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Architecure To Go: Architecture for the Discontigous Community

Arielle Rouleau

Architecture 501 Coleman + Cigolle January 12, 2011


Architecure To Go:

Architecture for the Discontigous Community

Arielle Rouleau The idea of community is ever shifting, yet for each person it holds a different meaning. Today’s sense of community is quite unlike our grandparent’s view of the subject. Connections were once defined by infrastructure and geography, limiting one’s social circle to the few people he saw and spoke with daily. Today we face different associations without regard to geography due to the number of communication devices technology has allowed. This change in how discontiguous communities are formed and how people communicate has shaped our world and the places we inhabit.

Simple community structure started with a town. Typically located in advantageous locations where geographical features promoted trade, a town accumulated various trade skills centralized about the local market: a blacksmith, a butcher, a doctor, etc. It wasn’t until the population swell of this town that it became a

Fig. 1: Fractionaliztion Source: Arielle Rouleau

Fig. 1


into smaller areas where the citizens had more in common. In these districts culture is allowed to flourish, and neighborhoods come into being.1

In today’s society one’s community is defined by who they talk to, not whom they live adjacent to. With the advent of the internet and portable messaging devices, one’s tight knit community can be located all around the world. According to Dr. Phil Bartle “A human… community, is not merely a collection of houses. It is a human (social or cultural) organization” (Bartle, 2007). Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are today’s social animators2 - or community catalysts – giving people the power to connect with others who share their same passions and way of life.

According to sociologist Manuel Castelles, the “space of places” in today’s society is submissive to the ‘space of flows’ .3 One’s surrounding physical community (the “space of places”) is becoming less important than the social interactions they have with other people (the “space of flows”), regardless of physical location. This is now why we see large groups of people coming together from across the country to partake in the same events. Using the internet as a social mobilizer and business tool, society now has the ability to link in with others and create temporary flash communities. Like all large groups of people, these communities will later break down and form smaller neighborhoods, which will be discussed later in this paper.

1. For example Chinatown and art districts

2. See Bartle (2007). 3. See Castell’s The Rise of the Network Society


4. See Ulrich Beck’s book, Individualization (2009)

Since physical location is no longer a limiting factor for communication, one is able to go where they wish and still stay connected with their social world around them. People now have the ability to pick up and move where ever they may please, regardless of work, family or social norms. As Ulrich Beck’s ‘theory of individualization’ states,4 “The social transformation occurring in the Western countries in recent decades in which dominant traditional social hierarchies have become increasingly subordinated to individual choice and freedom” (Simpson, 2009: 37). This theory has given the public a worry free approach about a nomadic lifestyle of travel where one is able to live and travel off of the grid while still being constantly linked into it. This practice is becoming more and more prevalent today with the concept of the ‘digital nomad.’

The typical white collar American spends most of their work day stuffed in a cubical, resting their fingertips on a keyboard attached to a painfully slow desktop computer, which sits on a drab slab of Formica. Many people, who deal with intellectual goods and services, find themselves asking why they make the commute just to sit in a lonely cubical and instant message their workmates all day, when they can sit at home and do their business with a laptop and a cell phone. Not all, but many of these employees can be sent to work in any location they please. With the advent of community forums and wikis, where people in the same trade or company can


post and answer questions about work related topics, the need to poll adjacent coworkers for information becomes obsolete. In reality, most in modern office communications are not face-to-face but computer-to-computer, via instant messaging systems and e-mail. Modern telecommunications software has also made traveling almost unnecessary, with programs such as Skype and NetMeeting one can have a conversation with a client across the world without having to set foot in an airport. Most communication software can be easily loaded onto a home computer or laptop for minimal costs, allowing one to take their work on the road. These ‘digital nomad’ enabling trends are increasingly available for home use, familiarizing younger generations with programs which will help them break free from the cramped office into any location they please. Mike Elgan, in ComputerWorld Magazine, postulates that “It will get to a point where the only difference between an ordinary white-collar worker and a digital nomad is an airplane ticket” (Elgan, 2009).

