THE EARTH WORKSHOP
Glenys Crump, Peter Crump, Chrissie Raven, Brett Bailey, Erik Raven, Bernard Seal & Stefan Szczelkun, Llandeussant, Whales, UK, 1973
DOES ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENCY PROMISE NEW SOCIETAL STRUCTURES?
The bucolic dream of municipal withdrawal was adopted in the early 1970s by Peter Crump, founding editor of Street Farmer magazine, who sold his London house in order to institute a self-sufficient coop in rural Whales. Crump partnered with his wife Glenys, artists Chrissie and Erik Raven, who worked as carpenters at the AA, Brett Bailey, and Stefan Szczelkun who wrote the Survival Scrapbooks. Together they formed a collective eco-commune, called the “Earth Workshop,” intending “to explore possibilities of life support systems developed and controlled in a small scale to integrate most fully with the existing support systems of nature.” The group purchased an old vicarage built within a Neolithic circle in Llandeussant, an ancient settlement on the west end of the Brecon Beacons. The main people who actually lived at the Earthworkshop were Stefan Szczelkun, Eric and Chrissie Raven, their daughter Poppy and Bernard Seal. Eventually, there was a personality clash between Raven and Crump, which resulted in the vicarage being sold. Overall, the Earth Workshop was a short-lived experiment, which was according to Crump, “unsustainable” and “integalitarian”. Once the Crumps fled back to London and abandoned the Earth Workshop proceeding on with their lives, so did the other members.
Originally intended as a self-sustaining research center open to visitors, the fallen dream of the “Earth Workshop” became the home of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in 1974, a renowned education and research center for sustainability, still in operation today. CAT began in Machynlleth, Wales by founder Gerard Morgan- Greenville, as a way of thinking how technology could enable substitute ways of living. First intended for a closed community, CAT expanded to the public and allowed volunteers and employees to bring various ideas and skills to the table. Currently, the community’s own production of energy and food, with a waste recycling system, calls for little outside support (Hunt, The Revolutionary Urbanism of Street Farm. 168). In some respects, CAT carried on the goal of the Earth Workshop and succeeded where its predecessors had failed; not necessarily in the development of the equipment needed to sustain food production and energy feedback, but in developing an organized social system, which is key to community sufficiency.
The intention to look at life support systems as a whole, or as the backbone to develop an autonomous community, was a common preoccupation for several environmental thinkers in the early 1970s, motivated by the belief that technology could contribute to new societal structures. The systems used in the Earth Workshop -namely solar radiation to heat water, wind and rainwater collection, water purification and storage, methane gas from decomposition of wastes, fish culture and reservoir, intensively cultivated vegetable garden, animals- were part of a pervasive lexicon for alternative technologies described by AD in 1976 as an “architectural prevailing cult project” that preoccupied the British avant-garde scene for several years. Following the oil crisis and a decade of dense environmental debates, the terms “self-sufficiency,” “self-reliance,” “life-support” and “living autonomy” assembled a genealogy of real-time habitation experiments where architecture, systems theory and human biology blended in the hope of radical social reform. The Earth Workshop was in some respects an illustration of the difficulty of reconciling previous notions of environmentalism, including farming and localism, with the instrumentalized regeneration of resources demonstrating in many respects technological supremacy.
ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: Crump discovered the economic situations were unreasonable. Every participant agreed to place equal shares of capital input, yet only the Crumps contributed the full amount. Also there was a deficiency of income in the area of the Earth Workshop.
TRAVEL CONSTRAINTS: Travel became too great for Crump throughout the work week.
SELLING OF VICARAGE: The personality clash between Crump and Raven led to the selling of the vicarage.