ARCHIGRAM

Architecture firm, England
Archigram is both a group of British architects and their architectural periodical,
which gave the group its name. Between 1960 and 1972, Archigram published nine
issues of the periodical, staged exhibitions and conferences, and devised a number of
influential architectural projects. Founded by Peter Cook (1936-), the group consisted of
Cook, David Greene (1937-), Mike Webb (1937-), Warren Chalk (1927–88), Dennis
Crompton (1935-), and Ron Herron (1930–94). Their avantgarde architecture rejected
heroic modernism in favor of expendable, variable, and often mobile combinations of
component units plugged into superstructures. Although Archigram gained worldwide
recognition, their Utopian project owed much to the intense architectural debate
fermented by the massive rebuilding projects of postwar Britain. The group drew on
eclectic sources, including R.Buckminster Fuller, the Independent Group, Reyner
Banham, comic books, science fiction, consumer imagery, and contemporary technology,
such as the Tels tar satellite, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s mobile
launch towers, and the more modest Airstream trailer.
In late 1960, Cook, Greene, and Webb began meeting in an effort to perpetuate the
vibrant intellectual climate that they had experienced at architecture school. Their
publication both augmented their activities, providing a forum for ideas as well as a
publication venue for student work, and gave the group its name. Archigram not only suggested the
immediacy of a telegram or an aerogram (i.e. “archi[tecture]-gram”) and the urgency of
their ideas but also described the broadsheet format of the fledgling publication. The first
issue, published in 1961, featured both Greene’s poetry and a collage composed of
provocative statements that wound around and through images of architectural projects, a
metaphor for the group’s desire to break down traditional barriers between form and
statement. The document proclaimed their response to postwar British architecture: “we
have chosen to by pass the decaying Bauhaus image/which is an insult to functionalism”
Entries A–F 101
in favor of organic forms that “flow,” signaling their enduring interest in the inventive
use of architecture to foster communication.
By 1963 the group had coalesced. That year they produced both Archigram 3 and the Living City exhibition,
staged at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London). Archigram 3 celebrated expendability,
claiming that the change in “user-habits” occasioned by expendable items such as food
packaging should prompt a comparable change in “user-habitats,” an argument for
“throwaway architecture” that would mirror the consumerist lifestyle of the late 20th
century. Inspired by William H. Whyte and Jane Jacobs, Li ving City examined the urban matrix of
which architecture was but one component. The group claimed that “when it is raining in
Oxford Street, the architecture is no more important than the rain, in fact the weather has
probably more to do with the pulsation of the living city at a moment in time” (Living Arts 2 [June
1963]). The installation comprised seven “Gloops,” spaces that defined constituent
elements of the living city, such as Communications, Crowd, and Movement. This “city
stimulator,” a Postmodern pastiche inspired by the Independent Group’s This Is Tomor row exhibition,
installed at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (London) in 1956, urged the spectator toward an
awareness of the vitality and the value of city life. Both Archigram 3 and Living City consolidated the group’s
conviction that modernist architecture mistakenly prioritized heroic permanent structures
over the user’s changing needs, thereby failing to respond to contemporary
developments, such as technology, the consumer economy, and modern communications.
With Archigram 4 (1964), the group embarked on a series of celebrated projects that revolved
around the notion of individual capsules that clipped onto or plugged into a structural
framework. These capsules were mobile, expendable, and responsive to human desires,
thereby embodying Archigram’s central concerns. Cook’s Entertainments Tower (1963),
an entertainment center proposed for the Montreal Exposition (1967), consisted of a
concrete tower on which hung facilities (such as an auditorium) that could be removed or
replaced after the exposition. Similarly, his Plug-In City, a series of ideas developed
between 1962 and 1966, proposed expendable capsules plugged into the network
structure by means of integrated cranes. In 1964 Herron proposed Walking City, mobile
megastructures that walked across both sea and land on robotic, spiderlike legs.
Subsequent projects deployed these ideas on a smaller and perhaps more attainable scale.
Webb proposed the Cushicle (1966–67), a personalized enclosure that enabled a human
to carry a complete environment in a backpack that inflated when needed, and the
Suitaloon (1968), a space suit that inflated to serve as a minimal house. These projects
enabled the consumer to construct a personalized environment, free of the strictures of
modernist architecture.
Archigram 4 not only initiated a series of celebrated projects but also brought the group
worldwide attention. Pages were widely reproduced in magazines, providing the model
for other anti-architecture groups, such as the Italian Archizoom group, and group
members were invited to lecture worldwide. In 1966 they organized the International
Dialogues on Experimental Architecture (IDEA), an exhibition and conference in
Folkestone, Kent, England, which attracted notable speakers. In 1967 the Weekend Telegraph
commissioned Archigram to design a house for the year 1990 and received a structure
that could be adjusted to accommodate various daily activities, which was exhibited at
Harrods in London. Archigram was invited to exhibit at both the 1968 Milan Triennale
and Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. In 1970 the group was invited by the Ministre d’Etat of
Monaco to participate in a limited competition for a seaside entertainment center in
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 102
Monte Carlo. True to the group’s anti-heroic stance, their winning project was an
underground structure that preserved the view of the sea. Because of the difficult
economic climate of the 1970s, the Monte Carlo project was never built.
Archigram’s significant collective activities ended in 1972, although its members
remained active as designers, teachers, and archivists of their own history. Archigram
remained influential: a sequence of exhibitions and publications has celebrated their
work, and their anti-architecture stance figures in any history of 20th-century
architecture. Their legacy proves difficult to quantify not only because the members
contributed to a diffuse international discourse about architecture but also because their
projects seem to presage innumerable contemporary trends, including both high-tech and
sustainable approaches to design. More concrete influence can be seen in the work of
Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’s Pompidou
Centre (1976) in Paris. Archigram’s medium has proven as powerful as its message. Its
members’ combination of intricate draftsmanship and collaged elements—including
comic books, advertising imagery, and Day-Glo colors—produced a vivid visual record
that typifies the decade of pop art, Marshall McLuhan, the Beatles’ Yellow Subma rine, and Rowan and
Martin’s Laugh-In. Similarly, both their anti-authoritarian stance and their focus on the individual
reflect the social concerns of the 1960s. Nostalgia for the decade, as well as the
continuing aptness of Archigram’s inventive architecture, continues to spur interest in the
group, as evidenced by the 1998–99 retrospective exhibition.

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