Tama-Re, or the Egypt of the West

[Image: The black pyramid at Tama-Re, the Egypt of the West].

After watching a documentary about Ted Kaczynski—the Unabomber—a few months ago, I got to looking into the supermax prison where Kaczynski is now being held in the mountains of Colorado. And there are a lot of bizarre people up there, including Andrew Fastow, former Chief Financial Officer of Enron, and Charles Harrelson, the (now deceased) hitman father of actor Woody Harrelson.

One of the inmates who particularly stood out, however, was Dwight York. York is "an author, black supremacist leader, musician, and convicted child molester," Wikipedia tells us, and he built a colorful, Ancient Egyptian-themed instant city on several hundred acres of forest land in the U.S. state of Georgia.

[Image: Tama-Re photographed from above, via Wikimapia].

The Urban Dictionary's description of Tama-Re is amazing; it reads like every race-based fear of the white U.S. middle class summed up in one surreal location.
    When York and his Nuwaubians moved there and began erecting pyramids and obelisks there was much curiosity about the group. However trouble started when the citizens became aware of the fact that York was an ex-Black Panther and a convicted felon and statutory rapist who was preaching the gospel that whites were mutants and were inferior to blacks. There is also a foam rubber alien on display in the compound that causes problems with public relations. Officials have had problems with the Nuwaubians failing to comply with zoning and building permits that coincide with what they have created. The Nuwaubians feel that this is a racist attack.
It's hard to top a "foam rubber alien," but the fear-factor nonetheless gets ratcheted up a notch:
    Many children from upper middle class cities have left college to live in poverty at the cult's compound, Tama Re. This has caused a lot of turmoil in the lives of many families who can't accept the fact that their sons and daughters have left them to follow an alien messiah. Throughout the grounds speakers everywhere emit the humming sound of Egyptian chants 24 hours a day. Inside one of the pyramids you can buy books and clothes as well as a Dr. York doll. The people who live on the land dwell in a trailer park full of double-wides. York claims his people are Moors who traveled by foot from Africa to what is currently Georgia before the continental drift. The only problem with this "indisputable" fact is that the moors were Muslims who existed way after the birth of Christ which was only approximately 2000 years ago.
Ergo, there was no way in plate tectonics that they could have walked all the way to Georgia.

In June 2005, after the compound's governmental seizure, financial forfeiture, and ensuing sale for $1.1 million, outright demolition began. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, the local sheriff was on the scene, "speaking with relish as he watched crews tear through the series of obelisks, statues, arches and buildings. Many of the dozens of structures were weathered and in disrepair. He said very few of the Egyptian structures or objects were worth salvaging. 'It feels good to tear down the SOB myself,' he said. 'By the middle of next week, there will be nothing but a couple of pyramids.'"

How, though, could these sorts of messianic compounds be addressed by and incorporated into architectural discourse? How do tacky black pyramids full of Luxor references complexify or contradict something like Venturi & Scott-Brown's ideas of pop cultural ornament discussed just this past weekend at Yale?

Put another way, when will religious compounds meet their Tom Vanderbilt—that is, a journalist willing to travel around the world writing an architectural history of these fringe religious environments and stylistically eccentric cult enclaves?

These are sites built such that their every spatial detail is not justified by some historically rigorous academic architectural code, but because they function, psychologically, as a piece-by-piece tuning of the built environment. Add enough ornamental references together, these spaces say, and some weird new Messiah might yet someday return. It is functional ornament.

[Image: The ashes of the David Koresh compound in Waco, Texas].

Of course, I'm fascinated by the idea that Tehran, for instance, has been analyzed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who trained as a traffic engineer—for its ability to handle the crush of cars and pedestrians that will show up to greet the returning Messiah. And, spatially speaking, I would love to read more about the now-destroyed Texas farmhouse inside of which David Koresh once preached his Branch Davidian gospel. But what about the central headquarters of Aum Shinrikyo, where LSD-fueled physicists meditated in the dark, crowned with well-lit helmets of electrodes, or the mirrored room inside of which Heaven's Gate cultists once strangled themselves out of fear of Hale-Bopp?

Somewhere between Spaced Out, Survival City, and the excellent (though over-exposed) Gomorrah, a seriously amazing book about the architectural design of religious compounds is waiting to be written.

