THE DISASTER UTOPIA
This design fiction takes place in Eugene, OR, in the aftermath of an imagined wildfire (modeled on the Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise, CA and sent 20,000 displaced people searching for shelter in the nearby city of Chico) and subsequent flood. The underlying premise of the project is that we should not want to “return to normal” after disaster if the status quo means further inequality and climate devastation. This project posits that informal changes enacted by citizens in the wake of disaster can transform into lasting, formalized changes in the built environment that speak to changing notions of privacy and sharing. The architectural interventions - a flexible community bench and table, a driveway bathhouse and kitchen, and a treehouse guesthouse - represent shifting ideas about community, amenities, and domesticity, respectively.
These interventions correspond to the three sites in Eugene: a park (WJ Urban Plaza) next to a church (Fifth Avenue Church) and beneath an overpass; a typical neighborhood street (W Broadway between Taylor St and Almaden St); and a city park (Sladden Park) near the river. These are real sites used within a fictional narrative, but their true contexts are not significantly altered. Each site hosts underutilized spaces that can be differently used: the space beneath an overpass; the driveway; and the tree canopy.
Eugene has been host to both anarchist ideologies and radical environmental movements, most notably the Earth Liberation Front. In a future in which the state is increasingly unwilling or unable to house individuals whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by climate events, it is easy to imagine how some citizens would turn toward radical action. Documents such as the Earth First! Direct Action Manual empower ordinary, unskilled individuals to build tree platforms, tripods, and other devices that enable them to blockade extractive activities such as old growth logging and coal mining.
This project imagines the intersection of these two worlds: squatting in order to house oneself in the wake of climate devastation, and squatting in order to combat the kinds of extractive activities that have contributed to that devastation.
This project speculates that the knowledge base required for the “crude” building techniques commonly used in direct action already exists within Eugene, and would proliferate under conditions of climate devastation and failure of the state. Self-housing in the trees of leafy Eugene becomes, then, one logical response to housing scarcity.
The project’s primary focus, the disaster utopia, is concerned with change directed by the citizens. Treehouses are merely the flashiest example of this, illustrative of the larger point. Each of the three design interventions follows from a humble, citizen-directed intervention that arises from need. The first intervention is a community table and bench. Its origin is the typical folding table such as those used by churches for events. The second intervention is a community kitchen and bathhouse that fits neatly in a driveway. Its origin is the RV, and fits a similar footprint. The final intervention, the treehouse guesthouse, has its origin in the tree platforms described in the Earth First! Direct Action Manual.
Mari Fujita [CHAIR]