Phantom Living: Ibiza’s ‘Instant City’, 1971

Exhibit / April 11, 2019

Object Name: The Instant City
Maker and Year: Carlos Ferrater, Fernando Bendito, José Miguel de Prada Poole, 1971
Object Type: Temporary architectural installation
Description: (Richard McKenna)

The Instant City was an inflatable construction created in Northern Ibiza in 1971 to provide temporary accommodation for students attending the three-day 7th Congress of ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design). A series of brightly-colored, interconnected environments that housed up to 350 people at any one time, it was assembled on fields near the vast, typewriter-like Hotel Cartago, overlooking the Cala de Sant Miquel bay, where most of the congress’s events would be held and where many of the delegates were staying. At the time, the area was still a relatively isolated, rural part of the island. Since the 1930s, it had been home to a colony of artists and intellectuals who managed to maintain its atmosphere of hospitality towards the arts and the avant-garde, despite the efforts of the nationalistic and militaristic Catholic regime headed by dictator Generalissimo Franco, who sought to repress expressions of cultural diversity and anything not considered “Spanish” enough.

The Instant City was the brainchild of two architecture students, Carlos Ferrater and Fernando Bendito, who persuaded pneumatic architecture expert professor José Miguel de Prada Poole to help them turn their idea of inflatable student accommodation into reality. Prada Poole developed a series of guidelines that would allow participants to rapidly and easily construct their own habitations using plastic and staple guns, and then integrate them into the overall structure (the construction can be seen in this film). The Instant City aimed to be ecologically sustainable and would be dismantled and removed at the end of the event, leaving no trace behind. 

Ferrater and Bendito’s stated goal was that of “enabling a collective experience where work and information were the only channels of expression through which to create a temporary city… which highlighted the contradictions of the current industrial design panorama.” Together with writer and intellectual Luis Racionero, they penned The Manifesto of the Instant City, copies of which were sent to architecture and design schools worldwide as an invitation to participate. The Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design was less staid than its name might imply: DIY pop-art was used as signage, Josep Ponsatí’s vast inflatable structures floated through the air, a 150-meter long flexible green plastic pipe named Vacuflex-3the work of artists Gonzalo Mezza and Antoni Muntadas—snaked across the beach and floated on the waves, and “Ceremonials” were held where attendees wore colored robes and masks. The living installation was one attempt to drag into reality the type of sci-fi-inspired utopian ideas popularized by conceptual experimental architecture practices like the UK’s Archigram, Italy’s Superstudio, and the Viennese Haus-Rucker-Co., which proposed repurposing materials originally developed for military and industrial use in everyday life.

Floating somewhere between a circus tent and a lysergic installation, the Instant City was intended to foster socialization and dialogue through communal work and leisure, and to promote reflection on new models of sustainable, participatory, and collective behavior. It epitomizes the tensions and contradictions inherent in many similar art and architecture initiatives of the time, whose progressive, experimental goals remained by necessity shackled to their inevitable masters of business and money. Though clearly well-intentioned, its aim to foster “nomadic and mobile” values, blend work with leisure, and stimulate new relations between industry and society look, from the standpoint of today, worryingly like precursors to the modern economic horrorshow that fuses the worker’s personal life and job into one crushing block. Perhaps most ironic of all is that such a beautiful expression of progressive ideas should take as its base matter a substance—plastic—derived from the commodity that has shaped so much of modern history, for better and often for worse: oil.

6 thoughts on “Phantom Living: Ibiza’s ‘Instant City’, 1971

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