Archigram
Archigram
Archigram
Archigram
Archigram

Archigram

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Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s, based at the Architectural Association, London, that was neo-futuristic, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects. The main members of the group were Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb and David Greene.

Initially just a magazine, Archigram -- a name combining "architecture" and "telegram" to emphasize the urgency of the task the group had set themselves -- found inspiration in the pop art and technological advances of the age.

Seen as a "student joke", the first issue sold 300 copies and railed against what the collective saw as the overbearing conservatism of the era's architectural establishment.

‘Archigram I’ was printed in 1961 to proclaim their ideas. Committed to a 'high tech', light weight, infra-structural approach that was focused towards survival technology, the group experimented with modular technology, mobility through the environment, space capsules and mass-consumer imagery. Their works offered a seductive vision of a glamorous future machine age; however, social and environmental issues were left unaddressed.

"We have chosen to bypass the decaying Bauhaus image which is an insult to functionalism," averred Greene in the 1961 issue, produced under the belief that "everything is possible".

Designer Theo Crosby was the "hidden hand" behind the group. He gave them coverage in Architectural Design magazine (where he was an editor from 1953–62), brought them to the attention of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, where, in 1963, they mounted an exhibition called Living Cities, and in 1964 brought them into the Taylor Woodrow Design Group, which he headed, to take on experimental projects.

Living City was the group’s first manifesto in which they showed the metropolis being "a unique organism" that technology frees from its chains. That same year, Peter Cook introduced Plug-in City, in which living-units were interconnected and moved around on a network of cranes. Cook says the group was "teasing the architectural extremity".

“… our belief in the city as a unique organism underlies the whole project.”

When, in 1968, Archigram announced its urban plan for a flying Instant City, the magazine was publishing thousands of copies. As well as the magazine, which saw a total of nine editions, Archigram opened its own architectural practice in 1969. Yet by the time it broke up in 1974, the group had built only three modest projects; a children's playground, an exhibition in London and a swimming pool for British rock singer Rod Stewart.

"Archigram gave us a chance to let rip and show what we wanted to do if only anyone would let us," said Ron Herron just before his death in 1994. "They didn't."

Archigram agitated to prevent modernism from becoming a sterile and safe orthodoxy by its adherents. Unlike ephemeralization from Buckminster Fuller which assumes more must be done with less material (because material is finite), Archigram relies on a future of interminable resources.

The works of Archigram had a neo-futuristic slant being influenced by Antonio Sant'Elia's works. Buckminster Fuller and Yona Friedman were also important sources of inspiration. The works of Archigram served as a source of inspiration for later works such as the High tech 'Pompidou centre' 1971 by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, early Norman Foster works, Gianfranco Franchini and Future Systems.

Inspired by Archigram as well as also inspiring the Pompidou Center in Paris was architect Cedric Price. Price’s supposed brilliance is hard to gauge, as very few of his designs were actually built - the most famous exception being the aviary at London Zoo. But if genius is the ability to convey complex information in simple images, then Price gets it with egg.

The city as an egg, to be exact. Price condenses millennia of urban evolution into three types of egg: boiled, poached and scrambled - in that chronological order.

From its origins in the mists of time up until fairly recently, the urban form resembled a hard-boiled egg. The city was a dense, compact centre, protected by defensive walls from the evils of the wider world.

Cannon power eventually rendered city walls obsolete, and most were razed from the 17th to 19th century.

This, together with the rapid growth of population and industry around that time, caused cities to expand rapidly. This is the poached-egg model: the core retains its ancient function as the place of reference and the seat of power, but it is surrounded by expanding rings of residential and industrial areas, and infrastructural networks providing utilities and transportation.

But the centre cannot hold. Like a star at the end of its life, the core of the city collapses under the weight of its own sprawl. The car has made it much easier (and cheaper) to live, work and shop near the ring roads than in the choked middle of town. This, the scrambled-egg model, is also the most relevant type of urban development today.

And what type of egg will the city of the future resemble? This will probably depend on the future cost of mobility, which might become too prohibitive to sustain the present, scrambled-eggs model.

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