ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVAL PROJECT

 

Kester Rattenbury + Murray Fraser

 

‘... the creation and design of Archigram itself was the actual project they were engaged upon, each in their own way.’1

 

‘By translating this oeuvre into the contemporary website format, those behind the AAP ... have out-blogged the image blogs, flooding a genre reliant on constant visual stimulation with imagery that is simultaneously avant-garde, archival and inspirational. It’s a mental short circuit to be presented with so much at once, especially when so many of these projects are predictive of the myriad complexities of the modern condition.’2

 

 

This essay provides an overview of the scope and purpose of the Archigram Archival Project (AAP), carried out from late-2006 with a major grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It will set out the context of the project and suggest its most important aspects, notably about the relation of archives to architectural discourse, while also offering along the way some fresh insights into Archigram’s ideas and projects. More than ever before, the conception of Archigram as a constructed project that was created collaboratively by its six core members -- Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron and Mike ‘Spider’ Webb -- becomes apparent from viewing the new AAP website/database. The aim of the AAP was likewise to acknowledge the contributions of the many collaborators and external influences that helped to create the larger Archigram project, and in doing so to highlight the staggering diversity of outputs -- texts, magazines, speculative projects, built projects, exhibitions, events, prototypes, etc. -- which were created as a result.

 

There seems little need to underplay the importance of the AAP website/database. It is by far the largest and most ambitious publicly accessible archive dedicated to a single architectural group, as well as a new kind of purely digital archive -- one which collects together digitised copies of source material which in its original state is owned by many different people and institutions scattered across the world. Nothing else like the AAP exists at present as an online resource about contemporary architecture, and as such it sets a new model and standard for others to follow. As the Director of the RIBA’s British Architectural Library, Irena Murray, observes:

 

‘The Archigram Archival Project has created a truly outstanding new model for research-rich digital based projects internationally. With some 10,000 images culled from the original Archigram Archive, it has made manifest a virtual palimpsest of narrative and visual content that brings not just the work but its creators and the whole era brilliantly to life. Easy to use, effective in its design and structure, it makes vast quantities of information available under basic typologies: projects, exhibitions, magazines and people. The AAP will be invaluable for specialists, but its colourful mosaic leads and clear navigation will attract and stimulate the general public. It is a great tribute to all its creators that the AAP retains the quality and even re-presents the heady excitement of the original work by Archigram members complete with the often controversial response to it.’3     

 

 

This relationship of the Archigram Archival Project to architectural discourse will be explored in the essay that follows, but it is worth starting by making a basic point about our society’s increasing immersion in digital culture. Many of the earliest commentators on the novel trans-spatial digital and communications technologies of the post-war era, notably luminaries from North America like Marshall McLuhan or Melvin Webber, foresaw a condition in which digital data -- and the concomitant media flows of what later became known as the internet -- would in effect kill off history, forcing us to live in an ultra-contemporary and deeply immersive world. From there it was but a short jump to more fanciful projections such as the Wachowski brothers’ film, The Matrix (1999), in which all the past is collapsed into a pixel-thin, simulated, illusory present. However, our current experiences of reality are proving to be far more complex and interesting. Cyberspace and the internet have instead become another fertile location for the recording and writing of history; indeed, if anything, digital technology now links us closer to greater numbers of rival interpretations of the past. This is particularly true of the Archigram Archival Project, where the idea of creating a facility/object that could stand simultaneously in history and in the present was very much in our minds. Our aim throughout was therefore to stand outside the actual content of the new website/database as much as possible, so as to avoid putting our own -- or anyone else’s -- interpretation onto the material. It is of course impossible to adopt a totally neutral position in relation to any intellectual work, but our aim was certainly to make the website as non-directed as we could. To explore these ideas further, this essay will discuss the nature of architectural archives in general before going on to analyse the AAP in particular. By necessity, it is structured into a series of sections as follows:

 

• The notion of an architectural archive
• Digital archives and their impact on research
• Implications for studying and understanding architecture
• The scope of the Archigram Archival Project
• Methods and issues encountered by the AAP
• New insights into Archigram (What are they like?)
• A definition of architecture through its media

