California Dreamin'

By Kjetil Fallan.

BaSF headquarters has temporarily moved to the University of California, Davis, where PI Kjetil Fallan is spending the academic year 2018-2019 as visiting professor and Fulbright fellow in the Department of Design (fig. 1) set in a beautiful campus lined by majestic cork oaks.

Cruess Hall, the home of the Department of Design at UC Davis

California and its neighbouring states in the West constituted the heartland of the American counter-culture movement, especially as it relates to ecological design. From the urban takeovers centred around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district (fig. 2) to the off-the-grid/DIY communes such as Drop City; from the insurgent activism of Berkeley’s People’s Park (fig. 3) to the bourgeoise eco-architecture of Sea Ranch (the subject of an exhibition at SFMOMA opening in December 2018); from bottom-up initiatives such as the Ecology Action Recycling Center to the fight against institutional power at the 1970 Aspen conference ‘Environment by Design’, American counterculture played a significant role in the emergence of ecological design. In many ways, the University of California was its very hub. One example of this is the pioneering Design 12 course, arguably the first sustained effort to provide environmental education to design students. Established at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design in 1965, the course subsequently moved to UC Davis, and was also taught at other UC campuses.

The intersection of Haight and Ashbury in San Fransisco, widely considered the epicentre of the hippe movement

The bonds between Scandinavian design students and professionals and major proponents of American counterculture and design activism were many and important. Countercultural hero and sustainable design visionary par excellence, Richard Buckminster Fuller, visited and lectured to packed theatres, inspiring young Scandinavian designers to use their expertise to the stewardship and maintenance of ‘Spaceship Earth’. Victor Papanek’s landmark 1971 book Design for the Real World was largely conceived and written in Scandinavia, where he was guest lecturing at design schools in Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen, before he went on to head the school of design at the California Institute of the

People's Park in Berkeley today

Arts (CalArts). For the very first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972, where Scandinavian designers lobbied inside and design students protested outside, Stuart Brand—the incarnation of American counter-culture and editor of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog—and the crew he brought along set up camp, turning the Swedish capital into - in the words of Felicity Scott - ‘Woodstockholm’. The Whole Earth Catalog was also a major source of inspiration for the landmark exhibition ARARAT (Alternative Research in Architecture, Resources, Art and Technology) at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet in 1976, whose curators prepared by means of a study trip to the US. These few examples demonstrate how central the ties to American counter-culture and design activism were at this pivotal moment in the history of Scandinavian design when focus shifted rapidly from almost fetishizing attention to beautifully crafted objects to a mounting concern for social and environmental sustainability.

Baggin's End student housing at UC Davis

Here at UC Davis hippie modernism never died. Half a mile from the Department of Design is Baggins End, an experimental co-op student housing project from 1972 (fig. 4). The moulded fibreglass domes were designed by Ron Swenson and constructed by student volunteers. It still operates on the original principles, with open potluck dinners four days a week and communal vegetable gardens. Another legacy with significant impact on everyday life in the city is its standing as the bicycle capital of the US following student intervention in local politics in the 1960s (and documented by legendary photographer Ansel Adams (fig. 5)) as well as a remarkably well-functioning public transport service still run by students.

Campus bicycle culture at UC Davis in the 1960s. Photo by Ansel Adams. Copyright: The Regents of the University of California