Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.

A few years ago now a small bunch of wellington architecture students and recent grads flew up to Auckland, excited by the prospect of a Conference about a radical Architecture Student Congress that happened in the 70s in Auckland.  There are a number of stories that have unraveled from this event, but a particularly memorable presentation that day was from Kate Heron (or was it Sam Hardingham, i can never remember, shamefully) from the University of Westminster, who had been working alongside David Greene -a poet and member of the Archigram group- anyhow, she presented on a particular project called the Invisible University -which we were invited to contribute ideas to (the presentation included a recital of a poem from Greene, which was particularly great, and should probably be posted here…I have it somewhere).

A lasting impression was the excitement that a revitalised and active member of an incredibly famous group (in the architecture community) was to some extent continuing its work some 30 years later, in a reasonably radical way.

Westminster University has just published the Archigram Archival Project online. It is an amazingly comprehensive digital archive of the entire Archigram oeuvre, containing hundreds of projects and thousands of staggering images produced by the group in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Almost 10,000 items are included in this archive, including digital versions of drawings, collages, paintings, photographs, magazines, articles, slides and multi-media material, accompanied by original texts by Archigram wherever these are available. Around half of these items belong to the 202 projects currently listed and given project numbers by Dennis Crompton in the Archigram Archives. The rest are supporting and contextual material such as letters, photos, texts and additional projects provided by the depositors.”

What I find interesting given this new availability is the possibility for a renewed enthusiasm and experimentation in architectural representation, especially from the student body, which in large, produces increasingly frigid architectural representations –a tangential discussion to be had relates to the uptake of digital representation in architectural practice, which in my mind is still largely in a state of clumsy infancy in most conventional architecture schools and practices: the uptake seems too excited by production rather then quality-.

What I find interesting is the conceptual and intellectual rigour and consistency applied throughout the body of work, which radically attempted to imagine future conditions for modernity, the city, the suburb (and so on, the breadth is phenomenal), and to a huge extent has been proven as fairly accurate.  Commodity-fetishism, virtual nomads, techno-environmentalism and invisible network cities are just a handful of ideas flooding through the work, which remember, was created when only snippets of these conditions were evident -the mobile phone was really only taken up in the 70s.  In some ways the work might be framed as evolutionary, exploring and fantasizing about the things they saw around them, and developing those aspects they thought would persist.
A few favourites:

Sin Centre

“Entertainments Palace’ on the site of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. Originally ‘failed’ as student final thesis project at the Regent Street Polytechnic

The Polytechnic failed the scheme and continued to do so several times even after its prominent display at MOMA and published status as an epoch-making and original technic icon.”

This makes me think of the stories heard (in nz…a few years back) of students being failed in final years of study, only to retort that the university wasn’t able to argue its case based on the assessment criteria, and eventually were forced to pass the student under legal presuure.  I wonder what it would take to fail these days, sure you could do it by being crap -maybe, but it would be interesting to see which directions you could take architecture that might be considered un-architectural enough to be denied by the university.  I know I tried… and there’s plenty to be analysed there, but I havn’t been bothered yet.

Plug In University Node

“The University Node was an exercise to discover what happened to the various notions of gradual infill, replacement and regeneration of parts on to a Plug-in City megastructure: but with a specific kind of activity.”

Instant City

“Instant City forms part of a series of investigations into mobile facilities which are in conjunction with fixed establishments requiring expanded services over a limited period in order to satisfy an extreme but temporary problem.”

Sorry about the clumsy formatting, but i like how hungry the images get all over the website.

Love it.

9 Replies to “Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.”

  1. It’s a bit silly to comment on my own post, but just looking at these again, i’d confidently say i’ve hardly seen anything as evocative, intriguing and energetic as these drawings in my years in architecture schools (nearly a decade now..), they are simply stunning. Inspiringly so…
    it’s interesting from an investment point of view, the online archive apparently costing about NZ$650,000 funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and no doubt huge amounts of invested energy and enthusiasm by Dr Kester Rattenbury (Principal Investigator) and Professor Murray Fraser (Co-Investigator) from Westminster (in the EXP unit -Experimental Practice research centre). This could catalyse a serious reconsideration and influence of the Archigram work, which I think is quite often underwritten by young students who are more inclined (culturally) to assess the work from a representational perspective -which is important- but risks being skimmed for its spatial and programmatic radicality. Fortunately a fair amount of original Archigram text accompanies each project which is incredibly insightful…

  2. fanastic find byron. Inspirational drawings. We are teaching a class on affordable housing at the moment and its quite interesting how the need for more visionary/utopian ideals has gained a lot more legitimacy lately. In some ways its the only plausible way to confront the difficult issues of the cost of housing with future issues of food security and petrol price rise. Archigram somehow managed to make themselves the primary reference point for this new visioning now. They really were just 40 years ahead of themselves, and thank god for that.

  3. I agree, the drawings are inspirational.. Archigram were truly ahead of their time and they certainly have a lot to answer for considering the work of subsequent generations of designers/architects/cultural protagonists as well as visual culture in general.

    I also agree with your comment on idealism, in some ways paper architecture and its associated research has become more important than ever as a way engaging with this idealism, in order to confront the problems we’ll face in the future.

