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Ant Farm

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One of Ant Farm's inflatable structures

Ant Farm was established within the counter-cultural milieu of 1968 San Francisco by two architects, Chip Lord and Doug Michels, later joined by Curtis Schreier. Their work dealt with the intersection of architecture, design and media art, critiquing the North American culture of mass media and consumerism. Ant Farm produced works in a number of formats, including agitprop events, manifestos, videos, performances and installations.

Their early work was a reaction to the heaviness and fixity of the Brutalist movement in contrast to which they proposed an inflatable architecture that was cheap, easy to transport and quick to assemble. This type of architecture fitted well with their rhetoric of nomadic, communal lifestyles in opposition to what they saw as the rampant consumerism of 1970s USA. The inflatables questioned the standard tenets of building: these were structures with no fixed form and could not be described in the usual architectural representations of plan and section. They instead promoted a type of architecture that moved away from a reliance on expert knowledge. Ant Farm produced a manual for making your own pneumatic structures, the Inflatocookbook. The inflatables thus constituted a type of participatory architecture that allowed the users to take control of their environment. Events were also organised inside the inflatables, which were set up at festivals, university campuses or conferences to host lectures, workshops, seminars, or simply as a place to hang out.

Other projects include the 'House of the Century' whose form was reminiscent of the inflatables but made from ferrocement, the video 'Media Burn' where they drove an adapted Cadillac into a wall of televisions in front of an audience hand-picked from the media. They also produced a number of utopian projects such as Convention City and Freedom Land. Finally, perhaps their most famous work 'Cadillac Ranch', consists of ten Cadillacs in a row half-buried in the ground with their tail-fins in the air. It is both a tribute to the American car culture as well as a critique of it.

Ant Farm were heavily influenced by the likes of Buckminster Fuller and Archigram and whilst creating an architecture that was utopian, their projects were also always ironic and tongue-in-cheek. Their work revealed the relationships between environmental degradation and mass industry, questioned the role of mass media and consumerism and demonstrated the use of advanced technologies with playful projects like the Dolphin Embassy. They left behind a body of research that was developed outside the privileged institutional context of universities and is still relevant today in debates around sustainable architecture, building technologies as well as public art and architecture.

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archibald, December 4th, 2013
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