with additional rushes. This probably was because of the limited budget. Koenig’s sketches don’t indicate much more regarding the landscape.


Somehow I think that this became the week-spot of CSH #21; different from its successor, the Stahl House (CSH #22) with its spectacular view over LA, this house was built between a sloping neighborhood street and a steep dry mountain-side way up in the West Hollywood Hills. So the focus was kept on the house’s center-patio and its terraces. Over time bushes have overgrown some of the mountain slope and some grass had been planted for presentation purposes and to prevent further erosion. The last owner surrounded himself with a wall of bamboo, which cut the house off the neighborhood in the style of Beverly Hills and a cinder-block retention-wall along the street had been added.


Essentially the guiding principle for a new garden design was low-maintenace. What came to mind was a desert-like climate, you don’t think so much about that when you see the rainforest-like planted neighborhood streets. But succulents take to the dry grounds (oh surprise!) and the sculptural character of succulents complements the straight angled building shell. The fact that they absorb water during the rainy season and then store it means they can last longer during the dry season. This way irrigation can be kept to a minimum, a necessary consideration helped as we found out later that year to get through the ongoing California drought.

Inspired on the one hand by the wild, desert vegetation of the Joshua Tree Park with its randomly spread Joshua trees accompanied by creoste bushes, ocotillos and teddy-bear cacti; and on the other hand by the well-groomed urban succulent garden in San Marino at Huntington Botanical Gardens which looks more like a dense jungle of cacti and agave. We decided for a wide variety of succulents, planted in clusters, and rare Joshua trees from Texas, since the Californian Joshua tree is close to extinction and also is very difficult to transplant (it has to be replanted exactly at the same angle and orientation to the sun in which it grew).


The neighborhood association*, founded even before the house was completed in 1959, eventually set up rules to keep the community alive and open, preventing Wonderland Park Avenue from turning into a gated community. Needless to say, the moment that the bamboo went, happy faces arrived by foot or Porsche, commenting that they are glad to have the building again as part of their community.

At the end, the gardens are the interface between home and neighborhood and provoke public interest more then I ever expected, since they provide a viewable amenity and more so, an identity.


* I was told, the neighborhood association was founded in the mid 1950′s by a diverse selection of working professionals, who got the basic infrastructure built on Wonderland Park Avenue, even working out bank financing at the time. The area was refuge to middle class people who would have been marginalized because of race or ethnicity in the postwar Los Angeles housing market.

Contemporary photographs curtsey of the author.


CSH #21 Still Breathes Informal Lifestyle

by Claudia Dias on July 17, 2009

Julius Shulman‘s world-famous photographs of the Case Study House #21 (1959) try to convince us that nothing must change, that perfection is here to stay.
Shulman (1910-2009) captured this special area of post-war progressive American architecture with his own seductive lens-eye view, and these images will linger with us forever. In a way, his  iconic moments of flawlessness are intimidating.


The Bailey House (CSH #21) has seen several new owners since it was commissioned to Pierre Koenig in 1957 as a single-family house by Walter and Maria Bailey. It is extremely compact (30′ x 40′), designed with an open-plan layout. Flexibility through sliding doors, the CSH #21 reminds me of a traditional Japanese house, where exterior merges with the interior with help of large movable glass-wall panels and a center courtyard that radiates pioneering intelligence and detailed finesse in all its complexity.

Even technical aspects were integrated into style. Originally there was no air conditioning installed. The average temperature was much lower at the time of construction. The cooling system of the house then are surrounding reflective (shallow) pools, a center courtyard with a water fountain and cold water cooling tubes which are run across the roof, emptying from water spouts into the pool and then are pumped-up again as part of a recirculation system. In the late afternoon the Santa Ana winds pick up in the Hollywood Hills, which enables cross- ventilation, blowing the cooler courtyard air into the house through the wide window openings. There are mosquito-screens in front of the window elements. The wall-sized sliding screen panels both protect from insects and sun, adding to the facade a shoji-esque layered light-play.


CSH #21 was constructed as part of introducing the International Style with steel, large glass elements and the newest appliances into domestic architecture after WWII. Unfortunately it did not catch on beyond the kitchen. Reyner Banham called it ‘the style that nearly‘ was: despite its (and CSH #22‘s) fame, it only proved that ‘the ingrained prejudices of the construction industry were difficult to dislodge.’
What makes the house so special are its intelligent solutions from sliding doors for closing-off the private areas; the inner courtyard to which the bathroom door-panels open up and where you can take a shower being hidden and outdoors; the kitchen that offers 3 refrigerators/freezers, but installed on eye level, meaning you never have to bend down to look for your groceries. The integrated pharmacy drawer and hidden closet door behind the kitchen (in Shulman’s photograph just across from where Pierre Koenig is standing at the music credenza) are some examples that contribute to this masterstroke.