 

  •  
  1. 1.     The notion of an architectural archive

The term ‘archive’ suggests an entity which has been assembled, indeed constructed, with the aim of claiming ownership of a specific idea or place, and of being bequeathed as a deliberate residue for historical interest -- in this way it is opposed, for instance, to the more eclectic and ad-hoc ‘collection’ that an individual or institution might build up out of more generalised motives. It also means there is a blurred but necessary distinction from the term ‘library’, partly no doubt because the Greek derivation of the word archive comes from arkheion, the town hall/ repository of official records, and arkhein, to govern.4 Archive hence carries a more instrumental purpose, with the idea that a directed assemblage of historical records provides the means to achieve this purpose. It hints at something which is created by a person or a like-minded group to shape the impressions and thoughts of those who are to come; it thus has as its core the expression of a particular moment or viewpoint in history. Interestingly, as a word, archive shares with library the ambiguity of referring both to the physical place where the historical material is stored, and the actual historical material itself: such a distinction, as we shall see, becomes ever more slippery when it comes to the digital archive.

 

There is much debate about when the first consciously constructed archives began to be put together, with some arguing it was a direct consequence of attempts to rewrite history by the post-revolutionary government in late-eighteenth century France. At this date, it is claimed, we moved from a situation where collections had simply been written down with no clear sense of where they would end up, such as with the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls created between 150BC-70AD, to a self-conscious process by which historians started to appropriate these collections and classify/catalogue them into the spectrum of knowledge. While this essay cannot delve too far into such questions, some interesting points arise. In the earliest archives and libraries, the role of drawings was far from clear. Illuminated manuscripts were one hybrid product, but the value of the drawing as a historical object-in-itself doesn’t appear to have emerged until the Italian Renaissance. Then the practice of design took on a dual meaning of being a physical drawing and also the act of envisaging a new building. ‘The term “design”’, writes Jonathan Hill, ‘comes from the Italian disegno, meaning drawing, suggesting both the drawing of a line on paper and the drawing forth of an idea.’5 Given such a radically new conception, the existence and meaning of a drawing as something full of meaning as an object-in-itself -- and not merely an adjunct to or amplification of written knowledge -- became entrenched in European (and later, global) culture. And with it, the whole notion of the architectural archive was born: in this sense, the modern conception of an architectural archive is normally about a set of historical drawings, even if other associated material has been collected alongside them.

 

A key moment in the development of the architectural archive was surely the preservation in the mid-16th century by Vicenzo Scamozzi of drawings by his mentor, Andrea Palladio, coupled with those which had been kept by Palladio’s own son. By keeping these drawings as historical artefacts, especially of the unbuilt Palladian villas, it made it possible later for Inigo Jones to appreciate and examine them on his 1613-14 ‘Grand Tour’, and duly buy much of the collection to take back to London. There he would sit and annotate and learn from the drawings; in turn, Jones’s studies of the Palladio archive -- today largely in the hands of the RIBA in London -- became an object of scrutiny by 18th-century neo-Palladians such as Lord Burlington and William Kent. And these compounded analyses of the Palladio archive were then studied by subsequent architects, and so on; in this manner, an architectural discourse was created. Also crucial in the early-modern era was the widespread reproduction of architectural knowledge through the printing press, transforming the role of the unique, place-bound archive within architectural circles. The mass production of books likewise helped to push the concept of the public library as a building type which took over from the monastic repositories of the pre-modern age, as recounted by architectural historians like Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Pepper.6 Later on, from the mid-nineteenth century, there was a proliferation of printed architectural periodicals such as The Builder. The observe side of this coin was again the relative diminishment of the importance of specialised archives within the spreading body of architectural knowledge.

