Konrad Wachsmann vu par Fredrik Hellberg

Fredrik Hellberg, author of Manhattan Oneirocritica, an speculative project that we published here before, has been highlighted with his project The Second Community as one of the best student projects 2011 by Blueprint Magazine. The project wonders about the issue of “identity tourism” in California City. He wrote about it:

In the desert northeast of Los Angeles in an abandoned city called California City the 739,600m2 Second Community floats above the desert floor like a mountain avatar. In its crater the 1,500 heliostatic mirrors reflect the light onto the artificial sky covering the desert of the trans-identity port. With a capacity of 40,000 people the port gathers in its featureless white space individuals open to role-play.

A provocative fact is that the project is focused on an alternative identity tourism, that goes beyond the virtual space of online role-playing games, the open desert of the Burning Man festival and the convention halls of Cosplayers, while the Burning Man is happening just now [from August 29 to September 5] and this year the participation of architect Jurgen Mayer has made it almost a “trending topic” in the architectural scene during the last months. In this context, we have enough points of comparison to analyze and assess Hellberg’s proposal and have a deeper overview.

The idea of megastructure comes to mind since the first moment of looking at the project, so do Yona Friedman’s La Ville spatiale, described with this words:

The traditional structure of the city is not equipped for the new society. I suggest mobile, temporary and lightweight structures instead of the rigid, inflexible and expensive means of traditional architecture.”

Hellberg’s The Second Community spans half a kilometer within the artificial desert of the port and isolates the person in a void of imagination where the persona of an individual becomes a fugitive and creative semiotic gadget which collectively generate a public space of radical self exploration an experimentation. The idea behing the Diploma 5: Third Natures is to redefine our links with technological objects, with the social realm and nature; and the project, floating on the desert, responds to the challenge. As one approaches the Second Community and its mountain avatar through the desert, the light from 1,500 mirrors reflected on the artificial sky of the port, giving the desert a new kind of life.

But the most evident reference that comes to our mind are Konrad Wachsmann‘s hangars for the American Air Force. We have seen in previous works by Hellberg that historical architecture is present and reinvented by him, proposing new uses, locations and giving a complete reinterpretation of them.

So, we wonder if it is possible to revisit the 1960s megastructures and place them in our current world? Will they respond as planned to environment and socio-political context?

The mountain floating over the desert. The Second Community

Konrad Wachsmann. Hangar for the American Air Force

Hellberg recently wrote for The Funambulist:

“Within an hour of your passing,
L.E. will transfer your body to a
vessel where you will be sealed
and frozen at 196 degrees below
zero. Power outages, earthquakes,
nothing will effect your

Even if the context is different, it’s interesting to think that Wachsmann’s hangars were frozen, just waiting for somebody as Hellberg to bring them to life again, with new light.

As Manfredo Tafuri wrote on The Sphere and the Labyrinth, “The critical act will consist of a recomposition of the fragments once they are historicized: in their “remontage.”

The Burning Man festival started as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice, and takes place at the temporary city created by Burning Man participants, the Black Rock City. The event is supossed to follow a “leave no trace” policy, but the amount of residual trash at the site has increased over the years.

As a counterpoint to all of this, in the Second Community the porous mountain avatar surrounding and supporting the sky of the port, collects its energy from the concentrated solar power plant in the center of the crater, harvesting the power of the sun and delivers it to the caves around the centered port where the identity tourists prepare for the events in the port. Hellberg’s approach to techology remind us Tafuri’s essay Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology, when he wrote:

Beyond its vast potential and the limitless worlds it opens up, technology also displays a flexibility indispensable in a period of transition: it allows the conscious artist to act not upon the formal effects of communication, as before, but upon its very terms: the human imagination.

The possibilities for architecture, open up in the perspective of human imagination are numerous and diverse.

The artificial desert floor as seen from the top of the port

But Today We Collect Ads” the essay by Alison and Peter Smithson, marked architecture’s entry into an overt relationship with pop culture, as Denise Scott Brown wrote in Learning from Pop. The “Second Community” project emphasizes the relationship between pop culture and architecture, while opossing to popular culture manifestations as the Burning Man festival, but at the same time, creating a new space for socio-cultural use.

When Henri Lefebvre wonders about the moment of emergence of an awareness of space and its production [when and where, why and how, did a neglected knowledge and a misconstrued reality begin to be recognized?], and talked about social space, he was referring to a biological, social and political act. The aim of Unit 5 projects is to reconnect the production of space with one forgotten material in architecture –people; and this can be also a political act.

Inside one of the caves of the mountain

Role-playing gathering in the port

We can end quoting Lefebvre again:

A new consciousness of space emerged whereby space [an object in its surroundings] was explored, sometimes by deliberately reducing it to its outline or plan and to the flat surface of the canvas, and sometimes, by contrast, by breaking up and rotating planes, so as to reconstitute depth of space in the picture plane. This gave rise to a very specific dialectic.

Hellberg‘s project, revisiting an old hangar structure and designing new utopias, could be the kind of architectural thinking that goes beyond the limits of the practice, creating by contrast new kind of spaces. Or at least, it is a good exercise to rethink the potential that lies in old structures, abandoned places and archi-ruins.


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