1970s Concepts
Helix Mega City - 1978
Helix Mega City - 2012
Exploring Alternatives
Most of my conceptual work in architecture during the 1970s was focused on alternative solutions: mega-structures, collaborative living environments, habitats designed to generate their own heat, energy and food.
These interests have never left me and, now, after two decades of mostly building Management Centers and NavCenters for large organizations, it is time to return to these interests. The necessary tools and technolgy now exist - at last - for making these kinds of projects feasible and wide spread. There are strong social, ecological and economic arguments that can be made on their behalf.
The central theme behind all of these works is that human habitats do not have to be in conflict with “nature” and that it is possible to house all of humankind in conformable, self-sustaining, affordable environments. It has been, and is, mostly a matter of design - not intrinsically the nature or limits of technology and economics. The present condition is, however, strongly driven by “UpSideDown Economics” and the various attitudes and habits associated with this paradigm. The entire arena of development has to be rethought.
People are drawn to the sea. Yet, over use is destructive to this changing habitat. Can we make a balance? We must and do not have to give anything up but bad design.
Beach MegaCity - 1973 - is one of several “city in a building” projects that safely provide a dense urban environment in open and ecologically sensitive areas. I found the economics and land-use aspects of these designs compelling - and still do. With modern materials engineering and energy/waste recycling technologies, these design can provide density and open space, a high standard of living and minimal ecological impact. Imagine a work with the mechanics of a ship, the structure of an airplane and the space of a covered stadium standing in “isolation” in a natural wilderness. Imaging this structure providing more personal cubic space per individual than any common “flat-land” dwelling/working type does today. Imagine the ability to access thousands of people and hundreds of facilities in a matter of minutes. Imagine being a few footsteps away from a pristine natural habitat that was maintained as such. Imagine this at a total cost far less than the system-in-place imposes today. The issue, of course, will be to minimize the access to the beach and dune areas so that damage is always less than the restorative powers of the natural landscape. Many will not like this; but think of the alternatives. There will be three defined ones: the human, the interface areas and the natural to be left totally untouched. By doing this, and designing both development and access accordingly, far greater use than is “enjoyed” today can be accomplished with far greater sustainability.
This layout makes full use of “ribbon streets” (each a zone) and NODE organization (each a hub of several zones crossing, creating an urban “hot spot” and connecting vertically to others.

Organic City - 1975 - is a schema designed to integrate two opposing zoning principles: single use and mixed use. These two approaches each have some value. Actually, I am for mixed use with pockets of single use. A mega structure is an ideal Armature for innovation in both zoning and travel. A new world of access and density opens up while still accomplishing oneness and non crowding. “Ribbons of single zoned areas “wander” their way through the mega structure crossing at “mixed use” intersections (Nodes). These intersections are also vertical access lifts. Each vertical lift goes to succeeding mixed use areas of different character. On the horizontal plane, the various ribbons form both transportation corridors and extended neighborhoods. An infinate number of layouts can be accomplished with this approach. The greatest value of a mega structure can be realized: density with open space

Depending on scale and size, every mega structure shown on this document can employ this schema to some extent with good results.
Individual wealth and lifestyle are in consort with commonwealth and community in a nearly self-contained environment that acts a an interface between humans and their environment.

DomicileOne - 1975 - is an urban environment for several families. I first worked the concept in 1967. The economics are such that families can easily double their standard of living while halving their living costs - and at the same time - rebuild community an an integral part of their life. Unitizing the “wick effect” with it's double shell construction and heat sink, this building will never freeze and can be heated and cooled by largely passive means supplemented by fuel cells. Here, economy, ecology and freedom of lifestyle meet in harmony.


My Bay Area Studio design is much like the interior areas of this project without the dome shell.

