As promised at the end of February 2013, I welcome the spring by removing all the images from this Blog I uploaded at the end of July 2012. This saddens me but is to conform with the note received from Archigram Archives representative on 22 February 2013 (see below) about the use of copyright materials, a fact which is undeniable. However, my intentions were simply aimed at offering an open learning resource, sharing original Archigram intentions, when I as a student, bought the original magazines for pennies. In todays world these would have been available as a free/open resource for downloading on Internet.

I intend to revisit this Blog in future after studying the background of the competition and looking at some of the social/political changes which were taking place at that time eventually leading to the cancellation of this as a viable project.

This was a limited competition for an entertainment and sports building on the reclaimed foreshore of Monte Carlo. Archigram reached the final stage and came very close to building in this glamorous city to provide the vibrancy displyed in their graphics.

The Brief required a multi- purpose space to cater for large banquet; variety shows, a circus, Ice rink and cultural activities were also eagerly sought. Architects noticed the lack of a public park and this beach side proposal could extend its services but remained complimentary in atmosphere and experience.

David Greene’s Rockplug/Logplug acted as an inspiration, grassy bank with trees placed over the hole in the ground livened up this depressing area, while offering a glamourous setting as illustrated by liberal use of scanty clad women armed with sun glasses, and a grid of plug-in points for headphones and other modern paraphernalia livening up the site to fit in the famous city of Monte Carlo.  All the major functions brief required were housed in a large circular space chosen for its structural properties, covered with a shallow dome hidden under grass, offering extensive supports for all the technoligical kits Archigram could provide to improve upon Cedric Price’s Fun Place and Piano Rogers Beaubourg project.

The aim was to provide a large enough space for banquets, elephants or go-karts; adapting from chamber music to ice hockey. A place where the envelope and architecture was to become subservient to events and the structural systems and services providing magic tricks for multi-use were only playing the ‘second fiddle’.

The buried space was served by six entrances, each show making its own environment, organization and circulation patterns.
Most of the facilities like toilets, normally built-in were designed to be mobile, using a comprehensive set of kit of parts, set at a 6m metre grid and gantries.  The aim was to design a place not dissimilar to a live television studio, not unlike ‘Instant City’ in one location. No dividing line between performance and transmitted event (projection, overlay of media). Even after frequent visit to these activities, the visitors may not be able to appreciate the size or configurations within this large cavern.
An architecture that was to be made of the events rather than the envelope as it is likely Archigram considered Beaubourg was.

Peter Cook, Dennis Compton, Colin Fournier, David Greene with Ken Allison, Diana Jowsey, Stuart Lever. Engineered by Frank Whitby.

PS: I am informed that Ron Herron worked on the competition albeit whilst he was in America and consequently on the unbuilt scheme.

The information and original scans are attributed to an article in Architectural Design 1/70 Cosmorama

 

Advertisements

Archigram is well known and its influences on architectural world are clearly understood and illustrated. The name of Cedric Price (1934-2003) is often heard in Archigram circles as he was close to the group and took active part in discussions and even contributed but was never a formal member.

He was born in Potteries  his father was an architect who specialised in Art Deco Cinema design. Cedric Price was trained at Cambridge and AA where he also taught influencing many architects, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, Will Alsop to name a few. He also worked for Maxwell Fry & Denys Lasdun before setting his own practice to build Aviary for London Zoo. He built very little but like many other thinkers had tremendous influence on future direction of architecture which  continues to this day.

He was a believer in “calculated uncertainty” where adaptable, temporary structures were preferred. He believed that an ‘anticipatory architect’ should give people the freedom to control to shape their own environments. All buildings according to him should allow for obsolescence and complete change of use. Will Alsop, who worked for him in early 70s recalls  CP’s delight in designing a Cafe for Blackpool Zoo which was eventually to be turned into a giraffe home. This fitted perfectly into his themes of uncertainty, adaptability and change.

In his ‘Thinkbelt’ University project he proposed simple, moveable buildings which would deliver education “with the same lack of peculiarity as the supply of drinking water.”

His most influential project was ‘Fun Palace (1961) ‘  for Joan Littlewood. It was killed off by local government bureaucracy. The design of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou Centre in Paris is called a direct descendant. Soon after that he designed ‘ Potteries Thinkbelt (1964)’ which still makes great deal of sense. Among his built projects only Aviary in London Zoo remains, as he ensured that the other temporary structure for a community use ‘Inter-Action Centre’ in Kentish Town was not listed but demolished as intended. It is also amusing to recall that he was the only architect who was a fully paid-up member of ‘Britain’s National Institute of Demolition Contractors’.

“Aviary was designed for a community of birds and his idea was that once the community was

established it would be possible to remove the netting . The skin was a temporary feature: it only needed to be there long enough for the birds to begin to feel at home and after that they would not leave anyway. ………Price the theoritician, functionalist was frightened of and avoided style. …. he wasn’t interested in being remebered. He was building a memory.” 1*

Later in his life he worked on  ‘Magnet City’ which was an exercise in using intermediary spaces in London urban landscape to stimulate new patterns and situations for urban movement in the city. shown in an exhibition in 1997.

