: Instant City, Ibiza. Toal’ o Muiré. Architectural Design #12, 1971.
Instant city happened in Ibiza from mid-September to mid-October 1971. It happened in Cala San Miguel on the north of the island, 50 metres from the sea in an isolated valley where there was nothing but two monster hotels high above the valley, three beach bars, perhaps fifty local inhabitants, twenty to a hundred InstantCitizens, plenty of 0.3 flame-resistant PVC, fifteen staple guns, two million staples, three pairs of scissors, some picks and shovels, twenty compressor fans and some workmen building toilets.
The project was initiated by some Barcelona students of architecture, who, hearing that ICSID wished to attract students to their congress in the two hotels in San Miguel, approached ADI/FAD the Spanish design organisation hosting the congress. They were given 200,000 pesetas [180€] by ADI/FAD to provide services and accommodation for the 500-1000 people expected for the City. The “Ad Hoh Committee for the Instant City” persuaded a Madrid architect José Miguel de Prada Poole, an inflatable specialist, to work on the design for the city. Free plastic, fans and staples were negotiated (“to show that PVC can be a noble material”) and detailed organisation began.
The underlying ideas of the project were:
>Choice: The city was zoned as follows:
Not Instant City: -People who stayed outside any groups or community system.
Instant City proper:
(a)Disconnected zone: -people whose desire for contact with others was minimal and where choices of location on would de reduced for later arrivals.
(b)Organised zone: -camping type area where higher density and less disparity between good and bad sites would generate greater equilibrium and some elements of community.
(c)Coherent zone: -the Pneumatic City where organisation was greater again, contact between people closer, the physical object and spatial location a result of and part of this contact (rather than the cause) and individual activity a part of “city activity. The use of an open system of single skin inflatables forming a unified pressurised volume meant that the interdependence was physical, as well as social. If the coherence between individual units was great enough, links could be established between them if they were on adjoining corridor. A “grammar” of forms for these units was prepared, to simplify decision-making and construction. There were units for two, four and six people.
(d)Meeting zone: -for collective activities of every kind- “an area of unmaterialised space in which by common consent (expressed or not) common actions develop, from the sea and beach to the existing land between the settlement, the public services and the pneumatic city”.
>Neither freedom nor community was to be imposed on the individual. The amount of liberty or interdependence accepted by the individual would determine the social and physical configuration of the city. The environment was to be person-centred rather than object- or community-centred.
>Experiment –there was no preconception as how people would respond to the situation, nor how pre-structuring and individual initiative would combine to produce a result.
By 16 September there were 15-20 people in San Miguel repairing and preparing for the erection “Pepito”, a prototype inflatable previously erected in the factory of the Spanish firm gave the plastic. This group of people lived in commune in a deserted house –all food being bought and prepared together, everyone participating in the music and other communal activity.
This inflatable (16m. x 9m. x 7m. high) was erected about the 22nd and the City moved onto the site. Work was in progress on the toilet and cooking facilities: food was brought daily to the City by some of the Citizens and sold at cost. There were immediate problems: the joints in “Pepito” which had been made with adhesive tape rather than stapled began to come apart: Pepito died three days later. Secondly, not everyone liked the lack of privacy or the mutual interference of activities in the single enclosure. Thirdly, it rained. As a result, some ad hoc tents were constructed around the edge of the city site; some people moved back to the deserted house, others sleeping outdoors if weather permitted.
A week later, the large inflatable (30m. x 9m. x 7m. high), meeting place of the Pneumatic City was completed, and most of the people then present (about 40) move into it pending completion of the main corridor which would permit erection of the individual units of the Pneumatic City.
This was delayed by three days of thunder and rain during which plastic, beach and site got waterlogged. (The opening phrase of the “Instant City Manifesto” was “The world is ready for a metamorphosis of the gods”. They did not apparently want to be metamorphosed…) During the bad weather music and theatre thrived.
The corridor was finished on the 8th of October and the individual units were erected rapidly. The “grammar of forms” for these units (above whose apparent restrictiveness some people had complained) was used very flexibly: many of the cylindrical units were made larger than had been designed, no 2-person units were built, L-shaped unit also appeared and spherical units developed long passageways between them and the corridors. Less than half the units were standard, but almost all the units used the grammar of the “grammar of form”. Some inflatables were built in the “organised zone” but few of them worked very well. In retrospect ti is amazing how the physical form of the pneumatic zone was a response to, and a part of, the social conditions.
The meeting zone became the local bars, the beach, the main road, bulletin boards etc., and apart from specialised activities such as films, some theatre, music, videotape and meeting, the mail inflatable was not of primary importance as a meeting place, even for the Pneumatic City. Its use a place to sleep also compromised its usefulness and reduced the incentive to people to go there.
