In 1970 on New York’s Lower East Side, Chino Garcia, Humberto Crespo, Angelo Gonzalez, Jr., Roy Battiste, Moses Anthony Figueroa, and Sal Becker — “CHARAS,” as they called themselves — broke ground to construct a geodesic dome on a vacant lot beneath the Manhattan Bridge following a meeting with revolutionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller. Physically altering the housing conditions in their immediate neighborhood, the group sought to reclaim public space and develop programs for community autonomy. Originally published in 1973, this expanded edition acts as a record to highlight ways communities activate empty spaces before gentrification.
To commemorate the story’s republication, CHARAS co-founder Chino Garcia will be in conversation with early CHARAS adviser and founder of The Sustainability Lab Michael Ben-Eli. Moderated by architect and Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture Professor Nandini Bagchee.
A documentary screening of CHARAS: The Improbable Dome Builders (Future In Action) to follow, presented by Mottel’s son, Matthew.
Chino Garcia is a community organizer and activist based in New York, and one of CHARAS’ six co-founders. Serving as one of the prominent leaders of community organizing in the Lower East Side to date, Garcia has worked for the NENA Community Action Group, CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center, and a number of initiatives with theater groups and substance abuse programs, in addition to organizing art exhibitions. Garcia is a recipient of the 2015 LES Community Heroes Award.
Michael Ben-Eli is founder and director of The Sustainability Laboratory and an international consultant on management and organization, as well as a senior advisor to The Buckminster Fuller Institute. His work has focused on strategy development, organizational design, sustainability, and change management. Dr. Ben-Eli played an integral role in helping CHARAS with the development of their dome building project in Lower East Side. He graduated from the Architectural Association in London and later received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Cybernetics at Brunel University.
Nandini Bagchee is an architect and professor based in New York. Founder of the firm Bagchee Architects, she has been involved in myriad aspects of diverse residential, institutional, and installation projects. Her work in education and design engages civic architecture, and she has collaborated with social justice organizations in New York to develop strategies for sustainable existence.