Jane Dillon and Dan McNamara were architecture students involved in building the ‘Autonomous House’ at Sydney University in the 1970s, an experiment in sustainable living. In their interview they discuss the practicalities of creating a building with little professional expertise; the experience of sharing the residential space and many other related issues including gardening, events, significant people and academic life of the period. In the excerpt below they reflect on earlier utopian movements which influenced their practice, and the ideological background to the creation of the Autonomous House.
Dan:There were lots of sources to draw on, I think, but I think that the kind of general thrust of it was in a sense anarchist, rather than anything; it was just spontaneous. It was really good fun.
Jane: A lot of the thinking and the writing was coming out of America and, you know, obviously there are links back to Thoreau [nineteenth century American writer] and living in the cabin by the pond, the same kind of whacky new age stuff that was floating around in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was around then, with spiritualism and vegetarianism and feminism and nudism and you think “Oh, they were doing this a hundred years ago”.
Dan: Someone called Tone Wheeler [Sydney architect] at the Architecture Faculty; he’d done some research on the idea of building an autonomous house which he produced as his fourth year thesis. And so we had that to draw on and, there was a group in England called the Street Farmers had set up a self sustaining house with a greenhouse in inner city London and used solar energy and that kind of thing.
Jane: There were all kinds of things happening everywhere; it was the time of the Whole Earth Catalogue and there were festivals, hippy festivals all ‘round the world, with people looking at growing their own food, living a very minimal kind of life. Self sufficiency, you know it was a bit like a settlers movement, but there were also urban things going on with squatters and politics and that it seemed like the Autonomous House, because it was in Darlington behind the University, it was a kind of combination of bringing people back to live in the city.