Slab City by Charlie Hailey and Donovan Wylie


Often described as the “last free place”, Slab City is an informal settlement built on the remains of a World War 2 military training camp in the southern California desert. In their book Slab City: Dispatches from the Last Free Place (MIT Press), architect Charlie Hailey and photographer Donovan Wylie seek to understand how this place and its architecture accommodate the needs and desires of its residents within the constraints of a remote, off-grid site and its harsh desert environment. How do Slab City’s residents — squatters, artists, snowbirds, migrants, and survivalists — test the idea of freedom through boundaries and structures made from salvaged materials? How does the residue of the military camp and its infrastructure provide a measured but unforgiving background for this experiment in living? How do the eponymous slabs provide foundations for homesites? Despite challenges over its seven decades, why does Slab City persist? These questions help frame the exploration of an out-of-the-way place that is at the center of contemporary questions of freedom and necessity, and Hailey and Wylie’s collaboration narrates these concerns through a dialogue between text and photographs.

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