Meanwhile, the house outlived its designer. Shulman’s pictures however remain frozen time capsules: just as we have difficulties watching actors age in real life we want to see this iconic house preserved in its pristine condition forever. 1998 the house got a final facelift by Pierre Koenig, who actually made changes to kitchen appliances and the kitchen color (it is now stainless steel, no longer yellow) and added air-conditioning and Cable TV. Koenig always perceived the kitchen as a place where technology will surpass one day his choices, and designed it for this purpose adjustable for ‘up-grades’.

The original living room furniture where designed by Pierre Koenig and McCabe, was referred to by some as lower-quality furniture (vinyl covered foam sofa, office chair, plastic laminated plywood bureau, i.e.) since the money had been spent on the building’s shell. I found a copy of the original music credenza (see Shulman’s picture again) and also a model of the vinyl sofa for an astronomical price. As much as Shulman’s images tempt to recreate that one perfect moment, I believe the house has to live with its new owners and their personal style, and living habits. When refurnishing the CSH for its new owner I realized that as long as I kept alive the concept of the house – respecting the ‘free flow of space‘, the play with inside-outside, lightness and openness, and its unconventionality of the moment then, – it will keep breathing. Aging with grace is here the challenge.


I will never forget the moments I spent in this house. When the gaze of a beautiful wild Coyote (coming down from the mountains in search for water) woke me up at sunrise with only the window between us, was proof enough that the concept of this house is still alive and still valid. This was not a Shulman moment. This was unexpected!

Julius Shulman died  July 15, 2009.

Contemporary photographs are courtesy of the author. For Julius Shulman photographs please contact R Gallery.



by Claudia Dias on July 15, 2009

Two very large circular structures, one pointing towards the sky and one into the ground look for the visible and invisible Red-Shift. They have two very different starting points but both  are in the  search for mankind’s place in the Universe.
The Arecibo Observatory on the island of Puerto Rico is the site of the world’s largest single-unit radio telescope, observes radio waves, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to the human eye.  The other is James Turrell’s Roden Crater observatory.

roden-crator-extAfter James Turrell  bought the 400,000 year-old Roden Crater in 1979 , a 2 mile-wide volcanic crater on the edge of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona, he started to turn it into an observatory with several separate spaces, that will allow the visitor (probably in 2011) to follow celestial phenomena with their naked eye.
‘I also wanted to gather starlight that was from outside, light that’s not only from outside the planetary system which would be from the sun or reflected off of the moon or a planet, but also to emanate light from the galactic planes where you’ve got this older light that’s away from the light even of our galaxy. So that is light that would be at least three and a half billion years old. So you’re gathering light that’s older than our solar system. And it’s possible to gather that light, it takes a good bit of stars to do that, and a good look into older skies, away from the Milky Way. You can gather that light and physically have that in place so that it’s physically present to feel this old light. Now that’s a blended light, of course, but it’s also red-shifted, so it’s a different tone of light than we’re normally used to.’

roden-crator-interior-wIn his hour-glass-like crater, Turrell is working with that tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, called light, which comes in many shades.
‘Certainly when people describe near death experiences, they use a vocabulary of light. And also when we have dreams, a lucid dream that’s in this color, that really is I think quite, quite astonishing. (..) We think of color as a thing that we’re receiving. And if you go into one of the sky spaces, you can see that it’s possible to change the color of the sky. Now, I obviously don’t change the color of the sky, but I changed the context of vision. This is very similar to simultaneous contrast, where you see a yellow dot on a blue field, versus the yellow dot on a red field. Same yellow dot will be seen as two different colors. … So there isn’t something out there that we perceive, we are actually creating this vision, and that we are responsible for it is something we’re rather unaware of.’

Built in 1963, the 1000-feet spherical reflector of the Arecibo Observatory performs red-shift surveys. The reflector consists of perforated aluminum panels, focusing incoming radio waves on to movable antenna structures 550-feet above the reflector’s surface.Currently a grand-scale sky survey managed by Cornell University is in search for yet-undiscovered pulsars or ultra-fast spinning neutron stars. Radio pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit a lighthouse-like beam of radio waves that sweeps past the Earth as frequently as 600 times per second.

