Drop City

Project – nr. Trinidad, Colorado, United States

Drop City was an intentional community in southern Colorado established in 1965 and abandoned in 1973. Although short lived it was very influential and is considered as the first rural hippie commune. Filmmaker Gene Bernofsky and art students JoAnn Bernofsky, Richard Kallweit and Clark Richert bought a 7 acre plot of land in which to live and work together. Organised without any obvious hierarchies, it encapsulated a growing desire at the time to 'drop out' of mainstream life, as much a reaction to consumerist, individual lifestyles as it was to US foreign policy, in particular the Vietnam War.

During its creative heyday between 1965-1969, Drop City consisted of around 14-20 inhabitants whose main artistic output took the form of buildings. Inspired by the geodesic design principles of Buckminster Fuller, a number of domes were built, a kind of DIY version of Fuller's scientific and precise method. It was the first time that geodesic domes were used for domestic living; until then they had only housed exhibitions or were used for industrial and institutional applications. At Drop City, the domes were built without a systematic kit or an exact design, using waste and salvaged material, including car roofs. Mixed with vernacular building techniques, they were mutations of Fuller's ideas, and he acknowledged the community by awarding Drop City his first Dymaxion award in 1966. The award gave Drop City its place in the history of the US counter-cultural scene but also the mass media attention that eventually led to its demise. The publicity was in complete opposition to the invisibility and isolation that the original founders sought. Large numbers of young people and tourists visited the commune, its open-door policy meaning they were unable to turn anyone away. By 1969 all the original members had left and Drop City became the slightly degenerate joke that its detractors had always couched it as.

Drop City was originally envisioned as a seed that would be replicated numerous times. Whilst this never happened, it did influence a number of experimental projects and at a time when governmental funding for environmental research was scarce, it functioned as an alternative research centre. It was here that Steve Baer developed his Zome design, a flexible version of Fuller's domes, which could be added to and extended easily. The company Zomeworks was an eventual offspring of Drop City, whilst other experiments were in passive solar design including the construction of a large solar collector. It is perhaps in this legacy that the agency of the short-lived experiment is most apparent; Drop City also inspired a number of counter communities, as well as influencing the founders of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Other Work

Steve Baer, Dome Cookbook, (Corrales, NM: Lama Foundation, 1968).

Peter Douthit, Lloyd Khan, 'Drop City Revisited', in Lloyd Khan (ed.) Shelter (Shelter Publications Inc., 1973).

Peter Rabbit, Drop City (New York: The Olympia Press, 1971).

References About

Joan Grossman and Tom McCourt, 'Drop City, a documentary film', http://www.dropcitydoc.com/Home.html [accessed 16 March 2010]. See also: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/680363404/drop-city-a-documentary-film

Alessandra Ponte, 'Garbage Art and Garbage Housing', Log, 2006.

Simon Sadler, 'Drop City Revisited', Journal of Architectural Education, 58 (2006), 5-14.

Charlotte Trego, 'Drop city: New Life for Junked Cars', Architectural Forum, 127 (1967).

'Drop City Site', The Center for Land Use Interpretation, http://ludb.clui.org/ex/i/CO3134/ [accessed 16 March 2010].


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