Archigram: Futuristic designs from the past

I can’t even recall when I first heard about Archigram, but I can tell you I remember sitting in my breaks from a bar job reading through old print-outs of Archigram pages, perhaps this was a sign that I was in the wrong job. But they don’t get much coverage in the press these days, despite their influence on modern architecture, they could even be attributed to why London is seen as a major city in the global architecture world, with Clerkenwell being home to more architects per square metre than any other place in the world.

So, who are Archigram? Archigram are amongst the most seminal, iconoclastic and influential architectural groups of the modern age. They created some of the 20th century’s most iconic images and projects, rethought the relationship of technology, society and architecture, predicted and envisioned the information revolution decades before it came to pass, and reinvented a whole mode of architectural education – and therefore produced a seam of architectural thought with truly global impact.

archigram-montage

The name Archigram (Architecture+Telegram) was invented to describe a home-made magazine put together in 1961 by the young architects, Peter Cook and David Greene, joining first with Mike Webb. This free-form magazine was designed to explore new projects and new thinking which were overturning the strict modernist dictates of the 1960s.

The extent of Archigram’s influence is clear…the award of the RIBA Gold Medal – usually reserved for those producing a substantial quantity of built work – goes some way to show just how far the influence of this largely unbuilt group extends. Archigram can be said to have redesigned the scope of experimental thought and teaching – and hence architectural practice – throughout the world, overturning established ideas and calling into question the idea of what architecture actually is.

Archigram-Story-by-Peter-Cook

The true story told by Peter Cook:

Around the end of the 1950’s there were some fantastic stuff going on… such as Mike Webb’s furniture factory which was called ‘Bowel-isn’ by Reyner Banham for obvious reasons!

David Greene and I got to know Mike and used to meet up pretty regularly in a ‘greasy spoon’ cafe at Swiss Cottage.

“Why don’t we publish the cheerful stuff”, “Wot’s being built now is boring”.

So we chatted on and on and invited some more people round… we sat around in different flats, each week… debating the issues of the architectural scene… and inevitably we started talking about some sort of publication.

“What shall we call it?”… what about an Archi-Gram like a Tele-Gram or an Aero-Gramme.

We had all studied in different schools which gave it a good ‘edge’. In it, of course we had schemes by the people who had been meeting-up… Steve Osgood, Bob Manley, John Outram, Tony Gwilliam.

Some prize-money was put into the next Archigram publication… and this time we invited a few more people to contribute in particular we wanted to make contact with Ron Warren Dennis… these guys who worked for the LCC (the London Country Council).

They sent in some of their schemes and I spoke to Ron Herron on the telephone! The theme of expendability and throw-away architecture and the inspiration of Buckminster Filler seemed to underly several items in Archigram 2. In Archigram 2 we also invited… and got to know Cedric Price.

Then I got this phone call… “do you want to come and work on this scheme for Euston?” It was Theo Crosby (then at Taylor Woodrow). The Euston office became a good place for the two groups to get to know each other and… Mike would make this odd space-cities under his drawing board.

Ron Herron, Warren Chalk and Dennis Crompton were already there… David Greene, Mike Webb and I joined and the three of us who were still only a couple of years out of school were still a bit in awe of Ron Herron and Dennis who had built stuff. They moved around us slightly bemused.

Theo Crosby suggested that we could do an exhibition about cities at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and that is how we came to do the exhibition ‘Living City’. We learned to weld, we learned to glue, we learned to fix switches. Imperceptible links were made as we worked on the exhibition and we talked and talked about art, about cities, about cybernetics, about inventions, about robots, about americana.

Dennis was the one who knew how to make the rubber grommets and switches and we all did bits of the ‘gloops’ within the envelope.

Reyner Banham was the first serious person to notice us and talked about the work of the Archigram group. Funnily enough, we ourselves didn’t call ourselves that name but more and more other people did… so one day we said ‘what the hell’… and made a letterhead with “Archigram Group” on it… and there we were…

Archigram 4 was the flag for what became a high period of… not only slogans but schemes. Sometimes individual, sometimes done by the whole group, always discussable, that’s what Archigram has always been about.

 

Further reading:

Daniel

Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started ateliertally.com as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.

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