    Let’s also not forget the work of people like Constant Nieuwenhuys, who even preceded the work of Archigram.

  4. Actually, I think the term ‘paper architecture’ is an odd one to say the least.. and furthermore I’m not sure what it actually means, as I think that architecture inherently works within the world of representation so the idea of it being ‘paper’ (or implicitly unbuilt) is somewhat besides the point.. perhaps it should just be called architecture for the sake of argument, as architecture is fundamentally about drawing.

  5. I agree about the paper architecture thing. If architecture is supposed to be about something more than building then the process of putting these ideas into drawing can’t be some extra bit added on to the discipline. Its integral to it. Surely.

  6. Dale, can you elaborate on what Archigram might have to ‘answer for’ – I like the challenge- the phrasing suggests their impact has been both positive and negative.. which I can imagine.. can you offer some examples?

    It would also be interesting to consider HOW they might answer… there’s a great image here [http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=9210] of Peter Cook antagonising his contemporary audience, which to me makes some linkage to the issue.. is he talking about a contemporary radical group,, is he talking about if archigram’s designs ‘happened’…

  7. Byron, good point.. I think I was initially coming from the point of view that their impact has been predominantly positive.. but now that you mention it, there are probably quite a few examples of negative off-shoots.

    In some ways I feel Archigram did a lot of good in reinforcing an ‘anti-hero’ status i.e. where the architect isn’t the ‘Fountainhead-demiurgic-form-maker’, as the futurist world city ideal they were proposing had no place for such creatures in it’s complex and ever-evolving universe (instead the architect became a sort of anthropological shape-shifter).
    An interesting by-product of their influence has been a sort of ‘fetishism of the technological aesthetic’ amongst architects of subsequent generations (Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano et al.) where the use of technology as an aesthetic becomes symbolic to the ideals of the ‘new/future’ and progress (whether one thinks this is positive or negative is up for debate – it’s interesting from a visual culture point of view nevertheless).
    It’s also interesting when one thinks of concurrent groups that were happening around the same time as Archigram, like the Japanese Metabolists – the ‘Nakagin Capsule Tower’ in Tokyo by Kisho Kurokawa (built in 1972) is widely seen as one of the important examples of Metabolist architecture, which is also in a constant state of disrepair and has dated horrendously…

    The question of how they should respond is an interesting one.. Perhaps if they were to reform and have one last gig, would it be as awkward as the The Velvet Underground’s brief reunion after all those years? Who would replace Ron Herron on drums? Can Peter Cook still sing? etc. etc. In some ways, I believe it would be more poetic if there was no answer at all, as I think the answer is absorbed within the reverberance of Archigram’s influence – whether we like it or not…

  8. In a way they did their reunion tour last decade when their exhibition toured, along with various discussion panels and events -David Greene used it as a platform to run a studio on proposals for the Invisible University [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrS72w-2mGQ], there are quite a few linking YouTube videos documenting that occassion. It also coincided with them being awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 2002, only Colin Rowe and Nikolaus Pevsner had previously achieved that without a built project.

    Sir Peter Cook is curious for having built the Kunsthaus Graz (in partnership with Colin Fournier), sharing a rare commonality with comrade Cedric Price in having an enourmous educational effect on a generation of architects (both at the AA, but Cook moved to Frankfurt then the Bartlett in the 2000s), but very little built work. It’s a pretty intriguing phenomenon, one that probably needs a type of analysis that plays the Kunsthaus against any of his previous works (drawn or otherwise), as well as somehow engaging with his teaching practice… I’m not sure exactly how to do that, but it seems like a valuable task. His rhetoric would be invaluable and revealing in that investigation. Cedric Price has been published quite thoughtfully by Samantha Hardingham.

    Im also reminded of Daniel Libeskind’s frightening (for him) leap from academic and theoretical works (also the AA for some time), to winning the Jewish Museum competition & commission. They are very different architects, and have had very different careers, but there seems to be a thread between them in terms of a complex and theoretically founded practice -one which is played out in the built environment to different degrees by both. My spontaneous reaction is that Libeskind’s work has become awkwardly stylistic (formal repititions) since moving more predominantly to building practice, where Cook seems tactfully (and characteristically) debonair with the Kunsthaus and practice is general. Maybe the comparison is arbitrary. Peter Eisenmann should probably be in that conversation too I suppose, given my criteria.

    Visual culture is definitely a ripe avenue to reconsider the ‘contemporary archigram’, which I would link most closely to post-humanism, an idea being played out in quite a few music videos (which I considered here: http://respeak.net/articles/when-the-going-gets-weird), literature (Warren Ellis’s ‘Transmetropolitan’ is an excellent and frightening graphic novel) and of course film.

    I think a similarly radical group of curious and ambitious speculators these days would get pretty weird pretty quickly…

  9. Es una pena que tanto trabajo de Archigram no se enseñe en las escuelas de Arquitectura . yo acabé hace unos años pero siguen igual, racionalismo cuadriculado. Desconfía de la curva.
    Yo encuentro también profundo su ideario. Creo que se adelantaron unas décadas. Pero encuentro muchos profesionales que mencionan a Archigram como en tono de burla. Es impresionante la influencia que han ejercido en muchos arqtos tecnológicos , y lo que aún nos ñpuedes transmitir

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