How will we move? Alternative visions of mobility between sustainability and the Hippy dream

From inflatables to nomadic design, alternative mobility solutions from the Domus archives

Between the ‘60s and the ‘70s, the evolution of the Beat (counter)culture into the Hippy phenomenon paved the way for the establishment of themes such us inclusivity, sustainability and nomadism within pop culture. By becoming part of the public discourse, these themes consequently stimulated the artistic one too. These forward-thinking topics have now returned, stronger than ever, as part of dominant culture, as witnessed by the recent success of Fridays for Future and the Oscar-winning film Nomadland

The outcome is a series of projects that despite their half a century of age still offer relevant visions into new forms of mobility. As part of the Domusforum 2021 – which is taking place in Milan on November 24th – we explore the Domus archives in the attempt to answer seven crucial questions on the future of global communities. 

The notes on the Aspen International Design Festival by Gae Aulenti on the pages of Domus. Photo: Domus 527,  October 1973.
The notes on the Aspen International Design Festival by Gae Aulenti on the pages of Domus. Photo: Domus 527, October 1973.

As Gae Aulenti noted in a reportage from the 1973 Aspen International Design Convention published on Domus 527, in the collaborative practices between the architects and the students “the models are the mobility of the American Hippies, the settlements of the Indian religious communities”. 

Aulenti’s observation found evidence in a series of projects that, from the United States up to the Tuscany countryside, combined such themes with the interest the design of those times nurtured for modularity.     

The pioneers' wagon as projectual inspiration

 “With the exception of those nomadic tribes which still travel in search of water, the Americans have been described as the most footloose people in the world. The spirit which brought them to the States in the first place, and drove them farther rand farther west with all their possessions loaded on a Conestoga wagon, is still with them”, one can read on Domus 470.

The canestoga wagon was the inspiration for many mobile houses. Photo: Domus 470, January 1969.
The canestoga wagon was the inspiration for many mobile houses, like Jay Vredevoogd's. Photo: Domus 470, January 1969.

It was, in fact, Helmut Schulitz to point out, just a few issues later, on Domus 476 the relevance of reproposing a system of "mobile connected units" on the style of the pioneers' wagons. 

The 1976 “self-packed house” by Wilfried Lubitz (Domus 467) and, mostly, the Mobile Houses conceived in 1969 by Jay Vredevoogd (Domus 470) are solid examples of this approach to mobility. They are made up of sections “designed on a telescopic principle where one unit fits inside another, so that an eight-sectioned 64 feet home can be reduced to 34 for travelling”. As a result of this “the owner can change the number of spaces he has, and their relationships to each other, the system is truly flexible”. A pneumatic system inside the furniture, then, activates so as to keep the items contained in place during the journey.

The Amplia project by Gino Gamberini, a modular mobile house whose surface could be extended and used for both living and working purposes. Photo: Domus 573, August 1977.
The Amplia project by Gino Gamberini, a modular mobile house whose surface could be extended and used for both living and working purposes. Photo: Domus 573, August 1977.

Such nomadism is brought on a collective, and even working, dimension by Gino Gamberini with his Amplia, produced by Residens Bologna in 1977. As noted on Domus 573, it “was designed as a holiday housing unit for one family; it can be equipped as a first-aid station, as a cafeteria or store, several houses can be grouped together to form entire villages or workers’ houses on large construction sites,” thanks to an inhabitable surface that can be expanded by “capsizing a section of one of the walls which becomes the floor to a space measuring approximately 12 squared metres”.

The "autonomous vehicle homes" by Alan Boutwell on the pages of Domus. Photo: Domus 484, March 1970.
The "autonomous vehicle homes" by Alan Boutwell on the pages of Domus. Photo: Domus 484, March 1970.

Alan Boutwell from the Alan Boutwell and Michael Mitchell studio based in Dusseldorf goes further by conceiving an active participation of the municipalities in support of nomadic mobility, “to meet the needs of floating populations that will be an accepted part of city life in the future”.

Boutwell imagines multi-storey structures providing support facilities”, so that the “vehicle home would be hosted in the space allotted”. These homes consist of a “power-operated chassis supporting a fixed ABS container which is divided into […] various containers holding air-supported furniture and air-supported cellular skin […] sealed to one end of the container with a zip-fastener device”. 

The versatility of pneumatics also defines the mobile house by Jean Louis Lotiron and Pernette Martin-Perrand (Domus 467): a dome inflating over a hexagonal floor that can be downsized by five times when transported. The Frenchmen’s house stands as a nearly situationist concept, on the style of Quasar Khanh's furniture, that offers an exciting crossover with pneumatic art. 

The futuristic use of pneumatics in the inflatable house projected by Lotiron e Martin-Perrand. Photo: Domus  467, October 1969.
The futuristic use of pneumatics in the inflatable house projected by Lotiron e Martin-Perrand. Photo: Domus 467, October 1969.

New frontiers of mobility

Instead, a project shortlisted for a contest supported by the Ministry for Public Works and presented on Domus 527 takes a step back from the city by promoting “disurbanism as an instrument to fight for the destruction of the urban fetish”. The project, still highly relevant today, focuses on the revaluation of the rural areas of the Tuscany countryside by connecting them via an eight-shaped subway line installed over the dismissed tracks of the Mugello and Chianti railway system. 

“The scope of this new infrastructure consists in not convoying local populations towards an urban hub, but on the contrary, by cutting down the times of mobility, it is supposed to enable indifference in regards to the location of residences, of leisure centres, and commercial ones...”, writes the project leader Gilberto Campani. The concept is then completed by the proposal of equipping such rural areas with modular “unité d’habitation” in the style of Le Corbusier’s. 

The proposal for the revaluation of the Tuscany countryside through a project of "disurbanism" using a subway system on dismissed railway tracks. Photo: Domus 527, October 1973.
The proposal for the revaluation of the Tuscany countryside through a project of "disurbanism" using a subway system on dismissed railway tracks. Photo: Domus 527, October 1973.

In the uncertainty of post-pandemic life, where work is increasingly remote and the rent bubble hasn't deflated as hoped at first, these concepts therefore still stand as not-so-utopian stimuli for a sustainable mobility. 

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