Beyond Free: Slab City's Adaptive Environments

Activity: Other


Project Research Grant: USD5,000

Slab City's 640 acres are slated to be sold by the state of California after existing for more than 150 years as public land. Though it is often called the "last free place," this settlement of artists, Canadian "snowbirds," and homeless persons on the concrete "slabs" of a decommissioned military base in Imperial County has instead existed in a state of play between the control of nature and the nature of control for almost six decades. Slab City provides a unique opportunity to study the relationship between adaptation and control in built environments and to further understand the relation of resistance to landscape. At one level, this research probes the legacies of Jeffersonian policies that grant land for public use amidst contemporary pressures for control and codification. At another level, Slab City occupies a landscape ostensibly controlled by US military infrastructure and projects to move water sanctioned by the Army Corps of Engineers, while the desert's environment exerts its own controlling forces. Through photographs, drawings, and writing, this collaborative project continues ongoing research into how informal settlements relate to autonomy, necessity, and control.

Charlie Hailey teaches design, history, theory, and design/build at the University of Florida, where he received his doctorate. A licensed architect, he also studied at Princeton University and the University of Texas at Austin. His previous books include Campsite: Architectures of Duration and Place (LSU Press, 2008), Camps: A Guide to Twenty-First-Century Space (MIT Press, 2009), and Spoil Island: Reading the Makeshift Archipelago (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013). Hailey has lectured nationally and internationally, most recently at Harvard University, UCLA, NYU, UC Irvine, and SUT in Macedonia, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 2011. His book Design/Build with Jersey Devil: A Handbook for Education and Practice is forthcoming from Princeton Architectural Press (2016).

Donovan Wylie is a lecturer in photography at Ulster University in Belfast. His photographic works, often described as “archaeologies,” stem from the political and social landscape of Northern Ireland, where he grew up. Wylie's research locates itself between art and document, and as such, explores themes of memory and interpretation. His book The Maze, a photographic survey of the infamous prison in Northern Ireland, was published in 2004, and began Wylie's ongoing photographic research of military architecture. His other books include Maze (Steidl, 2009), British Watchtowers (Steidl, 2007), Outposts (Steidl, 2011), and The Tower Series (Steidl, 2014). In 2011, he was awarded the Bradford Fellowship in Photography, for his collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, London, and in 2010, he was a finalist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.
Period10 May 2016
Held atGraham Foundation
Degree of RecognitionInternational