Glenn Small envisions the biomorphic biosphere replacing LA





Lucia Small’s award winning film, My Father The Genius, celebrates the work and life of visionary architect, Glenn Howard Small, who may not be everyone version of a great dad, but he is certainly a phenomenally creative, life positive artist and architect.
 
Among Small’s many, many fascinating precepts, none is more consequential to his work than the thesis that we are animals designed to live in nature and that we are estranged architecturally from our organic existence, particularly in urban settings.
 
Beginning in 1965, he began to envision and design cities not from the perspective of adding to what already existed but, rather, from the  question of what would a city be if it were created in harmony with “the principles that nature sets up.”  Viewing nature as “the ultimate technology" Small says "when you start to apply the principles that govern nature to your design, you are going to end up with [cities] that look like nature.”  First with Detroit and then, more famously, with Los Angeles, Small created a “vertical city,” a “biomorphic biosphere” that grew over the city:
 
The biomorphic biosphere is a gigantic, nearly living ecosystem in which warm air would rise, cool, fall and be collected in reservoirs at the bottom.  It expands, re-claims and restores and, if the population goes into decline, reverses the cycle and starts to consume itself.  A supplemental feature on the DVD of Lucia Small’s film demonstrates the degree to which Glenn elaborated the possibilities for the city.   He describes the biosphere as an “alternative to mediocrity [that] minimizes the taxation on natural resources, reuses, recycles, collects rainwater, grows food, traps pollutants, and uses direct natural energy.”
 
Small came close to realizing a prototype of his biomorphic biosphere in a “green machine,” designed between 1977-1980 as a low income housing project that combined Airstream trailers and nature to form a new human ecology.   Although the National Endowment for the Arts provided Small with a grant to develop the feasibility of the project, the City of Los Angeles was unwilling to put up the $2 million it would have taken to actually build the environment.  The trailers cost approximately $5K each at the time the proposal was made (the current price for used Airstreams is not radically different than this).   At that time, many single resident dwellings were being built in Los Angeles' Bel Air district for the same price tag.  Small’s view is clearly that the City of Los Angeles let him - and its own citizenry - down.   We wonder if Small didn’t get in his own way by becoming a master at insulting virtually everyone, as demonstrated in his daughter’s film.
 
As shown in the film, low income housing remains an issue of great importance to Small.  However, if you’re rich - and if you know how to get along with someone who “needs to have problems" - you can also get an exquisite house from Glen Small.  The house on Mulholland Drive shown to the left is an example.  This home took five years to build and wasn’t complete under Small’s supervision because of a falling out between the architect and his clients.
 
For the last three years, Small has been spending a great deal of time in Nicaragua, where he has found a great deal of reception for his work and maybe even his personality.  Lucia Small’s sequel, Genius II, will document the wide ranging achievements and exploits of her dad in this hotter locale.  Certainly, the commissions which he has completed give us reason to hope that this country will allow him to give his voice full expression.  And, with that, we will all learn more of the spirit that is trying to come into being through Small’s mark on the world.  
 
Art of the Future has a particular interest in the relationship between work and the changing character of the workplace,  i.e.,  its physicality, its relationship to technologies, and the policies that support people in their productive and creative endeavors.    We love looking at Small’s monumental structures, and we want to know more about his view of the role that megaarchitecture should play in humanity’s economic endeavors; how nature, home, work and play can be remixed and reconcieved in new, soul-satisfying ways.
 



Back to



Back to