As beautiful as the idea of freedom from the fluorescent lights of the typical office building sounds, the life of the digital nomad has its detractions. When interviewed,5 many of today’s digital nomads report a lack of social interaction or support structure for work related questions. Many of these people find that they have started bringing their work to public places such as coffee shops. Working in these public establishments is a win-win for workers

5. To read some of these interviews see The Washington Post’s article “Digital Nomads Choose Their Tribes”.


6. Rosenwald, Michael S. “Digital Nomads Choose Their Tribes.” The Washington Post, July 26, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2010. http:// www.washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/ article/2009/07/25/ AR2009072500878.

and business owners: not only are the workers’ requirements for social interaction being fulfilled, coffee shop owners are generating revenue from these new customers buying drinks and filling their shop. Other digital nomads have found that working side by side with another co-worker cuts down on technology costs and provides both company and an information support structure.6

Establishments like the Affinity Lab in Washington, DC and Blankspaces in Los Angeles offer public office space for rent on a monthly basis. These places, much like university’s architecture studios, provide an open workspace with a desk alongside other business professionals. Here digital nomads can converse with people in their field or in a complete opposite discipline. These communal offices report a 3x higher survival rate of startup companies when employees work at the lab rather than alone in a home environment, making them valuable pieces of infrastructure for a growing economy.

Architecture students are archetypal digital nomads. Taking their work with them on laptops they can choose to work wherever they please, whether it be in studio, in their homes, or in a coffee shop; no one location incarcerates them. This way of working can be brought into real world where like the architecture students, digital nomads can choose a location(s) where the architecture suits them. With the slogan “Fold out. Plug in. Boot up.”(Siegal, 2002) for their project, the Office of Mobile Design has


Fig. 2

Fig. 2a

accessed the problem of the traveling worker with iMOBILE. This theoretical project is a moving office equipped with six one-man workstations. This vehicle works as a wireless access point, allowing employees to stay connected on the go and work while traveling across the country. This truck, like a Transformer, can shift its shape from traveling office to showroom to interactive store in a few clicks. This is only one solution to the problem of designing for the nomadic workforce that is soon to come in numbers.

After a shift in knowledge workers to a nomadic lifestyle occurs, the next step is that of a nomadic society. In The Muqaddimah, author Ibn Khaldun states that society is organized in one of two ways: that of the nomadic society and that of agricultural towns and villages.7 With new technologies one has the ability to bridge between both organization types and hold status in both. In the

Fig. 2 and 2a: iMOBILE Source: Jennifer Siegal 7. Khald큰n, Ibn. The Muqaddimah: an Introduction to History. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1980.


Fig. 3 Fig. 3: The progression towards a nomadic lifestyle Source: Arielle Rouleau Fig. 4: RV nonphysical network Source: Simpson Fig. 5: Flight from the cities Source: Arielle Rouleau

last few hundred years, American society has mainly been based around the sedentary life of towns and agricultural villages, now we are breaking away and going to the life of nomadic tribal societies for leisure rather than necessity. Here ‘individualization’ has occurred, leading society towards a “radically different basis for constructing a nomadic practice” (Simpson, 2009: 37).

For Khaldun’s nomads, traditional empasis on destinations or physical places as nodes of living is rejected in favor of an emphasis on the space between these nodes. Today though, that mentality has reversed. In the age of digital communication, no longer are the connectors between nodes the important factor, instead, non-geographic nodes have gained primacy.

The connections

now have been rendered inconsequential due to the increased speed of communications. Most people don’t know or care how the underlying infrastructure of the Internet works, all they need is to know that an email address will send mail to the right person, or hyperlink will take them to the right page of a website.


In the 1950s urban flight – the shift of middle class residents from the city to the suburbs – hit America. People were leaving urban centers and settling on the suburban edge due to fears of crime, public school integration, and falling property values. In doing so, they created their own communities. The reason that this phenomenon occurred then, and not before, was due to the advent of the automobile. The car served as an enabler for connection between suburban houses and city centers, and created com-

Fig. 4

munities based around its use. Fifty years later, people are now fleeing the suburbs due to the fear of confinement, boredom, and dependence,8 but cities are not necessarily their destination.

