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Earth to Collectors: New Sci-Fi Space Art Coming ‘Atcha

Cylinder Endcap AC75-1883 1920, a 20x200 Space Edition
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240) | 24"x30" ($800) 

We're launching into 2017 with a new Space Edition! To intro this striking sci-fi fantasy we reached out to someone with expertise in atypical (even outright futuristic) urban design: writer and teacher Fred Scharmen. His design research firm, the Working Group on Adaptive Systems, explores the utopian and speculative projects at the fringes of traditional architectural practice—from pillow forts to space colonies like the one envisioned in today's edition.

After the end of the Apollo program’s moonshots, NASA was in search of new, ambitious plans for a human future in space. NASA’s 1975 summer study brought space scientists, physicists, engineers, and urban planners together to design this future at the Ames Research center in Mountain View, CA—an area that was, even then, known as part of “Silicon Valley”. The plans that came out of this conference proposed the construction of miles-long cylinders, spheres, and toruses (think: donuts). Floating in orbit and spun for gravity, these would have flexible open landscapes inside ready for building on. As we’ve seen before in 20x200’s Space Editions series, a masterplan—especially one set in space—is nothing without renderings. NASA’s physicists and engineers worked with architects and artists experienced in advertising, science illustration and science fiction book cover painting to render these schemes for the public.

Don Davis’ Cylinder Endcap AC75-1883 1920 is one of about 13 paintings made to illustrate what life might be like in NASA’s space settlement design project. Unlike the paintings of toroidal space colonies 20x200 has previously editioned, today’s release shows a large cylinder, with a landscape modeled on the view from Sausalito. The dizzying perspective and scale of this concave landscape, curving upward and around the viewer, was informed by Davis’ previous work creating geographically accurate views of other planets for NASA, and rendering giant fictional objects in space. In Davis’ image here, the viewpoint is in the pastoral countryside, with something like a small prefabricated dome-house on a hill by the stream. We are looking down into a city and a bay; beyond them, a vast window gives us a glimpse into a neighboring city in another cylinder spinning nearby.

When Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand published this painting in his journal CoEvolution Quarterly, reaction from the counterculture was divided. "It has inspired more belief and roused more ire than any other artifact associated with Space Colonies so far,” Brand later wrote. “Either way, it makes people jump.” Brand’s audience was skeptical about the feasibility of Davis and Guidice’s renderings. Would large constructions in space really feel like this, with bustling cities and quiet cottages? Or would they look like, as Davis feared, a “dreary mega-shopping mall”? The two artists—with their depictions of density, landscape, hippy country living, and high tech urban sophistication—must have been aware of the complexities they had to resolve with these renderings. Along with publication in several books, this proposal was presented before Congress in 1975. NASA’s hopes for funding were disappointed and their ambitions have scaled back, but private companies interested in space settlement are now picking up these visions left behind, and other Silicon Valley technologists are now creating artificial worlds of a very different sort. The concepts and contradictions built into the design and artwork from this project still inform the actual and virtual architecture and urbanism of the Bay Area’s culture in the 21st century.

With art for everyone,
Fred Scharmen