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Hippie Modernism, a Look at '60s Radical Design That Impacted Today's World

It might be easy to view an exhibit on the design and architecture of the '60s and early '70s through a purely historical lens. But while the forthcoming show Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, opening at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis this weekend, fully embraces the flower power ethos of the era—the different sections are titled Turning On, Tuning In and Dropping Out—it also makes sure to showcase just how influential this outpouring of counterculture ideas was in challenging established ideals, as well as shaping trends and technology today. "Many of the main issues of the '60s are still the main issues today," says Andrew Blauvelt, a senior curator at the Walker who assembled this exhibition. "They're all connected, and you can see the through lines to the present. There are seeds of ideas, and we don't know how they'll grow, since the soil is so different now." Curbed spoke with Blauvelt about the design and architecture on display, and how the far-out ideas of the '60s have made an impact on today's world.

Don't Be a Square
During the period covered in exhibition, many young architects, unhappy with the status quo began and impatient to begin working, started experimenting with new materials and techniques. Many looked towards creating inflatable, temporary structures, due not only to the rounded, more organic and informal shapes, but because these all-encompassing spaces referenced nomads and nomadic culture (a concept familiar to those living in a society obsessed with mobile technology). "Back then there was a notion that there would be a mobile society," he says. The spaces within spaces concept also partially influenced the idea of loft living, according to Blauvelt, especially the Living Structures concept of Ken Issacs, framed, often DIY structures, that Blauvelt says anticipated some aspects of loft living. The idea of furniture that conformed to the body, instead of the other way around, was also popularized during this time (think bean bag chairs). "There was a lot of cocooning, nesting, and spaces within spaces," says Blauvelt.

Communes Weren't Anything New
While Blauvelt notes that contemporary concepts of communal living and even the sharing economy can find their roots in the '60s, the roots of these ideas go back much further. Many of the counterculture idealists found inspiration in the planned and utopian communities of the 19th centuries. "Ideas of sharing economies, things like that, to me they all come out of the '60s," says Blauvelt. "They're a little different and seen through the prism of today, but all the roots can be found there."

Climate Awareness in Construction Came of Age
"The idea of the sustainable house is an interesting one," says Blauvelt. "Architects such as Sim Van der Ryn at Berkeley were working on that very issue; he created something called the Integral Urban House that dealt with sustainability issues (the home integrated waste management, food production and other systems). The things we talk about now that are more mainstream, like having a rain garden, that was all part of the recipe back then. None of it is new."

Investigating Immersive, Wearable Technology
Haus-Rucker-Co, an experimental architecture and design collective, dabbled in headset design, creating plexiglass helmets with numerous colored filters or audio systems that provided different views of the world (called the Mind Expander series). Along with a series of immersive and interactive exhibits around museums, the group did "radical and visionary work," utilizing wearable technology in a way that today's users of iPod or Oculus Rift could identify with. "There's been a lot of work done documenting the connections between technology and the counterculture – the whole notion of personal computing came out of the counterculture. You had a lot of young hippie programmers working with these systems and dreaming of the emancipation of computing," he says.

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia opens at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on October 24

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