The RV – or recreational vehicle – is a device which has allowed people to take their home on the road. This vehicle combines transportation and living quarters in one, becoming, in Castelles terms, the ultimate ‘space of flows’. Not only is one flowing in the realms of communication, they are physically moving from place to place. Fig. 5

The recreational vehicle has changed the field of architecture. With one out of every ten vehicle owning households in America owning an RV,9 the idea of the mobile home has come into full force. Not only must the RV architect create a space that is comfortably habitable, it must to be highly efficient and functional as well. Here, like in few other homes, the mass and weight of ob-

8. Simpson, D. (n.d.). Nomadic Urbanism. Intersticies: A Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, 37. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.interstices. auckland.ac.nz/files/ INT09_Simpson.pdf 9. Sumrell, Robert, and Kazys Varnelis. Blue Monday: Stories of Absurd Realities and Natural Philosophies. Barcelona: Actar Editorial, 2007. Print.


Fig. 6: RV interior Source: Distinct Auto Detailing

Fig. 6

10. (Simpson, 2010:36)

jects plays an important role. Due to the fact that these buildings are constantly moving, the designer must exaggerate the “quality of domesticity� to prevent feelings of homelessness and constant displacement. These needs are often met with subdued color, familiar material palates, and open room layouts (Fig. 6). Due to size restrictions, semi-public spaces are not created in the RV itself, but though the cooperation of one or more recreational vehicles.10 This desire to create communal space leads people to create flash communities of hundreds of thousands of RVs.

This society of RVers, like all big communities, has three main fractions: vacationers, snowbirds, and full-timers.

Vacation-

ers are the least nomadic, and spend most of their time in an owned or rented sedentary residence. Snowbirds keep a sedentary residence year round, and use their RV to travel south in the winter months. Full-timers - true nomads - spend their


lives in these vehicles and make the RV their primary residence; 80% of this full timer population is both elderly and retired.11 This transitory lifestyle of the RV and of the digital nomad allows people to find and create communities on their own, for brief periods of time, where they are able to make connections with other likeminded individuals.

Due to the fact that geography is no longer a pre-requisite for creating a community, many common interest groups have been founded online. This ‘online-ization’ – or social networking – of a community instantly moves information in a variety of ways, reaching people wherever they may be. Some of these groups choose to meet together in person, akin to a family reunion . These meetings are known as flash communities - large scale temporary geographic intersections of online based groups who reside in the same area for a given set of time. These meetings have the ability to teach academdics in a variety of fields about the nature of social interaction, community building, urban planning, etc. This paper will look into the case studies of these nomadic people and flash communities in Quartzite, Arizona and Black Rock City, Nevada (aka. Burning Man) to discover how these establishments come to be, and how their creation affects the requirements of mobile architecture .

11. (Simpson, 2010:36)


Fig. 7: Home Page Source: goodsamclub. com 12. (Simpson, 2010:38)

Fig. 7

In the coldest months of the year, hundreds of thousands of motorhomes make their annual migration to Quartzite, Arizona, creating one of the 10 largest cities in the United States. This gathering of RVs started from recreational vehicle communities based on the internet. These communities, like The Gypsy Journal and the Good Sam Club (Fig. 7) work all year long to organize events like Quartzite and keep members in close communication.12 On these sites one is able to find travel itineraries, support with technical issues, and even links to RV dating sites. Many groups come to Quartzite every year to meet people with their same set of interests. 3,500 residents call Quartzite home year round. During the months from October to March, RV nomads from around the country (mainly ‘snowbirds’) come to the town in great masses. It is estimated that anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million people come to Quartzite over the course of a season. During the season peak there are nearly 1 million inhabitants, transforming the sleeply little town into the 10th largest


city in the United States, bigger than Detroit, San Francisco and Boston. If all of the residents came at once, the town would be equal in size to Phoeniz, AZ, the 5th most populated city in the United States.13

The phenomenon of Quartzite embraces the idea of ubran sprawl, like many other large cities such as Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix, yet does it in a denser fashion. Due to the size restrictions of the vehicles (width and length and length are constrained by the size of highway lanes) and the more compact intersticial spaces which are created between them, a denser fabric can be achieved. Since no cars are needed for transportation locally in Quartzite, a network of vehicular roads is unnessary, weaving the grid even tighter. Quartzite houses 100,000 inhabitants in a square kilometer, an urban density similar to that of New York City.

