The Crawler Transporter | Between L’Architecture Mobile and The Walking City

The crawler-transporters are a pair of tracked vehicles used to transport spacecraft from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building [VAB] along the Crawlerway to Launch Complex 39. They were originally used to transport the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets during the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs. Currently they’re used to transport the Space Shuttle. The crawler-transporters carry vehicles on the Mobile Launcher Platform, and after each launch return to the pad to take the platform back to the VAB.

We’re not sure if we can talk or speculate about any relationship between the crawler transporter and architecture or urban design [but, why not?]. Just a few days ago we published a post related with Yonna Friedman’s mobile cities and La Ville Spatiale, where Friedman suggested a mobile and temporary structure instead of the rigid and inflexible means used in traditional architecture. This drives us to talk again about experimenting with spatial technologies and structures. Are we arriving to another kind of city?

L’Architecture Mobile by Yona Friedman

According to Friedman, the development of cities is unpredictable, which makes it impossible for an urban planner to design a proper city for its inhabitants. In his manifesto L’Architecture Mobile (Mobile Architecture) some of the ten points for a new architecture enunciated that the new urban society must not be shaped by the urbanist and also pointed that the structures, which together form the physical fabric of the city, should reflect the extent of advancements in modern technology.

Doesn’t it “sounds” like these images of the crawler?

In the point 9 of his seminal manifesto, Friedman wrote: The structures that form the city must be skeletons, to be filled in as desired. Additions to the skeletons are dependent on the initiative of every inhabitant:

Leaving Friedman and getting closer to Archigram’s idea that everything, absolutely everything, suddenly became architecture and knowing that there’s no doubt that the crawler construction was concurrent with Archigram’s designs… can we refer to the crawler as Heron’s Walking City? Even Peter Blake related about the impresions he had about Walking City, that he took off to Cape Kennedy and saw that ‘walking buildings’ easily the size of Seagram were, in fact, a reality. The design created by NASA engineers is really close to the axioms of Archigram’s philosophy: mobility, flexibility and impermanence.

But also acording with Ron [Archigram] Herron’s idea, proposed in 1964 for a walking city:

In an article in avant-garde architecture journal Archigram, Ron Herron proposed building massive mobile robotic structures, with their own intelligence, that could freely roam the world, moving to wherever their resources or manufacturing abilities were needed. Various walking cities could interconnect with each other to form larger ‘walking metropolises’ when needed, and then disperse when their concentrated power was no longer necessary. Individual buildings or structures could also be mobile, moving wherever their owner wanted or needs dictated.

Reading the text above seems like the spirit of Archigram has emerged in the shape of a crawler:

The influence of these avant-garde ideas has survived more than fifty years, until now. Just take a look at this Crawler Town designed by Dave DeGobbi recently or our speculations about Cape Canaveral as the new Instant City.

As Hans Hollein once said about it: “Suddenly, the dialogue started and has not stopped yet.”

UPDATE [04.10.2010]

We just found out [Thanks to @laperiferia] Cedric Price‘s City of the Future, described as a series of drawings that Cedric Price accomplished in 1965 as a summary of the vision of architecture he has been developing with earlier projects like the Fun Palace in 1961. Léopold Lambert comments “This city is both technophiles and hyper-infrastructural as an architectural manifesto for the 60’s…”

In these image there’s no doubt that all the architects from the avant-garde were somehow influenced by the NASA Crawler Transporter, just take a look:

City of the Future by Cedric Price

Crawler transporter. Aerial view

Thanks to Rob Holmes aka @eatingbark, Paco González aka @pacogonzalez and Nick Sowers aka @soundscrapers for tips and taking part of the crawler conversation in January 2010.


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