In Icon 164 we profile London-based duo Studio Swine, design explorers who discover beauty in ocean plastic, human hair and a lost Amazonian city …
Icon 164 – Studio Swine: Fordlandia was Henry Ford’s vision for a city in the Amazon. The industrialist needed a source of rubber for his factory lines in the US and cut a deal with the Brazilian government to establish a factory town in the rainforest. Startling in scale and vision, it was, of course, doomed. In the manner of all colonialists, Ford misjudged everything, from the local population to the environment, and the project was eventually abandoned.
Fordlandia’s failure is a mistake we seemed doomed to repeat ad infinitum. History is littered with similar follies. In the 1960s, after the discovery of oil near Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, Tandy Industries commissioned architect Adrian Wilson to draw up plans for a city entirely under glass. The 40,000 or so inhabitants would live, work and play at exactly 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Artistic impressions from the time show cable cars gliding towards a modernist utopia, surrounded by a beautifully herbaceous landscape. There would be moving pavements, monorails (this was the 60s), sports stadiums, shops and offices. It failed. Aside from the monumental physical challenges of building a city in one of the most hostile environments on earth, who of sane mind would want to live in an air-conditioned bubble dome all year round?
But what if Seward’s Success, as the city was called, fulfilled the optimism of its title? What if Fordlandia was today a thriving metropolis – a textbook model of urban planning?
The architecture of failure is fascinating precisely because it allows us to write our own ending to the story. The founders of narrative design practice Studio Swine, who grace our cover this month, visited Fordlandia in 2013 while living in São Paulo. They found in the rotting buildings something beyond a simple fable of hubris. In their efforts to understand the legacy of Ford’s vision, they discovered a story that deserved another chapter. Their Fordlandia project, exhibited in the Fashion Space Gallery at this year’s London Design Festival, is the most compelling work of the studio’s short career. As the designers explain, this is just the beginning. Should the studio be able to fully realise its own vision for Fordlandia, this could be its defining work.