• Life Arks: Science, Spirituality, and Survival in the Work of the New Alchemy Institute
    Meredith J. Gaglio

New Alchemy Institute and SolSearch, Cape Cod Ark, 1976. Courtesy New Alchemy Institute

Beginning in 1973, the New Alchemy Institute (NAI), a group of countercultural scientists and engineers based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, developed the concept for “Life Arks.” Similar to Noah’s Ark, the Institute’s four self-sufficient, polycultural bioshelters, designed in collaboration with Canada-based architecture firm, SolSearch, internalized organic structures as a response to a potentially devastating ecological threat. However, the NAI’s proposals were not fatalistic—they offered symbiotic alternatives to prevent the global environmental collapse that New Alchemists saw on the horizon. This research project examines three generative forces behind the development, construction, and use of the Institute’s sustainable bioshelters: first, the ecocentric, innovative science and technology devised by the NAI; second, the cosmological belief system underlying its work; and third, its left-libertarian attitudes, which determined its perspective on humanity’s path toward survival.

Meredith J. Gaglio is an assistant professor of architecture at Louisiana State University. She has received a PhD in architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (2019), a master’s in design studies from Harvard University Graduate School of Design (2010), and a master’s and bachelor’s of architecture from Tulane University’s School of Architecture (2005). Gaglio is a historian of modern and contemporary architectural technology, urbanism, and the environment. Her dissertation addresses the development and implementation of sustainable community planning and architectural strategies in the United States from the late-1960s through the early-1980s.