Like many other large cities Quartzite hosts a number of attractions and landmarks to guide one through its fabric. A gem and mineral show is set up in the main area each year and hosts numbers of merchants selling variety of goods, similar to a garage sale with a few shiny rocks thrown in. A statue of Hi Jolly and his Camel (fig.8), the man credited for giving Quartzite importance, marks the center of the town. The main attraction of this event, rather than the aspect of community, is what Sumrell and Varnelis call the “Bilbao Effect without buildings”. Just

13. US Census Bureau. “Population Estimates.” Census Bureau Home Page. 2010. Web. 04 Jan. 2011. <http://www. census.gov/popest/cities/ SUB-EST2009-4.html>.


Fig. 8 Fig. 8: Hi Jolly Source:Mescalito99 on flickr.com 14. (Sumrell, Robert, and Kazys Varnelis,2007) 15. “Woodstock For RVers.” The Gypsy Journal. Web. 09 Nov. 2010. <http://www. gypsyjournal.net/ quartzsite.htm>.

like tourists come to Bilbao, Spain to marvel at the post-modern architecture others flock to Quartzite to see the mass of RVs.14

There are two ways to park an RV in Quartzite, Arizona. The first and more civilized is in the LVTA – Long Term Visitor Area – where one can perchase a permit allowing them to stay from anywhere between two weeks and several months. These regulated sites have hookups where an RV can attach to power, water and (sometimes) sewage systems. The second, more popular, way of settling is by ‘boondocking’. Boondocking is where one parks their RV wherever they please and lives with limited supply of power, water, and waste space. Boondocking is free for up to fourteen days in the city of Quartzite, after which the Bureau of Land Managemetn requires the RVer to move at least 20 miles out of town.15


Fig. 10

Fig. 9

The prime benefit of boondocking is that it allows for near continuous flow. Many different fractal communities of Quartzite band themselves together, creating a variety of formations based on their current set of needs. In fig.9 we see different formations, from four vehicle ‘courtyards’ to linear bands to ‘pinwheel corrals’. This “clustering is related to both the socio-cultural rituals of [humanity] and the technological support that allows for communication and coordinated movement” (Simpson, 2009: 41).

Cluster-

ing allows urbanity to be produced by bottom-up forces without top-down planning. When crossing the continent, the pioneers would create a circular wagon corral which served to shield against external attackers while creating a common gathering space (usually inhabited by a fire) in the center. Todays RVs can be seen in a similar circular pattern, not for purposes of self-defense, but to produce a common space which the interior of theRV lacks. This intersticial space between vehicles is where the community interacts.

Fig. 9: Quartzite, Arizona, 2008 Source:Simpson Fig 10: RV vs. Covered Wagon formations Source: Arielle Rouleau


16. (Sumrell, Robert, and Kazys Varnelis,2007)

These shapes across the landscape are dictated by preformed groups or fractals of the Quartzite community. “Birds of a Feather Groups”, as they are called in Blue Monday, emerge out of common interests. Walking around Quartzite, one is able to come across HAM radio buffs, Christians, computer fans, Disney lovers, singles, diabetics, full-timer RVers, and much more. These smaller communities are one of the main reasons people come to Quartzite, rather than any other hot and dry location in the desert.16 Here, campers can mingle in their communities face-to-face without the separation of computer screens and keyboards. In “Exurbia” (another Blue Monday coined term) people can create their own way of life and community with others that share the same interest, often without regard for financial or environmental concerns. The area hosts many free exhibitions on whatever may interest and “even the merchant’s don’t come to Quartzite to make a buck… [they] are more interested in interacting with people” (Sumrell and Varnelis, 2007).

As down to earth and beautiful as the ideals of this community may sound, the surrounding infrastructure faces many problems. A study published by Public Health Reports found that the town of Quartzite, Arizona has no water or sewage disposals for its residents, and gets all of its water from wells and displaces all waste into septic tanks. The nearest hospital is 22 miles outside of the city and the nearest pharmacy is 35 miles away. The town, which


hosts 3,500 year round residents, has one volunteer fire truck and ambulance, and two full-time doctors.17 In an area which swells with one million residents at a time, most of them in the later stages of life, the risks inherent to this situation are clear. In San Jose, California, a town of equitable size to Quartzite’s peak, more than 100 hospitals can be found in a 22 mile radius. While Quartzite’s population only reaches this size for a few months at a time, the likelihood of a medical emergency during this period is high.