The basic forms of our urban layouts and building structures impose huge “hidden” economic and ecological costs. We create intrinsically costly, inconvenient, unhealthy and dangerous architecture and then re-spend the money in futile attempts to overcome the deficiencies we built in. The problems associated with transportation demand and use are tightly connected to this process of sub-optimization. We do not see building as EARTHSHIPS and we do not see vehicles as environments that move.
Our work spaces, homes and city infrastructures are not designed based on an intrinsically solid financial foundation. Financial analysis is performed on the pieces without knowing that the system is wasting huge amounts of present capital and future value.
Structure wins.
This is the one that got away. A decade of explorations rolled up into one project and then lost.
Steinmeyer Residence - 1976 - was a commission that nearly got built. It was my first design for a totally self-contained environment. It the end, it proved too much for the client. Emery Lovins executed his house at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colorado, in the early 80s. His project demonstrated the feasibility of this approach in a far harsher climate than Kansas City where the Steinmeyer project would have been realized.
Everything in its season.
I have been developing this configuration since the late 60s. It showed up in several sketches in the 70s - Laura Powers developed this version for a Master design class in 1979.
EcoSphere - 1978/79 - is a single-family dwelling - on the order of a summer cottage - that can be moved in 100 pieces and set up almost anywhere. The large greenhouse is for energy production and food. The pedestal houses storage and waste cycling and energy generation equipment. A large and varied living environment is accomplished on a small footprint and temporary wood foundations. EcoSphere is designed to be erected (and taken down) in a day or two with little disturbance to the surrounding environment. This configuration is one of several uses that I explored with the geodesic dome.
The geodesic Dome, invented my Bucky Fuller, has not been fully utilized in the way that he envisioned. There are several challenges that are intrinsic to the domes basic shape that give it great potential and significant potential liabilities. Few built examples can be found - on the scale of a single-family dwelling - that deal successfully with both these design challenges. Like many new technologies, architecture is yet to find the pattern-language appropriate to them.
Almost unlimited diversity accomplished with a simple geometric schema that lends itself to easy prefabrication to support all the functions of living.
combining the geodesic dome with the helix configuration, in this 2012 study, creates a half mile high city. Shown here is just the Armature structure. This structure will be filled and covered with “building” pathways and landscaping.
Helix Mega City - 1978 - is organized on the three dimensional interweaving zones schema of Organic City, (see above). The layout of the helix city is a golden mean rectangle connected to a hexagon which is connected to a pentagon shape (at both ends of the rectangle). Each level of this basic platform is offset about 7 degrees. The entire form spirals upward in a helix like pattern. Using “left-hand” and “right-hand, a “double helix can be created. The resulting shape provides a strong structure and a variety of exposures useful for a wide number of uses.
The Instead addition was connected to the existing mountain cabin by a greenhouse designed to enclose edible plants, a heat-sink and hot tub.
Instead - 1980 - was a project that Gail and I started, in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado, in 1980. It employed many of the ideas that I had been working on throughout the decade (and, specifically, EcoSphere): double-shell/wick-effect natural cooling and heating, integrated greenhouse, wood foundations and prefabricated components. Unfortunately, this project was never finished as intended. Double digit inflation killed the take-out mortgage at the same time that we were self-financing the startup of MG Taylor. When Acacia acquired our business and moved us to Washington DC, they bought the house and sold it, unfinished. The good news is that a very nice couple, taking advantage of the low price, bought the property and finished the project. This has resulted in a great deal of compromise of the original intent as they were not given my name and could not find out what was the intent - apparently, they were not even given the drawings. However, they finished it off “mountain-style” and, while lacking technical acumen, made a very nice home of it.
Concluding Comments
The false “either/or” dichotomy of human habitat versus natural habitat, urban density as apposed to open spaces, easy access to people and resources versus non-crowding, convenience and urban action versus simplicity and economy - disappear when all of these values are embraced as a legitimate aspect of one design process.
All of these environments explored in this period, by the nature of their configuration, require new approaches to their layouts, definition and use of space. For one, designers have to think 3 dimensionally - not flat. Many of the qualities that we have accomplished in Management Centers, over the last 20 years, demonstrate these spatial opportunities. The MegaCity, however, can accomplish these Pattern-Language principles - particularly in the vertical dimension - in an unprecedented way and at an unprecedented scale.
Architect Paolo Soleri has pioneered many of these ideas and started the development of a new city-form with his Arcosanti project in Arizona.
Generally, there has been great resistance to MegaCity concepts. When one looks at the typical large building and urban setting, and how there works are executed, it is easy to see why. We have to remember, however, that we are building MegaCities now - we are just doing it poorly. We are making vast “peanut-butter-spread” cities with no center, no rhyme or reason. The MegaCity premise has been granted by default - not by design. In addition, the growing infrastructure that is tying our urban centers together and the production of suburban sprawl means that that, shortly, the entire earth will be a human artifact. An artifact by accident.
We can do better. These 1970s concepts explore some design patterns that have promise for today and for the future. This was the architecture I explored as I was rethinking my entire concept of the future and our human role in it [link: a future by...]. It was with these projects that the social aspects of architecure came into my thinking. 30 years later, Gaia waits, we are still without a concept of Planetary Architecture [link: planetary architecture] and there is no Master Planning process in place [link: master planning process].

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
February 21, 1999


SolutionBox voice of this document:

click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted: February 21, 1999

revised: December 9, 2002
• 20000521.231478.mt • 20010402.498763.mt •
• 20010403.377692.mt
• 20021209.229887.mt •
• 201200128.3418762.mt •

(note: this document is about 65% finished)

©Copyright Matt Taylor 1973, 1975, 1996, 1978, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2012


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