An Ethos-Driven Experimental Neighborhood (E.D.E.N.) is a destination designed to contribute to the overall development, health and happiness of its residents.
Filmmaker and author Christian Moran and I share a passion project. We were both inspired by Walt Disney’s unrealized vision of bringing story and space together in a way that could and should be. Christian wrote a book about it titled Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: The Futurism of Walt Disney in which he lays out Disney’s postmodern bent with one foot embedded in a nostalgic, edited past (e.g., Main Street USA) and another foot always striding toward Tomorrowland.
Disney’s unrealized dying dream was to create a city on a hill (or at least above the swamps of Central Florida) that he dubbed the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. This dream inspired Christian and me to follow in Disney’s footsteps by moving beyond our film backgrounds and stepping into the creation of spaces that would bring the future now.
Christian is the executive director and co-founder of the Grant Town Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit focused on building a world that works for every human. After developing a research center in the Amazon to study indigenous, plant-based medicines and building a vertical farm to help bring healthy foods to low-income families living in food deserts, Christian is leading the charge in creating a 21st century version of Walt Disney’s EPCOT vision.
As a child, I never imagined that I would get to live in Tomorrowland, much less design one—a place in which people could live, work and play in a self-contained community. Rather than focusing on just the hardware of sci-fi futuristic architecture and innovative technology (e.g., transportation), it is fueled by a sense of purpose. Our working title is an Ethos-Driven Experimental Neighborhood (E.D.E.N.). As a destination designed to contribute to the overall development, health and happiness of its residents, Grant Town Experimental Community (G.T.E.C.) embodies the Japanese concept of ikigai, or “reason for being.” It will contain a wealth of educational and experiential resources for people of all ages, including advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and the latest in transportation and agricultural technology.
Instead of being defined by a futuristic urban skyline, the architecture of E.D.E.N. is designed to resemble God’s architecture, a gently sloping hill or volcano form. Hillside homes, inspired by Mediterranean terraced homes, are embedded into the exterior of the hillside. In the heart of E.D.E.N., we’ve designed an urban grotto inspired by a volcanic caldera that serves as the postmodern public piazza or public square. And like any classic piazza, ours will be anchored by sacred space.
In order to grow as individuals on a holistic level, we must nurture the mind, body and spirit. E.D.E.N. takes all three into consideration, building upon the ikigai concept (similar to shalom). A community space for spiritual reflection is a necessity if we’re seeking to encourage spiritual growth. Our concept for this sacred space anchor is rooted in the story of a woman bringing her best alabaster jar and perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet and head. Rather than anchoring our CommuniCore, our community plaza, with a big box, windowless, multiuseless gymnatorium, a prime anchor spot will be donated to an organic landmark structure clad in a unique translucent concrete and alabaster bands. The curving entry gallery ascends and draws the eye upward toward the natural light in a futuristic interpretation of the timeless nave, which serves as an entry gallery to a controlled AVL environment for worship in which “Blessed are the flexible” serves as an additional beatitude.
Rather than the church of the future being relegated to isolated suburban campuses, anonymous industrial parks or in digital Zoom rooms, we are creating an opportunity for the community at large to gather and do life at the foot of the cross, represented historically by the cross-shaped transept floor plan of cathedrals. Outdated urban planning and zoning makes it difficult and illegal for sacred space to occur in the heart of our communities in much of America and the developed world. We are developing strategies and spaces to steal our spot back.