A potential solution to this lack of medical facilities has been offered by engineering firm HDT Medical. Their new HDT Base-X® and HDT AirBeam™ Shelter Systems (fig.11) allow a hospital to be put up in a matter of hours. Designed with the military in mind, these pneumatic shelters come prewired and can be blown up and medically sealed with a single generator.

Much can be learned from Quartzite. Open layout of the land shows the basic forms of social adjacencies and community structure in an age of city planning and zoning. The RVer lives a very sustainable life creating an ecologically sound community by living in tight spaces, cutting down on waste, and conserving water and power. These campers are able to live on small amounts of infrastructure for long periods of time, proving to modern planners that there is more to a city than street grids and high rises.18

Fig. 11 Fig. 11: HDT Base-X Source:HDT Engineered Technologies 17. Anderson, C., and J. F. Murphy. “Will Elderly Seasonal Nomads Need Health Services?” Public Health Reports 1st ser. Jan-Feb.111 (1996): 55-56. PubMed. Web. 10 Nov. 2010. 18. (Sumrell, Robert, and Kazys Varnelis,2007)


The second case study of a flash community is Black Rock City, Nevada, otherwise known as Burning Man.

This event

is an 8 day long festival in the Black Rock Desert ,where people gather to create art, music, and reimagine society.

This festival began in 1986 with a gathering of friends on Baker Beach in San Francisco, and moved to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in 1990. Throughout the year, communities of “burners” collaborate online to plan the next years evens, installations, and art pieces, and to recruit new members. These communities identify themselves as “camps,” and give themselves names and descriptions to match their ideals. Camp Nomadia (a Burning Man theme camp) publicizes this slogan: “our vision is to camp and interact with other cool nomadic spirits, share stories, resources, share our passion for our chosen lifestyles, inspire, learn and make connections for future rendezvous” (Dunphy and Ve, 2010). This camp, like many others, is interested in connection rather than any specific activity. Organized completely via the internet, this camp started with 25 people in 2008 and swelled to 80 members in 2010. Camp Nomadia is a place for nomads to join up as they pass through Burning Man to destinations unknown. Physically, this camp is comprised of RVs, cars and tents, but its members believe that community can be built without “infrastructure or individual responsibilities.”(Dunphy and Ve, 2010)


Fig. 12

In a celebration of this ideal, 500,000 + people gather every year on the Saturday before Labor Day to create Black Rock City. Before 1996 the city had no central plan, and similar formations to those in Quartzite could be seen. Black Rock City now is a beautifully planned microcosm by self taught city planner Rod Garrett, who draws on past precedents such as circling covered wagons, Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia, Frederick Law Olmsted’s park designs, and Buddhist mandalas, which as he believes “expressed and abet a sense of communal belonging” (Bernstein, 2009). What Garrett came upon was a city in the shape of

Fig. 12: Burning Man 2005 Source: Gatecrusher from flickr.com


19. Bernstein, Fred. “Learning From Black Rock - Planning, Urban Design.” Archchitect Magazine. 17 Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2010. <http://www. architectmagazine.com/ architecture/crit-learningfrom-black-rock.aspx>. 20. Sheridan, Jessica. “Burning Man: Great Party, Urban Template.” AIA New York Chapter : Home. 30 Oct. 2007. Web. 06 Jan. 2011. <http://www. aiany.org/eOCULUS/ newsletter/?p=963>.

a C, created by a network of large concentric circles, with the last circle measuring 2 miles in diameter.19

A pentagonal limit sur-

rounds the city, creating a security boundary and providing emergency access.20

The concentric circles of the city create streets

which are named according to that year’s festival theme. In 2008, the theme was The American Dream, with street names such as Allante, Bonneville, Jeep, etc. These concentric circular streets are intersected radially by a second set of avenues, named by their clock position (1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc.). In the center of Black Rock City, on its highest point, stands a giant ‘burning man’ from which the festival was named. The other main attraction is the café, located at 6:00, and the only place that will accept monetary transactions.

