Slab City

Donovan Wylie, Charlie Hailey

Research output: Book/ReportBook


A collaboration between an architect and a photographer, this book (Slab City/MIT Press 2018), researches the informal settlement Slab City in southern California’s Colorado Desert. Based on a decommissioned World War 2 military training camp, Slab City hosts a diverse community of squatters, snowbirds, migrants, and survivalists and, now in its seventh decade, offers a singular place to understand legacies of controlled landscapes and open public spaces, present tactics for off-grid survival, and future arcs of migrancy and marginality amid pressures of late capitalism and population displacement. Harbinger and bellwether, Slab City is indicative of 21st-century displaced settlements, and this book reveals how such places are made in the midst of struggle and survival.

Although it has received attention in popular culture and media, few studies of this place—apart from masters theses and self-published books—have been carried out. Discussions of Slab City have romanticized, dismissed, and appropriated the site’s imageablity and marginality. Most have focused on its moniker “the last free place”. But at Slab City choice and desire occur within deeper narratives of control and necessity. As a contemporary camp, the Slabs accommodate 21st-century conditions of desperation and dwelling that would otherwise remain hidden. As the former military facility Camp Dunlap, the site inherits systems of control, modes of demarcation, and methods of construction that influence Slab City’s practices of adaptation and resistance in its own system of boundaries and structures. All within a harsh, unforgiving desert context. In this book, through essays and photographs, the work makes visible the full depth of this extraordinary place.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMassachusetts
PublisherMIT Press
Commissioning bodyGraham Foundation
Number of pages192
ISBN (Print)978262038355
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2018

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