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.
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.
For the second Archigram magazine in 1962, Cook, Greene and Webb invited Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton and Warren Chalk, all working at the London County Council's architects department, to contribute. As the magazine grew and its circulation spread, the six began working together on specific projects, such as the ‘Living City’ exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1963, and the Archigram name soon stuck to them as a group.
The astounding projects which they created drew on the technologies of the ‘Space Race’, the dawn of the digital information revolution, and the US-led consumer boom, to develop new visions of what life and society might be like in the immediate future. The projects included the famous Walking City, Plug-in City and Instant City, which variously proposed the use of pods, capsules, megastructures, inflatable or temporary components, cars, furniture, clothes and gadgets to replace conventional building forms – in other words, the inventive use of new technologies to rethink society and its forms of habitation.
Besides these powerful joint themes, the differences between the various members of the group gave their work a special charge and an ongoing capacity for challenge. At the RIBA's award of the Royal Gold Medal in 2002 they described themselves as 'a dysfunctional male family'. Typically, Peter Cook is seen as the dynamic can-do optimist and spokesman; Dennis Crompton as the back-room fixer dealing with technology and looking after the archives; David Greene as the poet, pessimist, elusive dreamer and devastating critic; Mike Webb as the hermit-like artist and design genius; while, of the members who are sadly departed, Ron Herron was the positive, hands-on designer, and Warren Chalk the catalyst of ideas.
The challenges between the group can be seen in its range which includes both practical, built and would-be built projects and pure abstract speculations which – specially in the case of David Greene and Mike Webb – increasingly sought to fundamentally negate any idea of conventional architectural practice or built form.
All six members of the group taught, throughout their lives, at a number of leading schools of architecture around the world. They also produced a substantial body of exhibition design, and for a while even ran their own gallery (Adhocs). For a while during the early-1970s, they appeared to be forming a conventional architectural office, Archigram Architects, after winning the contract to design the multi-million pound casino facility in Monaco (Monte-Carlo) in 1969, when Cook, Herron and Crompton formed a business partnership. But this project fell through in 1973, leading to the closure of the Archigram office in 1974, and marking what is usually seen as the end of the Archigram era.
The members of Archigram, however, all went on to develop major and varied careers. Peter Cook became one of the world best-known educators, notably at the Architectural Association and then the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, while also forming design partnerships first with Christine Hawley and then Colin Fournier (with whom he designed the 'friendly alien' Kunsthaus in Graz). Then, on his 'retirement' from the Bartlett, he began working with HOK, including the project for London's 2012 Olympic Stadium, and jointly setting up CRAB Studio with Gavin Robotham. He earned himself a knighthood as one of British architecture's great figures.
Dennis Crompton went on to run the publications unit at the AA during an astonishing period in which it produced its most exquisite, and diverse publications. He also established the Archigram Archives collection (to which this current project is deeply indebted) and is the driving force behind the Archigram exhibition which has been touring the world since 1994. He also continued to teach at places such as Cooper Union in New York.
David Greene also continues to teach around the world and, in his continual efforts to challenge conventional architectural thought, he has formed left-field collaborations like Casa Verde and the Institute of Electronic Anthropology. Later, he worked with Samantha Hardingham at EXP to produce the projects for L.A.W.u.N. #19 and #20, as well as a book and an exhibition pursuing ideas about the spatial dispersal and dissolution of architecture with a new generation of collaborators.
Mike Webb moved to Upstate New York, while regularly teaching at Cooper Union and working continually on his elusive and beautiful art works. His seminal designs for projects such as Sin City and Temple Island continue to be worked on to this day.
After the ending of Archigram Architects, Ron Herron worked with Pentagram and then set up a partnership with his sons, Andrew and Simon, which he later fused with the firm Imagination – designing the latter’s spectacular tensile-roofed office-gallery in central London. He also taught at the AA and elsewhere, becoming professor and head of architecture at the University of East London. He died in 1994.
Warren Chalk taught in America and Canada, and then worked in occasional partnership with Ron Herron. He too was a regular tutor and stimulating presence at the AA. He died in 1987.
The extent of Archigram's influence can scarcely be reckoned. 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.