Vasto Slipher was the first to discover galactic red-shifts around 1912. In the widely accepted cosmological model based on general relativity, redshift is mainly a result of the expansion of space: this means that the farther away a galaxy is from us, the more the space has expanded in the time since the light left that galaxy, so the more the wavelength of  the light has been stretched, the more redshifted the light is, and the faster it appears to be moving away from us. The luminous point-like cores of quasars were the first “high-redshift” objects discovered before the improvement of telescopes allowed for the discovery of the Great Wall, a vast supercluster of galaxies over 500 million light-years wide which provides a dramatic example of a large-scale structure that redshift surveys can detect.
The largest observed redshift, corresponding to the greatest distance and furthest back in time, is that of the cosmic microwave background radiation; and it shows the state of the Universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and 379,000 years after the initial moments of the Big Bang.

crater_pulsar-w‘I also want to say that the senses and gratification through the senses, while it can direct you toward the spiritual, is also something that will hold you from it fully. That’s the limits of art, and so I don’t think that art is terribly spiritual, but it’s something that can be along that way, be a gesture toward that,’ says Turrell about his art-work.
Meanwhile astronomers try to determine if the universe is expanding in an accelerated pace or if it is possible re-collapsing into a Big Crunch. I definitely want to visit both places!


Tale of Pandora’s Tears

by Claudia Dias on July 14, 2009

Karl Fritsch and his jewelry is layered of tales, tales which are intertwined with history and sagas:robusta2-w

Pandora’s Tears:  A sealed copy of the Diamond Sutra was found around 1906 by Sir Aurel Stein in the Magao Cave along the Silk Road near Dunhuang, China. It was a large block-printed roll dated from AD 868 and proved to be the oldest known example of a printed book.  This copy of the popular Buddhist work The Diamond Sutra  is now in possession of the British Library.

From the Diamond Sutra came the prophecy that was called “Diamond of transcendental wisdom”, since its teaching, as sharp-witted as a diamond sword, would cut through all worldly  illusions, and as such could enlighten beholders on what was real and  everlasting …
As an example of spiritual perfection the Korean Seon monk Gihwa  (1376-1433AD) layered a handful of precious stones on a silver ring, held together by his pure force of meditation, mental power and prayers; just as the Diamond Sutra instructed. When he passed away the monks of his cloister glued the stones together with the power of rice dumplings (extracted from lotus roots, cooked with honey and turned into a caramelized pastry). They then kept it in a special wood shrine.’

pandoras-tears Since then this ring, called Pandora’s Tears has had a spell and caused a chain of bad-luck for all its owners. It cast its spell on Karl when he got his hands on the stones and again made a ring out of it, till he too passed it on as a gift to his book publisher. He too was not spared the curse and had to eventually auction it off in Mumbai to pay his medical bills.  No one  knows who owns it now…. But soon after, Karl won the long awaited, prestigious Françoise van den Bosch Award!

Fritsch manages to give a new and original twist to materials, techniques, conventions and ultimately to his own profession. His rings are made of gold, but it is dull; they are studded variously with gemstones or with glitzy pieces of glass; even finger marks serve as a form of decoration, as do what appear to be loose heaps of minuscule clay balls. Fritsch’s trademark is the way he plays with clichés and breaks down stereotypes. The results can be truly spectacular.

rebusta-wThe King’s Ring: Once upon a time there was a powerful king, who owned everything his heart could desire. But this King was unsatisfied with his power and all his wealth. He was afflicted with a strange restlessness and unexplainably longed for something which would fulfill following conditions: It should sadden him, when he would be happy – and should placate him when he would be sad. (..) One day the wise men had found the answer, when they stepped in front of the king, he asked them for their efforts’ outcome. They handed him a ring. And this magic ring had following engraving: “This too, will pass”.
13th century Chinese saying
Not so old Chinese saying:
who wants to be happy for one day, should drink.
who wants to be happy for a week, should slaughter a pig.
who wants to be happy for a year, should get married.
who wants to be happy for ever, should become a gardener.
who wants to be happy once in a while, should wear a ring by Karl Fritsch.

I am one of those latter described but I wear my ring on a daily basis.