He also contributed to the ‘Non-Plan’ debate with Paul Baker and Peter Hall. This basically was an ‘anti-planning polemic’ which resulted in the formation of ‘enterprise zones’ like Canary Wharf in London and  ‘Metroland’ in Gateshead. On personal level I never came to see great sense in this reaction against the previous planning failures and put in their this ‘free for all’  American style money making  system even if it generated big business and attracted lots of users.

1* Will Alsop’s recollections.

Photo above shows three views (interior & exterior) of Fun Palace by Cedric Price 1962.

The Arts Barn

This science based university wanted to continue supporting music drama and arts activities which took place in an old undersized barn and its outbuilding. Smithsons by this time had some experience of drip-drip of funding and their proposals for a new building incorporating some existing buildings went for a very flexible approach with no less than 14 components building offering maximum flexibility for growth as funds became available. Unfortunately, the simple fact that funds quite often do not materialize for ages and the needs of the buildings change greatly meant that not one of these options was built apart from the first phase of this recreational building, a small performance auditorium at the east end of the campus was handed over to the university in 1990.

One part of the original Arts Barn and Smithsons multi-functional performance space continue to function despite very limited ancillary spaces essential to manage a multi-purpose space. Some of the original windows had to be blocked to create these essential areas to the detriment of the building and its use. There have been two unsuccessful architectural competitions, and one more is in offing, to enlarge and create an appropriate arts centre for this well used and flourishing art recreational building.

I must admit my own ignorance of influences of Hugo Haring on Smithsons till very recently, but this has been a key to understand a lot of things which begin to fall in right places. The development of a multi-functional performance spaces in Britain over last 50 years has produced some outstanding examples (Young Vic, Half Moon Theatre etc) but Alison Smithson’s structural mastery with a pristine timeless form, shunning all form making traps is a lesson I found a revelation.

 

The location of old Barn and the new auditorium was used by Smithsons to full advantage by forming an edge to a forecourt             situated to the east of  E6 acting as satellite or a gate house.

Peter Smithson wrote “ … the Art Barn …changes one’s perception of this space at the east end of the campus…the whole entrance side—suddenly, with one small intervention, seems like an old market square that can accept many different activities at many different times and seems perfectly suited to each; for example: first point of contact with the university community…student car boot sales…drive and ride for town festivals… students happenings… student rag assembly point… morris dancing… and so on.”

(Oh! How I would love to see students doing morris dancing here)

One must not be mislead by the simplicity of this building of sound construction using durable materials in a rectangular form. The simplicity of wall surfaces, both external and internal has been achieved by considerable hard work by architects and the  structural engineers. The load-bearing external cavity wall construction supporting an irregular plan form with twin gantries falling in one direction giving an asymmetrical section, relies heavily on lateral support offered by deep steel trusses, gantries and side galleries. A rather complicated system of vertical steel reinforcement rods in hollow concrete blocks filled with concrete at every fourth course and horizontal mesh steel in the coursing, in the areas where the supports were not available.

This seems to be in keeping with Smithsons constant experimenting with the building process resulting in thoroughly ‘conglomerate structure’ and alludes to Hugo Haring school of thought.

Another old theme of half complete building compared with a kind of ‘ruin in advance’ was also mentioned by Smithsons  “ …a place that can be walked through like a ruined abbey … like San Galgano, to name one sufficiently modest … columns standing bare; inside, outside, both seemingly pastoral and as one”. Unfortunately stainless steel has never made a good ruin, but good construction and a sensible location would at least ensure (I hope) that the building is incorporated in a future larger project. In a way I am relieved that Alison’s  ‘Hexenhaus’ like spidery cellular structures were never constructed as their scale, location and design seemed completely out of character with the ‘mat’ of original campus. These intrusions were very likely to be in the way of recently built huge expansion to sports facilities next to the Arts Barn and were very likely to face a ‘Robinhood’ like fate.

It takes a while for eyes to get used to severe reductive simplicity of visual language used in this structure, made more difficult by introduction of stainless steel fascias which stubbornly retain their hostile shine. The unexplained mysterious openings and ‘flashings’ still await any one of the 14 possible attachment of components which Alison Smithson designed in hope of future growth when the funds became available. The damage to a very tenderly and carefully designed building is difficult to assess when most of the major openings to the entrance lobby are blocked and storage facilities now clutter this (and external) space obliterating the vital source of light and views to the outside green space.

I am afraid that intrinsic qualities of this small but important building and its link with the historic continuity to the modern movement have failed to register with the lay public and architectural world in this country so far. I feel that the only chance of its survival in a meaningful way lies with an intelligent architect appointed to extend this facility. This well built, carefully positioned building can easily become an integral part of the proposals as originally envisaged by Alison Smithson. A good case can be made on economical grounds alone but please do not forget, the duty of teaching the architectural students being trained within yards of this ‘architectural history lesson’ would sooner or later come to realize the intentions of these great teachers and learn by experiencing and moving around this modest, subtle and a great little building.

The old b&w photos and information from AJs, 30 November 1983 and 16 January 1991.

Smithsons set on Flickr http; http://www.flickr.com/photos/iqbalaalam/sets/72157604409881882/