I’m sick of dystopia.

While talking with Scott Specht over dinner one evening, the subject of dystopia came up. “I’m sick of dystopia,” he declared. The statement later struck me personally as an attitude change of the first order of magnitude.

Here I’d been conceiving and executing concrete sculpture that suggests dystopia. I had been scheming to pick up used aquariums and terrariums off the curb and create, inside them, little microhells out of concrete, embedding cell phones, passwords and logins, red stoplights and blue spinning wheels. I had been seeing the world increasingly through dystopian filters.

And then, just like that, it has evaporated. If dystopia is intuitive, then Utopia is counterintiutive.

The utopia that I am choosing to examine right now is Charles Fourier’s Phalanstery. Attached are some images of the Phalanstery in progress.

The Phalanstery, a work in progress

The Rita is completed!

Kim and Richard’s Tiny House on Rita Street in Sarasota  County, Florida is complete.  We ride-tested this little tiny house for 5 days over the 4th of July weekend with a load of 4 people, and found that it rode pretty smooth.

The Rita

We had more visitors – neighbors, West Coast acquaintances, and Rita fans – in 4 days than we had moving in may to Audubon Park.  This perhaps speaks more about the West Coast lifestyle vs. the Central Florida lifestyle.  Here people are busy, generally keep to themselves, and feel like they are intruding, I guess. In Sarasota, we had multiple visitors that came and enjoyed the Rita’s hospitality.  We had real conversations with real people.

The Rita is set in a plane of white gravel which is near-zero maintenance.  The boys found a shark’s tooth in the gravel.  It is on short concrete piers with a 2′ high crawl space.  Riding up on piers allows the land underneath to breathe and for the Rita’s ventilation to work properly like a true Cracker house.

The foundation is fairly solid.  There were some interesting secondary vibrations through the house when the washing machine was on the spin cycle.  Footsteps did not reverberate.

The front elevation expresses mobility, our age of motion accelerated.  And yet it is very static, anchored to the land. The front wall is a grid that is thirteen wide by seven high, interrupted by a simple white band.  These two prime numbers plus the partial end corners yield a rhythm that is both complete and incomplete at the same time. The lack of certainty in the front facade expression – nothing is an even number, the ends are slightly unresolved – references our current times of incomplete wisdom and a searching, a yearning for closure.

The central white band can be read in multiple ways. It emphasizes the door, a decidedly un-sarasota-school move (entries were de-emphasized by Rudolph and his peers, you just slipped between two floating plans and presto!  you’re inside before you know it). Here the Rita presents the front door to you in a pure, white band.

An element, repeated thrice, has been a theme of our existence together even back in Hawaii days and extending to Norris.  Chelsea and Rita both have the number 3 repeated in patterns, solids, and voids in its design.

The interior space, upon entering, fulfilled its requirement to have a series of interlocking functional areas that unite more than they separate.  This is typical of nearly all tiny houses but it was particularly important with the vertical space to unite the loft. From 3 people to, at one time, eight, we had plenty of space and it did not feel crowded like a hotel room would if 8 people were in it.

The quality of light was diffuse and generally very high, and it changed throughout the day. The Rita is surrounded by the lush tropical rainforest of Florida’s lower west coast.  The greens of the trees highlighted many of the colors inside and as the sun moved across the sky there was a delightful sense of time passing. It was as if the interior of the main space was a little bubble, holding a soft bright light inside.

The wasp-tail between the two wet rooms wasn’t too narrow.  One wet room – holding two lavatories and a toilet – was surprisingly spacious. The other wet room had a shower and a tiny washer/dryer combo and it felt fine.  It was the smallest room in the house but with a window it was not too claustrophobic.

The  bedroom, with its niches, also felt significantly larger than it was, due to the high ceiling.

The loft was perhaps the most successful space of all.  With one window facing north, up high, and another window facing west, down low, the loft was filled with stronger light but it had a “treehouse” sensibility being up in the trees.  The boys seemed to enjoy it and rarely came down except during feeding times.

As a design experiment the Rita is more successful than I ever expected.  Kim Mathis’ interior design talent helped to furnish the interior in a way that enhances the spaces. Scott Stoothoff, the builder, took great care with the construction, interpreting the design skillfully, and the result is an excellent living space with plenty of happy small details that he finished well, so the house will reveal interest and delight over and over again.

[see https://www.facebook.com/theritasarasota/?ref=bookmarks for photos].



Cuba in the Crosshairs

While I somewhat tongue-in-cheek renamed the conference “Cuba in the Crosshairs”, its actual name was Cuba at the Crossroads.  The conference did yield some good information and it illuminated a contrast between my view and that of conference participant Lauren Nareau, who had a somewhat rosier view of Cuba’s potential to achieve sustainable development.

Nareau’s talk was titled “Climate Change and Cuba-US Relations:  Out of the Cold War and into the Anthropocene.”  She presented a Cuba poised to move towards sustainability, because it hasn’t modernized.  And indeed, there is this potential.

My view is a little darker, I am afraid.  The Cuba that I see is overwhelmed by its own problems, quite unable to even cope with its own garbage.  The Cuba of tomorrow will, more than likely, be subsumed by capitalism.  Whatever is good now will diminish, and whatever is bad now will get worse.  This is the dark side of growth.

During the panel on evolving government, it became clear that Cuba is quite self-absorbed in its own difficulties.  Sitting, as it does, with Puerto Rico, Haiti, and other Caribbean islands in crisis, it seems that this region is going to slide into a troubled period.  Alas, the conference presenters cared little for open debate.  Perhaps the time was not appropriate for this and there was, instead, a need for more formality.

The guest speaker, Miguel Coyula, is a well known Havana architect and retired professor, who gave a fairly classical understanding of the situation on the ground today.  He shared his fear that the city will be overcome by the forces of capitalism and sadly lose its specificity of time and place.

It is up to the future generation to guard against this danger.  Unfortunately for this conference, the future generation was predictably apathetic, seemed bored by the older people talking, and preferred instead to stand out side, presumably discussing which clubs to go to that evening.

They will therefore inherit the problems without engaging in them, and perhaps will have a bold new solution that we have not thought of.  Let us hope so, for the gift of the city of Havana, and other cities in Cuba for that matter, are being given to them to do with what they will.