Princeton Architectural Press should contract Sam Jacob and Charles Holland to write this, immediately: gonzo architectural criticism in an era of the postmodern religious baroque.

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Anonymous David Maxam said...

Excellent observations. It's in these fringe movements that we can break out of our everyday perspective and see the power of architecture revealed. Is the Mall of America with it's logos any less a temple chock full of cult symbolism?

January 26, 2010 10:34 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

right on.... also don't forget the 'yearning for zion' polygamist mormon compound in texas. lots of rich material there...

January 26, 2010 10:37 PM  
Blogger mapticon said...

Good call Geoff, I came across the above the same way via wikipedia reading about lifers at the federal pen in CO.

January 26, 2010 10:48 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Pasternack said...

great article! this is a great website i linked to from wikipedia that shows the eerie egyptian monuments in greater detail: http://www.nuwaubiaholylandofthenuwaubians.com/

another topic that this article could generate is a discussion of kitsch architecture in general, or more specifically ancient egyptian kitsch architecture (i.e. graumann's egyptian theater in hollywood and luxor hotel in las vegas). what do you think?

January 27, 2010 12:58 AM  
Blogger ABSTRACT CONCEPT said...

Moors with pyramids??, haha it's the funniest thing I ever heard!!! where these people come from??? they should inform themselves before believing whatever....

January 27, 2010 5:22 AM  
Anonymous JF Ptak said...

Some "religious" beliefs are whackier than others, or at least follow a logical structure. I'm not saying that Yorkland would've weathered well over another half-century, but there are currently some very well established religious communities that started out in a similar fashion whose foundations are now semi-forgotten because there's so much stuff and investment and time piled up on top of them. The article did make very interesting reading and the PUP idea is a good one--I'd read the book. THanks again.

January 27, 2010 9:13 AM  
Anonymous cyberseer said...

Don't you think that Tehran being planned for a "returning of a messiah" very useful for reacting in a situation of war or natural disaster?

Iran often gets Earthquakes and is by far the most threatened with war country in the World.

Ahmadinejad really isn't a stupid or loony cult leader. He's very smart and pragmatic.

January 27, 2010 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you could see the pyramids off the interstate state driving into and out of macon, behind razor fences and 10 miles north of the air force base.

January 28, 2010 5:28 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

For something on this line, I recommend A Visionary State by Erik Davis and Michael Raumer, a large-format book on California spiritual groups' buildings and other constructions.

The Federal Correctional Complex at Florence, Colorado, by the way, is not in the mountains but on the prairie.

You can see mountains from there though.

January 30, 2010 1:39 PM  
Anonymous James Ewing said...

Don't forget Auroville!

February 02, 2010 12:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The Nuwabians also had a wonderfully curious building in Athens, GA, NE of the campus of the University of Georgia. A converted storefront, restaurant, or club (not sure which), it had a gaudy, complex stucco facade with a similar aesthetic to their compound outside of Macon. Unfortunately, that building was sold back in Fall 2008, and the facade was torn down in February 2009.

See a great image here/.

February 02, 2010 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikipedia (wicked) tells many things and is not 100% fact. Most of your facts about Dr. York and Egypt of the West, is based on third hand information. Dr Your was never part of the Black Punters Group nor is he a black supremacist leader he was a Master Teacher. People from around the world used to come to TaMaRe Egypt of the west. He’s Doctrine is based on Right Knowledge and Facts. He Speaks 19 ancient languages and wrote over 400 books. As a humble human being do apologise to your readers for giving them information which is based on believe not fact.
Ignorance kills

There are more than 3 million Nuwaubian around the world from every walk of life and the doctrine of Dr Malachi Z York is growing more than ever.

May 25, 2010 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a pretty good coffee table book called "In Advance of the Landing" that deals somewhat with the architecture spawned by the post-war UFO boom, and the folk-art that came out of the fascination & paranoia of the time. Yes, mostly crackpots building non-flying saucers in their yards, but also some more elaborate cult compounds.

July 20, 2010 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wrong, wrong wrong. Your information is totally backwards. If you never studied Nuwaupian culture not cult then you're probably not credible to write blogs based on the internet slander perpetrated by the media.

August 28, 2013 12:26 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Anonymous, care to enlighten us?

August 28, 2013 1:44 PM  

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