Archigram, one of the most influential architectural groups of the last century, famous for bridging social, technological, and architectural aspects in speculative visions and projects, began as a magazine. The publication, was initially hand made and put together by Peter Cook, David Greene, and Mike Webb. It started in 1961 and came out with nine issues. Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, and Warren Chalk joined the group later on.

According to the Archigram Archival Project, “This free-form magazine was designed to explore new projects and new thinking which were overturning the strict modernist dictates of the 1960s.”

According to Peter Cook, the origin of the group are to be found at the end of the 1950’s in the informal conversations that were happening first at a cafe, then in various flats. Here, Peter Cook, Mike Webb, David Greene and others engaged in debates about architecture, and thought of a publication to combine their ideas and communicate them to a broader audience.

The members of the group came from very different schools; each one of them had a distinct personality, research interests and approaches. The nine issues of Archigram maintain the style of these conversations by collecting diverging views and juxtaposing alternative proposals for the future.

Similarly to Utopie, issues from the present (e.g. urbanisation, environmental concerns, consumerism) were pushed to the limit and used as point of departure to speculate on radical possibilities for the future. But while Utopie focussed mainly on the critique of the present (at least as a publication), Archigram went as far as proposing ideas for a systemic redesign and redefinition of cities centred on change, adaptability an continuous reassembly. Both the process of making and the fluid layout of the magazine are particularly suitable to represent these leitmotifs.

Both in Utopie and Archigram, in fact, the characteristics of the printed media were explored in an experimental way by playing with the layout, compositions, and techniques. Collages, drawings and text coexist almost all the pages, and provide a visual narration of the ideas presented. Just like the cities they present, their visualisations are made of bits and pieces from different styles and sources; they are cut and pasted and assembled in fluid layouts.

The visual language assumes three functions:

  1. At the end of a conversation: to represent the outcomes.
  2. As a conversation: to orchestrate voices and ideas.
  3. As a starting point: to generate further conversations once it is distributed

Each issue has its own story and unique characteristics, which are explained by Dennis Crompton on the Website of the Archigram archive: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk/magazine.php?id=96

ArchigramBook.jpg
Archigram 1 – photo of a reproduction of the magazine spread on the book “Archigram” edited by Peter Cook.

This blog focusses on visual conversations, so I think it is a good idea to stop here, despite all that it could be said about the impact of Archigram in the way we imagine urban futures. But the way Mike Webb described how Archigram changed drawing in architecture, when interviewed by Tim Abrahams needs to be mentioned!

“If you think of the sort of drawing one was expected to do prior to the beginning of Archigram there was very little projection or experimentation in projection. If you had a figure it should be modest and there merely to indicate scale, certainly not to occupy three quarters of drawing surface. We were a breakaway but on the other hand if you look at Richard Hamilton, “Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” you can see where we got the idea from. Richard Hamilton was an interesting guy. He was one of the Situationists. The Appealing picture is a collage made of magazines and it shows a very conventional, even cheap looking, living room. Bathing beauty and a muscle man posing; huge biceps and then out of the door and there’s a beautiful marble staircase leading to the floodlit cinema entrance. It is a beautiful dream-like picture. Archigram’s drawing style derives from that.

[…]

Why we needed it was to show an architecture appropriate to our period of time. It was an exciting period full of experimentation, bright colours, casual sex; it was the spirit of that period. That was put into those drawings – particularly those by Ron, Peter and to an extent Denis. It wasn’t really about showing new architecture it was about showing the building is in itself fun and exciting and is perhaps merely a backdrop to what is going on. The big thing is the fun times and the architecture that merely enables it but doesn’t determine it. The view of architecture prior to that was that you live according to the dictates of the building you are in. You are inventing a life and the architecture allows you to do it.”

Reference

The Archigram Archival Project: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk/

Dennis Crompton describing the “nine and a half” issues of the magazine: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk/magazine.php?id=96

Tim Abrahams’ interview to Mike Webb on Cosmopolitanscum: http://cosmopolitanscum.com/2011/10/28/interview-michael-webb/#more-948 

Sadler, Simon. 2005. Archigram: Architecture Without Architecture. MIT Press

Cook, Peter (ed.). 1999. Archigram. Princeton Architectural Press.

 

Featured image: Iqbal Aalam on Flickr.

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