In 1965, the young French-born Canadian architect François Dallegret had been living in New York for more than a year and become active in the city’s thriving experimental art scene, socializing with the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol while residing at the storied Chelsea Hotel. His drawing, the now iconic “Environment-Bubble” was published in April 1965 in Art in America accompanying the revered architecture critic Reyner Banham’s seminal essay “A Home Is Not a House,” in which Banham reassessed architecture’s relationship to technology. Criticizing the Northern American tradition of building houses without a proper protection system from cold and warm weather, Banham deplored the waste of energy caused by widespread use of heating pump technologies.
Encapsulating Banham’s focus on ecological concerns within the built environment, Dallegret’s “Environment-Bubble,” proposed a pared-down architectural structure: an environmentally-friendly, flexible, and mobile habitat designed to “renew modes of living.” Under a transparent membrane, domestic space would be condensed, technology concentrated around a central “totem,” and the relationship between interior and exterior, home and the world, self and others, completely reprogrammed. Nudity featured in the drawing as a marker that evoked the search at the time for radical new ways of living and behaving. Nicknamed the “Dallegret Bubble,” it became a reference point for the next generation of architects who were inspired by what they saw as a radical way to question the discipline of architecture and challenge the dualism between public and private spaces. In many ways, Dallegret’s drawing anticipated the utopian work of architects and designers such as Ant Farm, Archigram, Cedric Price, and Superstudio.
Until recently, “The Environment-Bubble” remained a work of purely conceptual “paper architecture.” The drawing, as part of the edition of the six produced for Art in America, was acquired by the Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain in Orléans (France) and featured in many exhibitions worldwide: “Les Années Pop" at Centre Pompidou in Paris (2001), "Les années 60: Montréal voit grand / The 60’s Montreal Thinks Big" at CCA in Montreal (2004), "Cold War Modern Design 1945-1970" at Victoria & Albert Museum in London (2008), and more recently “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California (2016). Its career-defining role was indirectly acknowledged in the title of Dallegret’s 2011 retrospective at the Architectural Association in London: GOD & CO: François Dallegret Beyond the Bubble. In 2014, Los Angeles-based French-American architect François Perrin approached Dallegret to collaborate on a 2016 exhibition of his work titled François Dallegret: The World Upside-Down at WUHO gallery in Los Angeles. Revisiting his early works with Perrin deepened Dallegret’s desire to “bring the Bubble to life.” After more than 50 years, he felt it needed to become a tangible object and engage with human beings in space. Asking “What would “The Environment-Bubble” be and offer in 2017?” also raised questions about its relationship to contemporary ecological and social concerns, a world in which our relationship to technology has shifted from the exhilarating enthusiasm for utopian developments to a suspicion of pervasive technological surveillance.
For Performa 17, “The Environment-Bubble,” will finally be realized as an inflatable dome covering a 24-foot-diameter stage that will be installed temporarily in DUMBO, Brooklyn, 11/8 and Central Park, NYC 11/9, as a presentation designed for families to spend time and experiment with the Bubble. While remaining as faithful as possible to the 1965 original design and be realized as a striking architectural object, it will also fulfill its foundational role of an active site where people experiment new modes of being together. In asking what these modes might be in 2017, it was determined that dance, as a medium that gathers together individuals to create temporary communal expressions, offers an especially incisive tool to activate this visionary structure. The choreographer and newly appointed Dean of Dance at CalArts Dimitri Chamblas has been enlisted to create a dance program for the bubble. Daily afternoon dance workshops (at 2pm and 4pm) led by Chamblas and dance professors from CalArts will be offered at each site. Open to everyone, and expected to attract trained and untrained dancers, local students, and amateur dancers from across the city, the workshops utilize dance as a means to create and shape temporary communities that are inclusive of individuals with differing capabilities and backgrounds.
A key feature of the original 1965 “Environment-Bubble” was its “technological totem” — the construction of a small totem pole in the middle of the bubble out made up of domestic appliances (TV screen, stereo speakers, electric cooker, refrigerator unit etc.) – that offered Dallegret a way to cheekily mock the 1960s unconditional trust in technological development, and its believed improvement of life. 50 years later, attitudes toward technology have dramatically changed, shifting to a larger suspicion of technology’s disturbing ability to codify and shape daily lives and direct human activities. Technological infrastructures have progressively been dematerialized in ways that invite a contemporary reading of the original “Environment-Bubble” that also takes into account the widespread digitalization of life, and especially the sweeping presence of social media. The 2017 “Environment-Bubble” will play with this concept and incorporate strategies for infiltrating social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram feeds) to spread knowledge of its existence to larger audiences in the US and abroad.
© 1965 François Dallegret (pour le dessin) © 1965-2017 François Dallegret (pour la Bulle)