Glass Wear @ Museum of Arts & Design, New York  (July 15 – Sept. 20, 2009)
Karl Fritsch and Lisa Walker @ Gallery Inform Jewellery in New Zealand (July 14- August 9, 2009); 
Karl Fritsch @ Salon 94, New York  (April 2010)
Please refer to the galleries for inquiries and prices. Pictures are courtesy of artist and several galleries.


Collecting ZERO

by Claudia Dias on July 13, 2009

At the end of 2008 I saw at Sperone Westwater, a New York City gallery, a museum-like show called “Zero in New York“. It was a survey of works created between 1957 and 1966 by members of the Zero group, the most famous member being Yves Klein. Zero was a progressive art movement that revolutionized Post-War art and led to the formation of the Post-War Avant-Garde. I am sure that this show was a key-exhibit for New York, since shortly thereafter Gagosian opened another museum-quality retrospective on the Italian member Manzoni. To reach this level of a Zero show, it is hard to avoid to include works from the vast private collection of Gerhard and Anneliese Lenz (Lenz Schönberg Collection).


The Zero movement was initiated around 1958 by two Düsseldorf-based artists, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene and developed a collaborative relationship between groups of artists in Germany, Holland, France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. In describing the meaning and significance of the name “Zero”, Otto Piene wrote:
‘From the beginning we looked upon the term [Zero] not as an expression of nihilism – or as a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as the count-down when rockets take off – ZERO is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.’

As I found out the ‘Lenz Schönberg Collection’ started acquiring works in 1958 and count now 50 artists of mostly Zero in their collection of 600 works. ‘After the war the artists wanted to do something completely new. We found that interesting. (..) ‘ says Anneliese Lenz.


‘At some point, my husband ended up in an Evening-exhibition by Otto Piene in Düsseldorf and was horrified, devastated. He said that he would not be able to visit a museum again for several years. Then came the first painting by Jef Verheyen. My husband identified himself so much with the painting that he said “this is it”. (..) My husband had never read anything about the period, and simply collected works according to his gut feeling. Even the feeling for quality is completely intuitive. He did not let anyone else tell him what to buy.’ 

Gerhard and Anneliese Lenz built in Tyrol “Hof Schoenberg” a home for themselves and their collection, where they displayed fire-paintings and blue, red and gold large monochromes by Yves Klein, nail-paintings by Guenter Ueckers, punctured metal sheets and canvases by Lucio Fontana and many others.
‘A private collection that has been shown twelve times in Europe is not a very common, or rather, is a very rare event.(..) We would like to live with our art. Therefore it should not be hung in a museum that we have to visit in order to see our collection. In the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg, my husband said that he could imagine setting up his bed and his desk there, and living there. That has happened in the past. Whenever our works have been displayed, we have gone to visit our “children” ‘.


‘We were not collectors at the beginning. As Yves Klein once said, suddenly you realise that you are a painter. And one day we realised that we were collectors. Today, due to the economic boom, the word “collector” now has negative overtones; today you do not really want to be known as a collector.’

Zero artists aimed to banish any trace of a personal style and instead bring elements of the non-art world into their work. Informed by new materials and technologies, and incorporating elements of light, fire, and water, Zero was characterized by an idealistic spirit of collaboration in pursuit of new concepts of light, movement, and energy. Working in an environment without galleries and contemporary art spaces, these artists came together to exhibit their work in a series of one-evening-only exhibitions, often staged in their studios. Manifestos were often published in association with the shows, such as “Zero 1” (1958), “Zero 2” (1958), and “Zero 3” (1961).

armando_tinguely-w1German “Zero”: Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Gunther Uecker.
Dutch “Nul”: Henk Peeters, Jan Schoonhoven, Armando and Jan Henderikse.
Italy: Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani and Nanda Vigo.
France: Arman, Francois Morellet and Yves Klein.
Switzerland: Daniel Spoerri, Christian Megert and kinetic sculptures by Jean Tinguely.

“Zero in New York” (1957-1966)
Please refer to the gallery for inquiries, catalog and prices. Photographs courtesy of the gallery.

