ARCHITECTURE: James Fitzgibbon Old Man River Project.

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Subj: Old Man River project

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Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1993 12:17:52 -0700
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Subject: Old Man River project
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The Old Man River project never got off the drawing boards. It was mainly
the work of Washington University architecture prof James Fitzgibbon. He
had a long relationship with Fuller, extending back to the early 1950s.
Fitzgibbon had designed a domed city to be built on Frobisher Bay in Canada
in 1956, and Old Man River was an extension and expansion of that earlier
plan. It was also designed to address problems that architects, planners,
and policy-makers considered central in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
viz. racial segregation, urban decay, and economic growth in the inner

Old Man River would have provided housing and services for several thousand
families in the most depressed section of St. Louis. It would have been
built and managed by a non-profit corporation, and taken something like
20 years to complete; in Fitzgibbon's evocative phrase, it would have been
not only good housing, but a "job machine," a huge project creating new
industries in the area by virtue of its immensity. Fuller claimed that it
would be the incubator of a new classless, raceless society. However, it
never got anything close to the $1 billion required to build it, and the
St. Louis municipal government never seemed to have taken it seriously.

It is also interesting to note that this was the most modest of a series
of urban renewal projects that Fuller was involved in at the time: his
proposals for floating cities, renovation of Harlem (which involved tearing
down all the buildings and erecting a series of apartment blocks that
looked like nuclear plant cooling towers), and floating spherical cities
all date from this period. Ironically, they represent a kind of technocratic
vision that many of Fuller's followers in the counterculture rejected,
though the tension between the _Whole Earth Catalog_ and _Domebook_
interpretation of Bucky and the Bucky that was proposing to build cooling
towers on Harlem never became strong.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Department of History, UC Berkeley
[email protected]
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