Accepted Paper:

Shared imaginings of a Greater World: forty years of collective architectural design experiments in the New Mexican Desert  
Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The builder-dwellers of a self-build eco-settlement in NM live to Lefebvre’s famous maxim that to change space is to change life. The trials and tribulations of their off-grid experimentations suggest that successful collective designs must remain attentive to both social process and spatial form.

Paper long abstract:

On the New Mexican mesa lie a good number of experiments in ecological off-grid housing. Evolving their architectural designs since the 1970s, builder-dwellers here live to something like Lefebvre's famous maxim that to change space is to change life (1991). A particular self-build settlement - rather grandly called The Greater World - provides a prism through which to consider the interlacing themes of imagination, experimentation, intention and collectivity. It is a rural, green-field example of a revitalizing (Wallace 1956, Love Brown 2002) social movement in eco-architecture that is pursuing Lefebvre's 'radiant dream' of an actualised utopia (Merryfield 2000), but pursuing it without fixed nor predetermined plan (Ingold 1986, 2000). Drawing upon the works of Harvey (2000), Ricouer (1986) and others, careful description reveals that the settlement's homes constitute living experiments, and that they, and the settlement more widely, are forged and maintained through their builders' shared activity and shared imagination. When the sites and occasions for this sharing, or 'spaces of public appearance' (Arendt), no longer exist, the settlement seems to atomise and home-building tends towards the commodified. However, the impact of the changed space on dwellers and wider world, both, is still significant. The Greater World still demonstrates a place where theory and practice meet in design-build activity, where imagination is of this world, and where the openness of possibility is embraced. Design - a process of cyclical 'bettering' (Orr, 2005) - in the Greater World at least, has the potential to be 'revolutionary' in the broadest possible sense (Graeber, 2001).

Panel P050
Anthropologies of collective design experiments