Yesterday's Tomorrows Today

January 12, 2009


A maglev train line designed by architect Craig Hodgetts for an unmade movie version of Ecotopia.

Things are so slow right now that I actually read a promotional email from The Architects Newspaper before deleting it. And I’m glad I did. The email provided a link to a blog post by Ken Saylor of the drawings done by LA-based architect Craig Hodgetts, of Hodgetts and Fung, for a never -made movie of Ernest Callenbach’s utopian fantasy novel, Ecotopia.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story heralding the rediscovery of the novel Ecotopia. The book was originally published in 1975 and was set in 1999, after the Pacific Northwest and Northern California have seceded from the US and become an enormous green commune. Free bicycles for everyone.

I read the book not long after it was published, when I was attending a hippie college in Olympia, Washington, deep in the heart of Ecotopia. As you might imagine, the book was a sensation on campus and Callenbach himself came to speak. I interviewed him for the college newspaper. I’m sure I still have the article I wrote in a box somewhere.

In Ecotopia, the story is told from the point of view of a middle-aged newspaper man who visits and is quickly seduced by the breakaway nation’s lifestyle, and also by the young, free-spirited woman who acts as his guide. At the time — I was maybe 18 — I regarded the romance as the novel’s most far-fetched plot point.

Me, I’m seduced by the Hodgetts drawings that Saylor unearthed because they don’t look like the usual visionary schemes conjured up by architects. They’re whimsical and humane, rather than maniacally technological. They remind me that Hodgetts and Fung have long had an inventive approach to architecture, one that’s all their own. I remember an exhibition space they dreamed up for an German power company back in the 1990s; it involved a solar pipe organ, something that was well ahead of its time. (If the Hodgetts and Fung website were working properly, I’d happily link to the project.) I’d like it if the Hodgetts and Fung brand of visionary thinking found its way into the era of change that’s scheduled to begin next week.