Sperone Westwater
415 West 13 Street, New York, NY 10014, Tel + 1 212 999 7337


Conquest Of Nature

by Claudia Dias on July 10, 2009

What started as the Conquest of Nature during the Enlightenment in Europe with draining swamps, taming rivers, building dams and remodeling large areas of landscapes, has turned now into machine dominated industries, like mining, driven by ever larger equipment into geologically-sized excavations, which best are understood from birds eye view and the disturbing ‘interiors’ of these perfectly terraced cuts. Most of Edward Burtynsky‘s photographed mines in Western Australia originate from the mid/late1960′s.

mine-sites1-wI guess not until the late 1960′s did color televisions start selling in large enough numbers to jump start the excessive quest for MORE of everything on a worldwide scale. Which turned into an ever increasing worldwide demand for minerals and energy, which had been up to that point contained within North America. What interests me about these pictures beyond their extreme coloration and the size of the machine-made negative landscapes, is their connecting tissue, which leaves similarly proportioned marks on other types of landscapes.

The extreme age of Western Australia’s landscape has meant that the soils are remarkably infertile, often laterized, and largely flat. Most of the mined raw materials are exported. 2/3 of Australia’s exported energy and minerals, and half of the exported iron ore are shipped to China.

mine-sites2-wThe opening of Australia’s largest open cut gold-mine located along Kalgoorlie Boulder, called ‘Fimiston Open Pit’, also knows as ‘Super Pit’, is still growing, eventually reaching 3.9 km (long) x 1.6 km (wide) with a depth of 500m. More than 1,550 tonnes of gold have been mined, which means around 15 million tonnes of rock, mostly waste is moved yearly.
‘Gold within the Golden Mile lode system is unusual in that it is present as telluride minerals within pyrite. In order to recover the gold, the ore must be crushed, passed through a gravity circuit to recover the free gold present in some of the higher-grade lodes, and then subjected to flotation to produce an auriferous pyrite concentrate. This is then roasted at a small smelter outside Kalgoorlie-Boulder to liberate the gold from the tellurides, with dore bars poured.’
Who acquired the land from whom and by what means? And where does all the excess material go? Are there new mountains being built out of the waste material?

mine-sites3-wIn the 1960′s the discovery of rich iron deposits at Mt Whaleback, the resource boom of Western Australia had taken off. A privately-owned railway was built to connect to Port Hedland and Dampier, moving record braking amounts of ore, trains reaching the length of 4.5 miles (7.3 km).
The dazzling colors of the Dampiers Salt Ponds and Lake Lefroy’s salt plateau against the white of the salt and ore rich background in Burtynsky’s photographs, remind me that also plenty of organic dyes and pigments like ochre and sienna are exported on a miniature scale throughout this region of Australia, and are still sacred viewed as sacred places to many Aboriginals.

BTW: The Super Pit is open for public viewing. Blasts occur regularly and can often be viewed from the lookout.

Australia, Mine Sites, 2007
Photographs of the Mine Sites courtesy of Edward Burtynsky and Charles Cowles Gallery.

Please refer to the Gallery for inquiries and prices.
Charles Cowles Gallery
537 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011, Tel +1 212 741 8999


Own Your Own Bucky

by Claudia Dias on July 9, 2009

Ephemeralization‘, one of R. Buckminster Fuller’s theories shows how to approach the serious purpose of design, as opposed to the triviality of mere styling, in his own words, with ‘applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity.’ 
Although his work is based on the concept of mass-production (ca. 300,000 geodesic domes based on his patent where erected between 1954-1983 world wide), Buckminster Fuller’s smaller works have reached collectable value and can be acquired in some US galleries (some as secondary market).


Setting up an exhibition with Buckminster Fuller prints and collapsable models last year for Sebastian+Barquet Gallery (NY) at the DesignArt London fair, I was surprised how Fuller’s work was still being ignored and was completely unrecognized compared to his European contemporary colleagues. Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati started collaborating with Fuller in 1972, issuing limited editions of the Dymaxion World Map, collapsable models and sculptures,  a two-hull rowing shell (catamaran in an edition of 100) and a portfolio with 13 screenprinted sheets of Fuller’s inventions.

DYMAXION AIR OCEAN WORLD MAP, 1980 (Signed edition of 85). The Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map designed and patented by Buckminster Fuller is the first in the history of cartography to show the whole surface of the Earth with no visible distortion of the relative size and shape of the land and sea areas and no breaks in the continental contours. 


WATERCRAFT—ROWING NEEDLES: United States Patent Office no.3,524,422, filed March 28,1968, serial no. 716,957, granted August 18, 1970. During his lifetime, only four examples of Fuller’s patent were fabricated. The first two examples had round aluminum hulls. Determining that V-shaped hulls would be more efficient, the final two prototype examples were made with fiberglass hulls. This also further reduced the weight, a primary objective in every Fuller designed structure. Each bow and stern end is socket-assembled in lengths of light aluminum tube. The oarsman sits in a light plastic nacelle and the width can be adjusted to suit. Unique advantage of the catamaran form is stability: lone oarsman can climb back aboard without additional help.


