2016 October 21 / 15:00 - 2016 October 21 / 16:30
Round Table
Douglas Murphy

Douglas Murphy
Giant Envelopes and the Total Interior
FRI, 21.10.16 | 3pm

In the 1960s and ’70s, advanced architecture was in thrall to the idea that industrialized urban society could be reconciled with the natural world through high technology. This was a generation with its eye´┐╝ on apocalypse, with a growing environmentalism arguing that the modern world was destroying the planet, but it was also an era of unprecedented technical and social optimism. The spatial figure that most caught the imagination at this time was the dome. Inspired by space capsules, new structural technologies, and new forms of environmental control, the dome—at the scale of the personal bubble or of entire cities encased within glass— promised that the natural world could be brought inside, controlled, made regular. But the “expanded interior” also promised to create a landscape of pure comfort, of leisure free from conflict, both to political radicals and to the heart of the Western establishment.
In recent years, with technological advance and natural collapse prominent in the public imagination again, “dome thinking” has returned. Perhaps most significant is Peter Sloterdijk’s use of the architectural metaphor of the “Crystal Palace” or the greenhouse to describe the stifling cultural conditions of the globalized capitalist world. His conservative vision explicitly rejects work, such as Walter Benjamin’s on “great interiors,” which argues that new forms of capitalist space hold traces of future emancipation. At a time when all-dominating technology companies are drawing on the idealistic visions of the architectural counterculture to prepare their new headquarters, what work needs to be done to properly understand the resonance of such images in the spatial imagination?


Douglas Murphy is a writer and architect based in London. He is the author of the books Last Futures (Verso, 2016), a cultural history of the radical architecture of the 1960s and ’70s, and The Architecture of Failure (Zero, 2012), which tells the story of iron and glass architecture and its long influence on modernism. He is currently working on Nincompoopolis, on the architecture of London under mayor Boris Johnson, due to be published in 2017. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, and is currently architecture correspondent at Icon magazine. He writes for a wide range of publications on architecture, fine art, and photography, and lectures widely.

Image: Interior view of the Montreal Biosphère. Photo by Douglas Murphy.