When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore 21-layer, fabric-and-latex spacesuits crafted by seamstresses from the assembly line of Playtex, maker of bras and girdles. Nicholas de Monchaux will tell the story of the 21-layer spacesuit, and how it relates to, among other things, eighteenth-century androids, Christian Dior’s New Look, Atlas missiles, cybernetics and cyborgs, latex, JFK’s carefully cultivated image, the CBS lunar broadcast soundstage, NASA’s Mission Control, and the applications of Apollo-style engineering to city planning. de Monchaux presents history as urgent criticism, relevant to contemporary practice. The suit is less an object than an object lesson. It tells us about redundancy and interdependence and about the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity; it teaches us to know the virtues of adaptation and to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.
Nicholas de Monchaux is an architect, urban designer, and theorist. As well as directing his Oakland-based design practice, he is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley. de Monchaux is the author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo (MIT Press, 2011), an architectural and urban history of the Apollo Spacesuit, winner of the Eugene Emme award from the American Astronautical Society. Prior to his academic career, he worked as a designer for Michael Hopkins & Partners in London, and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro in New York. de Monchaux’s work has been supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Macdowell Colony, the Santa Fe Institute, and the Smithsonian Institution. In 2011, he was named Michael Kalil fellow of the School of Constructed Environments, Parsons the New School for Design.