Culture, Design
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Archigram – ‘every generation must make its own city’

Sketches and collages from ARCHIGRAM are a recurring reference point for Fat Nancy. The magazine dominated the architectural avant garde in the 1960s and early 1970s with its playful, pop-inspired visions of a technocratic future after its formation in 1961 by a group of young London architects – Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron and Michael Webb.

“A new generation of architecture must arise with forms and spaces which seems to reject the precepts of ‘Modern’ yet in fact retains those precepts. We have chosen to by pass the decaying Bauhaus image which is an insult to functionalism. You can roll out steel – any length. You can blow up a balloon – any size. You can mould plastic – any shape. Blokes that built the Forth Bridge – they didn’t worry.”

So wrote David Greene in a poem published in the first issue of Archigram magazine or, as Greene’s co-editor, Peter Cook, called it “a message, or abstract communication”. It was published in 1961 on a large sheet of the cheapest available paper. Filled with Greene’s poems and sketches of architectural projects designed by Cook, Michael ‘Spider’ Webb and other friends, the magazine voiced their frustration with the intellectual conservatism of the British architectural establishment.

 

It was a time of radical change. Politics had skipped a generation when John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States in 1960. The theories of Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss were igniting the intelligentsia; as were the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and François Truffaut in cinema. It was also a time of extraordinary technological advances when the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and the first weather satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral. The photocopier was invented, as were laser action hologram and the contraceptive pill.

They sold 300 copies of their magazine at nine pence each, mostly to architectural students and assistants in architects’ offices. As Cook recalled, it was “brushed off by the few senior architects who saw it as a student joke and…everybody thought it would die a natural death.” A year later, he, Greene and Webb printed a second, more substantial issue, which was typeset on stapled pages like a conventional magazine. It consisted of statements of intent by young architects including a trio – Warren Chalk, Dennis Crompton and Ron Herron – who worked together at London County Council and whose names had been noted enviously by the Archigram’s founders as the runners-up in various architectural competitions.

The second issue of Archigram came out in 1962, the year when Yves Saint Laurent opened his Paris fashion house, the Beatles stormed the pop charts with their debut single Love Me Do and Bob Dylan released his first album. Pop art hit the headlines when The New Realists, an exhibition featuring the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claus Oldenburg, opened in New York and, a few months later, the young British artists – David Hockney, Allen Jones and Peter Blake – were the hit of the Paris Biennial. Cook, Greene, Webb and their new collaborators – Chalk, Crompton and Herron – were invited to produce an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. It opened in 1963 as Living City, a manifesto for their belief “in the city as a unique organism”, which is more than a collection of buildings, but a means of liberating people by embracing technology and empowering them to choose how to lead their lives.

Living City caught the attention of Reyner Banham who, having championed Alison and Peter Smithson, two of the few “senior architects” whom the Archigram group admired, in the 1950s, now hailed Archigram as the pioneers of a new pop architecture in the 1960s. Rather than dying the “natural death” as its critics had expected, Archigram – the magazine and its editors – flourished.

[Extract from Design Museum website]

“ The happenings within spaces in the city, the transient throw-away objects, the passing presence of cars and people are as important, possibly more important in determining our whole future attitude to the visualization and realization of city” – Warren Chalk (Archigram member)

“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/ electronic age”– Warren Chalk (Archigram member)

“…somebody once said to me, ‘Don’t you want to see it built, don’t you want to be an architect?’ To my mind, the assumptions behind these questions betray a misunderstanding as to what the work of Archigram represents. A misreading of it as a set of proposals, a set of windows through which to see a ‘new world’, is only a rather pathetic regurgitation of the dogma which asserts that architectural drawings are representations of something that wishes to become.” -David Greene (Archigram member)

“ The rounded corners, the hip, gay, synthetic colors pop-culture props all combine to suggest an architecture of plastic, steel and aluminium, the juke boz and neon- lit street, the way a city environment should be” – ArchigramThe diagonal, “ is not only a product of current engineering experimental preference, but implies a purpose of the structure that is new to buildings: To provide an umbrella whithin which growth and change can take place” – Archigram“The fundamental characteristics of futuristic architecture will be expendability and transience. Our house will last less time than we do, every generation must make its own city” – Archigram“ Almost without realizing it, we have absorbed into our lives the first generation of expendables… food bags  paper tissues, polythene wrappers, ballpens, e.p’s … We throw them away almost as soon as we acquire them. … Every level of society and with every level of commodity, the unchanging scene is being replaced by the increase in change of our user-habitats— and thereby, eventually, our user-habitats” – Archigram
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