‘MONOHEX’ or ‘Fly’s Eye’ dome: UnitedStates Patent Office no. 3,197,927, filed December 19, 1961, serial no. 160,450, granted August 3, 1965. First patented in 1965 was a method of reducing the structural weight – and thus the cost – of a simple dwelling to the lowest possible level. Fuller developed it in various materials including steel, aluminum, and fiber glass until 1978. Constructed from nestable, single-shape component, when assembled formed a 5/8 geodesic sphere. It represented the last and simplest of all Fuller’s approaches to mass-production low-cost housing. Additionally, 3/4 of the dome’s surface constituted of 7′ diameter circular openings which served as doors, windows, mounts for solar collectors and wind-driven air turbines, etc. All rainwater feeds into the dome’s watercourse cistern system.

Next to original sketches, photographs and the catamaran, Max Protech‘s gallery in New York showed the original Buckminster Fuller Fly’s-Eye dome, which was made of 50 fiberglass sections, weighs a total of 3,500 lbs, is 24ft in height, and is assembled by hand with approximately 1,050 stainless steel bolts.  This prototype was fabricated in California in 1976/77, and is the only 24’ dome Fuller produced. 

monohex-w1The more I get into R. Buckminster Fuller’s work, the more the modern movement of 20th century European architects (like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe) starts looking like a fraction of the radical modern concept envisioned and partially built by Fuller. The two words, ‘Synergy‘ and ‘Design Science‘ stand out, suggesting that there can be still individual feats of design even with the bewildering speed of technological advance which gives a limited shelf-life to even the finest manufactures. This is because scientific and technical development is continuous, and every single design must eventually vacate in favor of something cheaper and better, or become part of another composite element, incorporated into a greater whole.


Please refer to the Galleries for inquiries and prices.
Carl Solway Gallery
424 Findlay Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45214, Tel.+1 513 621 0069

Max Protech
511 W 22nd St, New York, NY 1001, Tel +1 212 633 6999

Sebastian + Barquet
601 W 26th St, New York, NY 10011, Tel +1 212 488 2245


‘More For Less’

by Claudia Dias on July 8, 2009

In use since 1956 many of the radome-geodesic structures, referred to as ‘Golfballs,’ were conceived by Buckminster Fuller.  Many are still in service. After having failed to introduce his radical concept of the Dymaxion House (from 1927/29!), which was ‘a hexagonal ring of dwelling-space, walled in double skins of plastic in different transparencies according to lighting needs, and hung by wires from the apex of a central duralumin mast which also housed all the mechanical services’, Buckminster Fuller turned with his Dome concepts to the US military, after he discovered a way to construct the type of ‘minimum structure/maximum volume’ enclosure that he believed was necessary to defeat the old economy of scarcity and exploitation in the real world.


Fuller submitted his most important patent application on Dec 12th 1951 to the United States patent office on the geodesic dome: “My invention relates to a framework for enclosing space. A good index to the performance of any building frame is the structural weight required to shelter a square foot of floor from the weather. In conventional wall and roof designs the figure is often 2500 kg/square meter. I have discovered how to do the job at around 4 kg per square meter by constructing a frame of generally spherical form in which the main structural elements are interconnected in a geodesic pattern of approximately great circle arcs intersecting to form a three-way grid, and covering or lining this frame with a skin of plastic material.


In 1949 Fuller formed a private company called ‘Geodesics Inc.‘ with him as president and a second one ‘Synergetics Inc.’ with Shoji Sadao in 1954. After his patent was granted in 1954 Fuller received royalties on all the geodesic domes built under it for the next 17 years until the patent’s expiration. Radomes for the Army and the Air Force proved an important market for Fuller’s geodesics. Often sited at high altitude and in inaccessible regions, the standard structure he proposed was a 16.5 meter diameter 75 percent non-metallic sphere made of diamond-shaped fiber glass components that could be delivered by helicopter in kit form to the most difficult places and erected in 14 hours. 


Although Buckminster Fuller was only credited very late in his life for his accomplishments (and never really by architectural critics except Reyner Banham), none equalled the posthumous christening of a virtually indestructible carbon atom with his name in 1985. One of earth’s most common substances probably occurs even in the gas clouds between the stars, which the discoverers dubbed ‘Buckminsterfullerene‘, after its pattern of hexagons and pentagons made familiar by the shape of he geodesic dome.

