Originally published in 1973, CHARAS: The Improbable Dome Builders by Syeus Mottel, about six ex-gang members who constructed a geodesic dome on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after a meeting with Buckminster Fuller, has been reissued by The Song Cave and Pioneer Works Press.
The reissue includes a present-day interview with Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Lab, reflecting on his work with the project. You can view the chapter about Dr. Ben-Eli from the original publication, here.
Following an exhibition of Mottel’s photos from the project at Situations in New York City, the book was released at an event at Pioneer Works in early December. To commemorate the event, a conversation took place between CHARAS co-founder Chino Garcia and Dr. Ben-Eli, moderated by the architect and professor Nandini Bagchee.
Dr. Ben-Eli (left) and Roy Battiste (right) constructing the dome
The following is an excerpt from the new interview with Ben Estes:
Michael: It was kind of an unusual, spontaneous effort of the counter-culture at the time to organize within the city. I think that a similar need exists even now. There is so much controversy, on the west side, in Chelsea, for example, where developers are putting pressure on a community that was fairly quiet and stable for a long time, where working class people had lived for ages and now that land values have skyrocketed and developers are forcing people out, citizen groups are forming and organizing themselves. I think that CHARAS was an early version of this kind of local communities getting together.
Ben: You mean you see this as a modern-day version of the utopic, counter-culture ideas that you were speaking about earlier?
Michael: It doesn’t need to be regarded as utopian, it’s a very practical matter. You have to live in a place, and you have to try to create conditions for a better life. And as I see it, CHARAS was successful in doing that–by creating their community center, all of the public programming, the activities for kids–really carving out a place for themselves within their urban context and trying to make it a better place.
Ben: But in some ways that is utopic, isn’t it?
Michael: The reason that I’m trying to get away from that term is because “utopia” indicates a dream, or something unreal–and I’m saying that there are practical day-to-day issues that don’t need a brand-new reality in order to be addressed. So, to the extent that individuals and groups take the initiative themselves, and don’t wait for the government, and don’t wait for others to do it for them, they can bring about effective, positive change. Individuals and groups can take the initiative and seek out what is needed to better one’s own life, and that’s what members of CHARAS were doing. It’s actually a very practical issue.
You can buy the book here.
Recently, Dr. Michael Ben-Eli was interviewed by Michael Shewchuk, President of the Global Center for Human Change in We, The Human: The Magazine for the Global Movement of Consciousness.
The magazine asks the question: “What is human change and why is it the issue of our times?” It responds to the UN Sustainable Development goals, focusing on human consciousness and personal transformation, and publishing interviews with leading evolutionary leaders and scientists.
Dr. Ben-Eli commented on what a person can do to make a conscious contribution to the future:
What we are facing is a “design challenge.” We need to redesign our state of being. Not just the physical element, but our whole experience on the planet. We ourselves are part of the larger design, but we are only conscious of it in a fragmented, separate way.
How we define our individual part has to start with becoming aware of things outside ourselves. We need to become more aware of our whole circumstance. The actual response, the creative response, cannot be arbitrarily dictated, but should be the spontaneous response of the individual, sensitive to others, and anchored to and faithfully reflecting the cumulative history of life itself.
Since the long-term viability of complex systems depends on their internal variety, the creative role of the individual is essential to the process. It is not about becoming a solider that walks blindly in line, but to remain free, with integrity, understanding what is going on and not producing a pre-packaged response. This is the creative role of discovery – not to repeat the same pattern, but to have the freedom to try something new.
To read the whole interview, click here.
On March 9th, 2016, at the 6th Annual International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF) Conference and Induction Ceremony in Clovis, CA, Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, Founder of The Sustainability Laboratory, was presented with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Dr. Ben-Eli Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award
Founded in 2008, IGIHOF is an international organization that recognizes excellence in the green industry—individuals and organizations that have contributed to reducing the environmental effects of industrial production—and showcases green industry’s current best practices. On an annual basis, IGIHOF seeks nominations from the public for individuals or businesses that are working towards a sustainable future.
Dr. Ben-Eli (left) with Sam Geil, IGIHOF Board Chairman (center), and Jim Kor, Founder of Kor Ecologic and the event’s keynote speaker
Dr. Ben-Eli was happy to learn that the first inductee into IGIHOF was none other than Ray Anderson, a longtime friend of The Lab, and a member of The Lab’s Advisory Board before his death in 2011. Ray’s remarks to the audience on the occasion of his induction can be viewed here.
Recently, Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Lab, sat down for an interview with Michael Wayne, Founder of The Center for Quantum Revolution. In addition to his private practice as a practitioner of Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and Integrative Medicine, Wayne is also the author of several books, including Quantum-Integral Medicine: Towards a New Science of Healing and Human Potential, and The Low Density Lifestyle.
Over the course of an hour, Dr. Ben-Eli charts his course through life–his life-changing encounter with Buckminster Fuller, his eventual study of Cybernetics and Systems Dynamics, his attraction to and disillusionment with large multinationals like the UN and the World Bank, and ultimately, his vision for his work with The Sustainability Laboratory.
Don’t have a full hour?
Here’s a guide to the interview:
00:00 – 8:00: Early life, meeting with Buckminster Fuller.
“That’s the thing about life: you can never plan the really important things.”
8:00 – 19:30: Michael’s education in Cybernetics, System Dynamics, Managing Complexity, and the Theory of Evolution.
“It was like forming my own university, if you like, keeping my education in the way that I thought was most powerful. It always had to strike the right balance between conceptual development and actually experimenting with concepts in real projects.”
19:30 – 27:00: The problem with multinationals, the importance of experimentation, and the meaning of “second-order change.”
“These are not political issues. You cannot solve them by being a Democrat or a Republican…This is a design problem. You have to understand the science and the way systems work, and apply it in a way that makes sense.”
27:00 – 34:45: The concept and mission of The Sustainability Laboratory.
34:45 – 47:30: Project Wadi Attir
47:30 – 57:00: The Lab, moving forward
57:00 – 1:02:00: Parting message
At the end of the Inauguration Ceremony for the Agricultural Facilities at Project Wadi Attir, Mayor of Hura and partner in the project, Dr. Mohammed Alnabari, honored Dr. Ben-Eli with honorary citizenship on behalf of the Hura Municipal Council.
From left: Mayor Mohammed Alnabari, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Yair Shamir, Dr. Michael Ben-Eli of The Lab, Mr. Itzik Zivan, and Sheikh Yusef Alasivi
The award read:
The Hura Municipal Council is proud to grant honorary citizenship to Dr. Michael Ben-Eli for his contribution and original thinking in developing a model for a sustainable desert community, the most significant aspect of which, for us as a community, being the initiative, design, planning, and guidance in the development of Project Wadi Attir.
Your modesty and considerate approach exposed all of us to the highest values of giving and work ethic. Your deep belief in the project and your commitment to implementing sustainability principles brought about a true social, environmental, and economic change in Hura and the community at large.
In you lives the spirit of the saying of the great visionary Buckminster Fuller, “You don’t change things by fighting an existing reality. In order to change, develop a new model that will make the existing model obsolete.”