Edward H. Tenner, who knows just about everything, recently introduced me to the work of Jacques-Andre Istel, best known for popularizing skydiving in the 1960s. Currently, he’s been building what Tenner calls “an encyclopedia in stone in the California desert.”
In mid-1980s, he founded the town of Felicity (below) on about 2,800 acres of desert, where he built a marble-and-glass pyramid the size of a large garage and proclaimed it the Official Center of the World. “Thousands have paid a couple of bucks each to step inside,” wrote Mike Anton in The Los Angeles Times, “even though it’s not even the center of Imperial County. More recently, Istel moved 150,000 tons of dirt to create the nearby Hill of Prayer on which he built the Church on the Hill (above —even though he’s not particularly religious.” He is currently attemping to fit the world’s knowledge on hundreds of stone slabs and Tenner believes “that since future visitors from earth or elsewhere might not know English or indeed other present languages, for the long term, the project needs a Rosetta Stone.”
A competition is being planned to decide what that language will be, with entries from teams of students in architecture, design, anthropology, and linguistics. An opportunity to develop a totally new graphic language? Isn’t this what designers have been waiting for? What would you suggest? Tell me in the comments!