At my neighborhood public library in the early 1980s, I knew the architecture section by heart. They had a surprisingly good selection of books on environmentally conscious, low-impact, alternative building types, which I was particularly drawn to. Around that time I wrote my sixth grade research term paper on underground homes, and another the following year on passive solar strategies. The 1973 oil embargo, and a nascent modern environmental movement had produced a strain of outsider architecture that was becoming even more marginalized (though I wasn’t aware of it at the time) during the Reagan era because of a dialog on style, what a building looked like, mostly on the outside, postmodern they called it. The buildings that intrigued me, however, seemed to care less for their appearance, with their exposed trombe walls of black painted oil drums, bulky thermal shades, and scavenged window frames. Performance or appearance, they seemed to be mutually exclusive, one had to choose.
I was born into a typical controlled homogenous Midwestern American suburban existence, shuttled on freeways between a sealed windowless mall surrounded by parking, an industrial school box, and a two-story “colonial” developer home that would be very familiar to many of you. In comparison these hand-made, heat-absorbing, water-collecting, south-facing, ferro-concrete, plant-covered, earth-sheltered, inflatable constructions thrilled me. They seemed so exotic and visceral in comparison. Here was the possibility of a different way of life, evidence of a more evolved existence, and it seemed like the people in those buildings were having so much more fun.