A wave of young design rebels abandoned conventional practice and set out to translate their experiences into spatial versions of psychedelic flux, what one critic called "LSDesign." They wanted to liberate architectural space the way musicians like Jimi Hendrix were liberating rock music, to create scenarios in which interiors, even whole buildings, would appear as cellular entities, detached from conventional engineering, floating, almost nonexistent. "The new design ambiguity corresponds to current spaced-out highs by aiming at expanded consciousness through expanded spaciousness," wrote design critic C. Ray Smith. Even a mainstream journal like Progressive Architecture acknowledged LSD's potential as a design tool when it published interviews with several architects who had tried the drug. "Cobwebs, blocks, and binds just disappeared," said Henrik Bull, who solved problems that had been plaguing him for months. "Anything was possible." But no one seemed quite sure where all of this might lead. How would the new hallucinogens change the built environment? What would a psychedelic house or city look like?

The idea was to turn everyday architecture into spectacle, to alter scale and break down the tyranny of conventional, right-angled spaces. Lines of sight were skewed. Disorienting illusions were created with mirrors, converging panels, ramps, and staircases that led nowhere. Wall surfaces were penetrated with circular openings, oddly shaped cutouts, setbacks, and boxlike protrusions. Floors were landscaped into mounds and valleys of thick, fuzzy carpeting, ideal for crawling, tripping, making love, or otherwise recapturing an infantile relationship to the ground plane.

Vinyl inflatables became ubiquitous at Be-Ins, rock concerts, and antiwar demonstrations. They were lightweight, sexy, utopian and fit the spatial needs of the new consciousness. The Utopie group in Paris proposed a whole world of inflatable structures, from housing units to vast traveling theaters. In the summer of 1970, Haus-Rucker-Co., an Austrian design collaborative, erected a giant air mattress in Manhattan that blocked traffic and created an instant spectacle (and front-page news) as hundreds of passersby climbed on board and rolled around like infants. "All that is solid melts into air," wrote Karl Marx, and in post-Beatles consciousness, everything seemed transitory and floating, literally filled with air. In their ghostly temporality, the plastic inflatables suggested an idealized kind of equilibrium between inward and outward pressures, a moment of pneumatic suspension, as well as the promise of softer things to come.

The Spectral Passage, Aleksandra Kasuba, San Francisco, CA, 1975.

Upper right: Aleksandra Kasuba, "Walk-In Environment," New York, NY, 1970.

Chapter 1 - Enchanted Loom
Chapter 2 - Infinity Machines
Chapter 3 - Crash Pads
Chapter 4 - Soft City
Chapter 5 - Unsettlers
Chapter 6 - Magic Circles
Chapter 7 - Frontier Mystics

© 2009 Alastair Gordon