Today, Buckminster Fuller’s importance is being rediscovered and smaller domes, models, maps and drawings are sold in New York’s established galleries.

Photographs are courtesy of Buckminster Fuller Institute and Martin Pawley.

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‘ECHELON For Beginners’ On Ascension Island

by Claudia Dias on July 7, 2009

Since the rise of the mobile telephone we grew familiar with the sight of antennas, even in cities, those giant, nearly weightless structures, which only have to withstand weather and their own weight. A panoply of different antenna-structures cover most of Ascension Island’s surface, a tiny British colony in the middle of the South Atlantic. On a background of volcanic ashes a assortment from wire versions to delicate cones or spirals were installed by Echelon, and later documented by Simon Norfolk

sn_echelon1-wright: BBC World Service Relay Station at English Bay

Simon Norfolk explains how these most elegant and fragile looking structures aggressively tab into our daily lives:
ECHELON is a global, computerized electronic surveillance system. (…) The system works by indiscriminately intercepting truly enormous quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from he mass of unwanted ones, then sorting them for more detailed analysis later. (…) The command center for this spider’s web is the National Security Agency (NSA) HQ at Fort Meade, Maryland. GCHQ at Chaltenham in the UK is the co-ordinateng center for Europe.’

BBC World Service Relay Station at English Bay

‘Data is collected by satellite interception, aerial arrays at strategic places and the direct tapping on underground and submarine cables . Computer manufacturers have ’back-doors‘ into the system software to allow the NSA to read everything on your computer. (…) One of the few places ECHELON can be seen or pictures is Ascension Island. In places, hills of ash have been leveled at the tops to allow the positioning of radomes and tracking devices.’

‘Warfare is becoming increasingly intangible. It is a paradox that whilst ‘rolling news’ and ‘embedded journalists,’ saturate us with the show-biz of war, when the really interesting developments: submarine warfare, space weapons, electronic warfare and electronic eavesdropping are essentially invisible.’

right: Electronic eavesdropping equipment at One Boat, owned by a partner of GCHQ spy services

Quotes by Simon Norfolk

Ascension Island: the Panopticon (ECHELON for beginners)
Photographs courtesy of the artist.

Please refer to the artist for inquiries.


Tiny Crack In A World Of Secrets

by Claudia Dias on July 3, 2009

Last year I saw that the most serene and breathtaking landscapes in the America hide launch bases for missiles and rockets. Photographer Simon Norfolk worked several years on ‘sights whose boundless beauty is countervailed by feelings of fearfulness and powerlessness‘ and put my ambivalence and fascination with the precision-obsessed rocket industry into another perspective.

Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA: Interior of a preserved Titan 2 nuclear missile launch complex. Looking down the 160′ deep silo which would have contained a ‘ready to launch’ missile. The final Titan nuclear missile was decommissioned in 1987 / Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, March 2008: Launch of a Delta II rocket carrying a USAF GPS 2 satellite.

‘The bewildering beauty of what human ingenuity can achieve when given endless resources collides with the appalling disposal of those assets on new and more brilliant ways to kill people. Nowhere is this clearer that what I call the Military Sublime – for example the nuclear missiles and satellite launches pictured here.’

But there is one moment in their lives when they advertise their existence with a ground-trembling exuberant din that lights the night skies like a second sunset: the 45 seconds or so it takes for them to lift from their launch pads and disappear thousands of miles downrange, way up high. The leaping into the void is what I’ve chosen to concentrate on; this tiny (photographable) crack in a world of secrets.’

sn_sublime-rocketrySaturn V rocket engine / Wallos Island Flight Facility, Virginia: The emergency destruction, 27 seconds from launch, of an ALV-X1 rocket carrying NASA experiments and classified US Navy satellites.

‘Satellites and missiles are born in worlds of utter secrecy – in skunkworks  and shady research facilities. They are launched from closed military bases – and live out their lives in the soundless dark of deep space, silently listening and processing. 

‘(..) the purpose of all this sublime technology (down here in the sub-luminary world) is to sharpen the knife: to finesse America’s ability to find, follow and kill its enemies.’ 

Quoted from Simon Norfolk.


Full Spectrum Dominance: Missiles, Rockets, Satellites in America, 2008
Photographs courtesy of the artist.

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