Solarpunk heritage: The Dimetrodon

If you’re into Solarpunk today, you ought to be interested in the Solarpunks of the 1960s and 70s. They didn’t call themselves Solarpunks, but they believed in many of the things that characterize the movement today as I interpret it—optimism, DIY technology, experimental culture, and a communitarian spirit.

●          ●          ●

The Dimetrodon is a prehistoric creature (Wikipedia). It also gave its name to a “bizarro” instance of solar-hippie-communal architecture built in Vermont in 1971.

Image credit:  Collective Quarterly

Image credit: Collective Quarterly

The Dimetrodon was built by Bill Maclay, Jim Sanford, and Dick Travers. It was a multi-family community using solar, wind and wood energy systems.” Maclay, still practicing today, says it was “a more environmentally sound pattern for growth” than the dominant pattern based on “suburban sprawl, strip development and the advent of the automobile.”

It was an ad-hoc design, which evolved during construction with the participation of other residents. Sanford, also still practicing as of 2015, told Seth Putnam: “There was no forethought whatsoever. The people who lived there had to subscribe to a common idea, or it wouldn’t have worked.”

Image credit:  Collective Quarterly

Image credit: Collective Quarterly

The Scout says: “Over four decades later these homes are still standing and functioning in Warren, Vermont and have become a model of sustainable living.”

●          ●          ●

As a matter of historical perspective and interpretation, I do find the architectural style of the Dimetrodon raises some issues. When solar architecture became associated with eccentric forms, the aesthetics of hippie culture, and/or the appearance of a science experiment in the 1970s, it created a stigma which (I think) contributed to stalling the progress of sustainable architecture in the late 1980s and 1990s. I wrote a bit about this here.

●          ●          ●

More: The Fleming Museum has a Flickr page including images of Dimetrodon and other design/build structures from Vermont from the 1964–77 period. Also more photos here.

Also on the blog: Solarpunk heritage: Peter van Dresser