Looking Outwards – Ant Farm

by Max Hawkins @ 11:07 pm 15 March 2010

Choosing the topic for my capstone project, I am inspired by the 1970s San Francisco architects and artist collective Ant Farm. Their work, a series of experimental architecture and film pieces produced between 1971 and 1978, is inspired by the space age, nomadism, and radical counterculture. Their 1974 installation Calillac Ranch has become an icon of American culture.

I am particularly interested in Ant Farm’s early work. In 1970 the group produced a set of temporary inflatable buildings designed as communal living spaces and performance centers. Politically charged, the inflatables challenged American consumerism culture by suggesting a radically different and communal way of living. They could be quickly and inexpensively constructed, moved, and augmented, supporting a nomadic way of life.

Ant Farm was also interested in making architecture accessible to non-experts. In early 1971 they released their “Inflatocookbook”, a primer on inflatable construction with practical tips based on their experiences producing inflatables around the country. The group toured art museums and university campuses teaching people how to make inflatables.

For my capstone, I want to continue Ant Farm’s effort to bring architecture to the masses by creating a 3D inflatable blueprint creation tool. My project will use 3D unwrapping algorithms like those available in Blender to flatten computer-based 3D models and prepare them to be inflated. Later editions could perform calculations to determine the type of fans needed or how to tie down the inflatables.

The potential uses for such a tool are nearly unlimited. By lowering the bar for making architecture, the program allows underrepresented groups to create large architectural statements. Inflatables can serve as temporary shelters, canvases for video projection, tools for political dissidents looking to make a dramatic statement, or just a place to hang out. I want the software to be easy enough that ordinary people can use it to experiment with inflatable structures on the weekends—Ant Farm’s dream of architecture for the masses inflating in your back yard.


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