Like all large communities, Burning Man has its own fractionalization. Garrett has taken the sub groups and modified his plan to include zoning.

One is now able to locate and join

theme camps, such as Camp Nomadia, without fear of fractural group gentrification. The plan for the city also zones according to program, placing the dance clubs between 2:00 and 10:00. Unlike in the fixed environment of Quartzite, Burning Man has the ability to spawn many different types of architecture. The Zendo Pavilion, designed especially for the festival by architect Paul Discoe and Amy Van Nostrand, is a circular chamber made entirely of recycled cardboard, with seating for 30. This portable structure is com-


Fig. 13

posed of 10 layers of cardboard and wood. The tapered roof has a 10’ oculus and oval cutouts in the walls. Another project created for Burning Man was Phillip Riser and Arthur Rodriquez’s Kazbus. In this project, an architect and an artist, respectively, renovated the interior of an 80’s school bus to create a miniaturized Kasbah.

Many designers and architects, including David Baker, noted architect who created the idea of the live work loft in San Francisco, are becoming more and more interested in this developing community.21 Academics from all fields such as sociologists, theologians and business professors are now using Burning Man as a precedent in their studies.22

The primary problem that Black Rock City faces is the requirement that everything used be shipped in before use, and then dismantled and shipped out at the end of the festival, leading to a less than sustainable community. On the bright side, the city itself has limit-

Fig. 13: Zendo Pavilion Source: Lang 21. Sardar, Zahid. “Burning Man: Designers Eager to Try Zen and the Art of Desert Architecture.” The San Francisco Chronicle 2 Sept. 2006: F1. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. 22. See Catherine Salliant’s Los Angeles Times article “Burning Man Becomes a Hot Academic Topic”


ed environmental impact. Like any metropolis, Black Rock City employs timeless city planning concepts of symmetry, site orientation, use of natural materials, accommodation for a growing population, the importance of landmarks and easy access to all parts of the city. Black Rock City demonstrates that streets without traffic signals are actually safer - bikes occupy the center of the road while pedestrians congregate and move on the edges. Public spaces in Black Rock City are not determined by commerce, to which city planner for Gensler, Hayley Fitchet, said “the chance to be a participant in public life should not come at the price of a cup of coffee” (Brock, 2009). Many things can be learned from both Burning Man and Quartzite and applied to other communities, making them a safer place for all.

In this day of mobilization, designers face the question “how does one design temporary locations for communities that provide for peoples needs without significant investments in time or capital?” A variety of mobile architectures, available since the nomadic tribes of our ancestors, now modernized to include pocket-sized pneumatic structures and large production stages, demonstrates a clear progression in the field.

Jagnefalt Milton’s A Rolling Master Plan aims toward that progression. Their proposed strategy of buildings with the ability to roll on train tracks will help reorganize programmatic requirements


Fig. 14

in relation to urban space. The mobile flexibility of this project will allow permanent cities and flash communities to adjust for uses such as population swell, concerts, festivals and markets, by providing space and mobility to otherwise static structures.21

The question facing modern architects is this: How do we adapt static spaces for use by people who are increasingly mobile? This question will grow more pertinent as technology provides the means of being transitory to populations which have historically been entirely sedentary. The answer now lies in the flexibility of oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s nodes in their journey. With travel between destinations becoming inconsequential, and the number of potential destinations increasing due to the unimportance of travel one must design for a node or space to be placed anywhere, and at any time. This solution may come in a form where the travel device becomes the point of destination, or where destinations move or adapt to meet the needs of the shifting communities that occupy them. Whatever the solution may be, the need for architects to design for the needs of a nomadic lifestyle will only continue to grow.

Fig. 14: A Rolling Master Plan Source: Jagnefalt Milton 21. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Jagnefalt Milton: a Rolling Master Plan.â&#x20AC;? Designboom. Accessed January 05, 2011. http:// www.designboom.com/ weblog/cat/9/view/12644/ jagnefalt-milton-arolling-master-plan.html.


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Architecure To Go: Archiecture for the discontiguous community