Thank you, Mr Aalto

What links a Finnish architect of the 20th century to a DC Shoes sweatshirt?

by Frog

In chaos theory, the “butterfly effect” is described by Wikipedia as: “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state".

To put it simply, a little thing like the flapping of a butterfly's wings can affect the climate of a nation thousands of miles away. Or perhaps, even more simply, a couple of apparently unrelated things can lead to unexpected results. 

For example, what links a Finnish architect of the 20th century to a DC Shoes sweatshirt? 

Before we answer this question, let us ponder on the effects of drought: many scientists forecast that water will be very scarce and hugely precious in the near future.  Despite this, we go on about our lives in total indifference. Many do not know that it takes 3000 liters of water to make a single T-shirt. 

Drought may seem like an ancient problem. In the bible James describes prophet Elijah as he prays incessantly to God, fist to stop the rain and later for the opposite thing to happen. But leaving the Holy Scriptures aside, drought is a plague troubling mankind since centuries. 

In the United States, the years spanning from 1929 to 1934 are known as the Dust Bowl period: five years of nearly total drought in the great plains of North America. Lack of water has also been a recurring problem for the wealthy state of California, with periodic crises, from the 1950s to the most recent episodes of the last decades. 

For the purpose of our story, we would like to refer to the draught hitting California in the mid-1970s. 

But before we do so, let’s go back to the Finnish Architect we mentioned earlier, Alvar Aalto, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Commissioned to renovate Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, Alvaro decided to build in its park a swimming pool with an innovative kidney-shaped design and a bowl-shaped bottom. 

Due to his success, Aalto started traveling the world and while visiting the United States he met the landscape designer Thomas Church, who later became his friend. In 1948, Church was offered to design the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California. Remembering the work of his Finnish friend and mentor, he created a beautiful kidney-shaped pool with a bowl-shaped bottom, which soon became the standard for the homes of the new wealthy Californians. 

In the 1960s skateboarding began to spread in California. Skateboards resembled miniature surfboards on wheels, allowing young surfers to "ride" concrete pavements when riding waves in the Ocean was not an option.

But it was only in 1975, with the arrival of an extraordinary drought and the introduction of the first polyurethane wheels, that skateboarding exploded and became a wide-spread phenomenon amongst teenagers.

I guess you are now starting to understand the connection between the two things.

You did not quit skateboarding because you got old. You got old because you quit skateboarding.
Jay Adams

Due to drought, pools were kept empty and their curved bottom suddenly became very appealing to young and entrepreneurial skateboarders who didn’t think twice about using them for their stunts - naturally without authorization. 

The story of teenagers Jay Adams and the Z-Boys was described in a movie on the invention of modern skateboarding, born in the empty pools of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. It was they who transformed a pastime for teenagers into a real sport, recently recognized as an Olympic sport that will compete for the first time at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. And it was they who made skateboarding attractive not just to technical sponsors, but also if not even more so, to clothing companies that created a real skater style. 

So, believe it or not, there is a "butterfly effect" which links a Finnish architect from the 1930s to a DC Shoes sweatshirt (and even a Vans t-shirt).

You are welcome.