About 11th October, throngs of people began to arrive in the Instant City for the congress –about 200 arrived in three days, twice as many as were in the place already. Tents were erected all over the site: things began to be stolen –food from the “economato”, cassette recorders, cameras, mattresses. A few of the people arriving complained of lack of facilities (New arrival: “Who’s in charge here? I mean who’s responsible?” Citizen: “You are responsible”. N.A.: ”Look, I was told someone was organising this a a place to sleep.” Citizen: “No, It’s a place to live”.) The passive weight of non-participating numbers destroyed the City for the duration of the Congress. The final blow came on the opening night of the Congress. While many people didn’t care much whether the Congress happened al all some were keen that the inaugural fiesta be held in the city. Some two hundred delegates descended from the hotels to it, as did the food and drink. There were plastic cloaks and masks of various colours, balloons, five torches and an orchestra. Wine (cheap and potent) was served in vast quantities before the meal. Some of the lights failed. A sub-Bacchanal ensued. Most of the younger people left, either up the hill to watch, or else to the beach.
A fairly dispirited City gathered on the beach next morning to protest about the mess left by these revels. (“Let’s invade the hotels and get the people who made the mess to clean up.”) The fact that many people staying in Instant City had participated made things difficult. In any case a group of twenty or some people cleaned up during this meeting.
While the “commune” existed in the old house, meetings occurred, (rather than were called) quite frequently because of the large number of things to be done by small group of people. Then in the City they were called, sometimes daily, to explain and coordinate work and to discuss priorities. But they often seemed to arise out of the inability or unwillingness of people to accept self-responsibility or to take individual or group (rather than community) initiative; or many people’s commitment to democracy as a ready solution to practical problems (keeping the place clean, delays in the building of toilets etc.) On this level, meeting worked badly. However, if someone just started to do something about such problems on his own, he would be joined fairly quickly by others. Meeting were also the only place where languages differences were a problem, everything having to be said in both English and Spanish.
“Is there an ideology in the house?”
One of the more interesting meetings occurred on the afternoon of the 14th October, the first day of the Congress when the board of ICSID met the inhabitants of the City to see if they could help solve any of the basic problems of shortage or lack of facilities. Two papers had been prepared for the meeting. One was a short factual history of the City, the other, a longer, ideological “point de depart” for the City, an untranslatable (indeed, untranslated) discourse in Spanish philosophical jargon which attempted to provide a definition of liberty. Before the meeting began this second document was already being hotly discussed on the beach. Reactions were very emotional. The predominant one was that since the City was based on everyone having his own trip, a joint ideology was improbable, (a doubtful argument, since the paper was about the structuring of such an environment): besides, most people felt that the only way to understand anything about Instant City was to experience it from inception; and anyway even the majority of the Spanish-speaking Citizens found the document heavy going.
The ICSID board arrived about 5p.m. while discussion was still rambling on. They were in a brisk problem-solving mood, due no doubt to their efforts earlier in the afternoon to clear up the disorganisation of the Congress itself. They had proposals to organise showers in the hotel, plus free entry to the Congress etc. for the Citizens.
Many people felt that these were the most immediate things to be done. To their surprise, some of the initiators of Instant City were not in agreement. They wished to avoid any hint of the City “becoming part of the Congress” (words of John Reid, ICSID President). Firstly, this would kill their struggle, sice inception, to eliminate any form or technocratic paternalism by getting individual citizen. Thirdly, most of then felt that the idea of Instant City, and that of an international congress made up virtually exclusively of industrial designers, were in conflict with each other: the industrial designers almost by definition being one who works in situation where conditions between them are dictated by condition of production. It the idea of Instant City were to be a design philosophy (trite phrase) it would be that by giving the user control of his liberty and access to means of design and production, the environment would be a result of his needs and aspirations and of his means. Unless there were to be discussions on the ideology, structuring or mechanics of this and changing the context of industrial design, the ICSID Congress would come rather low on a list of “things worth doing”.
The ICSID board were understandable perhaps surprised at this reaction to their effort to help the City, and reiterated their offer of showers and free access to the Congress for those who wanted it.
After the Congress.
After the Congress, things returned to something more like what they had been in the City, although as people started leaving it, the City dissolved with them, ah the “Instant City Manifesto” had promised.
The Instant City cannot be judged as success or failure, since as a person-centred environment it was what one made for it. It is perhaps similarly absurd to attempt to write this objective account of it since it was designed for subjective experience. The City was the people one knew and the things one did with them or without them. The pneumatic city and “meeting zone” did support communities many of which coalesced due to collective work on the pneumatic city. One can only speculate about what might have happened if enough people had arrived earlier and the large inflatable and corridor had been completed before the majority of people arrived. Would individual initiative and choice or common interest and activity have created such coherent communities? As it was, some of the citizens felt that these other activities had an atmosphere of “time off building” rather than a positive air of “getting it together”.
The project was most interesting in to attempt to create a social structure which maximises choice and reduces social contact/interference to the level acceptable to the individual, and in the flexibility which allowed people to act contrary to more basic ideas of the Instant City if they wished. The fact it lasted four o five weeks, and was physically isolated from towns, meant that despite lack of services, it was in almost every respect self-sufficient. This lack of services and the smallness of the numbers (never more than 350 people) meant that a guide to solving problems of physical servicing, it is of little use. It did however show the need for a structured information system (electric or not). And possibly, clearest of all, it showed that the social or design idea of Instant City need not suffer even if its physical form are realised by staple-gun technology.