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ARCHIGRAM—AN ARCHITECTURAL COLLECTIVE OF WHIMSY

JONATHAN MEADES’ “SIGHTBITES,” in the London Review of Books, May 21, 2020, summed up Archigram perfectly: “They formed in the early 1960s and over the next decade or so produced thousands of designs for ‘cities of the future’ that were highly original, sometimes on the money, sometimes woeful, often funny, reliably coarse.” Here are tidbits on this architectural collective gleaned from Meades’ LRB article, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

Six Whimsical Futurists. The six Archigram members were Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Green, Ron Herren, and Michael Webb, moonlighting from regular responsibilities in (no particular order other than alphabetical) academe, architecture, art, design, lecturing, painting, and writing. They also had a “hidden hand” from Theo Crosby, editor at the time of the British Architectural Design.

Meades writes, “Archigram’s members weren’t hippies. They were of the generation that did National Service, just too young to have fought in the Second World War. David Bailey once said that ‘Swinging London’ was ‘just national servicemen gone demob happy.”

Archigram: From left to right, David Green, Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Michael Webb, Ron Herren, and Dennis Crompton. Image from The Guardian.

Wikipedia notes that “Archigram agitated to prevent modernism from becoming a sterile and safe orthodoxy by its adherents.”

They “agitated”? Yes, and delighted as well.

Instant City. Are you seeking a quick jazzing up of some underdeveloped drab setting? Look no further than Archigram’s Instant City, a mobile technological event that drifts in, with performance spaces in tow.

Instant City Visits Bournemouth, 1968, Peter Cook. Image from BMIAA.

The Walking City. Why make people move when you can relocate intelligent buildings and robots instead? Ron Herren’s Walking City is an array of giant, self-contained living pods that move where needed.

A Walking City, 1964, Ron Herren. Image from Designing Buildings Wiki.

Wikipedia observes this is “a literal interpretation of le Corbusier’s aphorism of a house as a machine for living in.”

Tuned-In Environments. Tired of conformity overwhelming art? Peter Cook’s Tuned-In City and Tuned-In Suburb celebrate innovative redevelopment while retaining neighborhood heritage.

The Tuned-In Suburb, Peter Cook. Image from pinterest.co.uk.

Archigram’s “response to the unresponsive city was to question (though not reject) the urban environment.”

Plug-In City. The idea of a Plug-In City is to fit prefabricated modules within a high-rise megastructure. The latter provides support systems and utilities. The prefabricated portions might be commercial establishments at street level and personalized apartment or entertainment modules higher up. Apartment modules could expand or contract in response to family requirements.

Plug-in City Concept, 1963–1966, Peter Cook. Image from dezeen.com.

Peter Cook said, “Pre-fabrication doesn’t have to be boring.”

Pompidou. But are any of Archigram’s proposals realizable?

Mais oui! Certainement!

The Centre Pompidou in Paris houses its Bibliothéque Publique d’Information, the Musée d’Art Moderne, and IRCAM, a center for music and acoustic research, all in a megastructure of specialized portions interconnected by transportation tubes.

Centre Pompidou, aka Beaubourg because of its location in this 4th arrondissement of Paris. Image from tiqets.com/en/paris.

The Centre Pompidou was designed by the architectural team of Richard Rogers, Su Rogers, and Renzo Piano. Wikipedia observes, “The selection was announced in 1971 at a ‘memorable press conference’ where the contrast between the sharply-dressed Pompidou [French president, 1969–1974] and ‘hairy young crew’ of architects represented a ‘grand bargain between radial architecture and establishment politics.’ ”

In spirit, Archigram was certainly there as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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