 

With the advent of 20th-century modernism, and the resultant ‘decline of the aura’ of traditional artistic works observed by Walter Benjamin -- paralleled one might imagine by the significance of the unique, collected archive -- would the need for architectural archives evaporate alongside everything else solid that was being turned to air?7 No, was the answer, and it’s worth at least asking why. Perhaps here it is worth turning to another famous Benjamin text in which he talks of the ‘angel of history’ in a painting by Paul Klee, later echoed by Manfredo Tafuri and others as a shining representation of capitalist modernity. The interpretation was of a distraught angel being blown forwards, viewing havoc and destruction as he does so, yet all the time with his face turned back to look in fascination and horror at the damage being created in the wake. Benjamin wrote:

 

‘A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’8

 

 

As a metaphor for modernity it remains unsurpassed, and from this one gets the sense that no matter how ‘advanced’ and ‘modernised’ a society may wish to present itself as, the purpose of archives as a means to protect and remember even a small part of the inherent destruction of culture and memory, remains powerful. The more we dream of being ultra-modern, the more we are tied to a sense of history as represented by the archive, and this is as true of architecture as of any other area of human activity.

 

For this reason, the architectural archive has continued to hold its thrall despite the prevalence of printed books, journals and subsequent media, as seen for instance by the assiduous collection of the Fondation Corbusier of that designer’s work. According to the Fondation, Le Corbusier -- aware of his own mortality -- began to think about creating his own archive in 1949, and had formalised the plan by 1960, five years before his death.9 Today we find even Rem Koolhaas, ostensibly the apostle of throw-away globalised consumerism, carefully donating his office archives -- physical models and all -- in staged chunks to the Netherlands Architectural Institute.10 So the idea of a group like Archigram creating an architectural archive seems only too necessary within such a cultural condition.

 

 

  1. 2.     Digital archives and their impact on research

No longer does the search for archives necessarily rely on a pilgrimage trip to a dusty room where the historical material is shelved and brought out ritualistically in special folders or boxes. What was once the privilege of individual scholars can now be accessed by a Google search or other trans-spatial links, as shown by the Archigram Archival Project. On this new website/database, one can surf instantaneously from Ron Herron’s early sketches for Walking City, to detailed textual descriptions of Archigram 6 magazine, to hearing the observations of a hitherto less vocal but engrossing Archigram member such as Mike Webb, gaining a sense of the pleasure and frustration he has experienced over the years from being a member of the group. Whilst exhilarating, is this kind of digital ubiquity going to sound the death-knell for traditional academic research, if everything that happens to be referred to is now freely available to anyone who cares to click on it to check whether they actually agree or not? In other words, will the advent of digital archives render traditional paper archives redundant?

 

One suspects that it won’t, but nonetheless the patterns and methods of research will need to adapt as a result. Previously, if one happened to be lucky in one’s doctoral research in architectural history, say, then one would stumble across a hidden seam of archives, feeling rather like a gold prospector in 1850s California. If one was even luckier, there had been no-one before who had looked at that archive with any real scholarly attention, and if one did one’s job well enough, there was also a chance no-one might ever look at it again. The remote, place-bound historical archive once generated a sense of power and exclusivity for the researcher. Indeed, Rem Koolhaas recounts that discovering boxes of overlooked photographs of Manhattan architecture lit the touch-paper for his celebrated ‘retroactive manifesto’ for that city, published in 1978 as Delirious New York.11 But such a spatially exclusive approach to research is no longer sustainable in an era of growing globalisation. Research interests and topics now stretch far beyond one’s immediate locality, while financial and time restrictions still exist. Digital archives, along with other digital networks, offer a way out of this conundrum of globalised knowledge. Useful precedents have come from other fields, such as history, with for instance the digitising of Christopher Columbus’s Spanish archive being a key early move. Since then the spread has been remarkable, as anyone who wishes to zoom close into an Old Master painting can do via the excellent website of the National Gallery in London, where over 2,300 paintings can now be scrutinised in astonishing detail.12 Literally thousands of historical archives from all academic subjects are being digitised and put online every year, as part of what some are now even terming ‘a digital arms race’.13 Perhaps a more benign description is of ‘a second Renaissance’.  In 2009, the United Nations launched the Digital World Library in an attempt to draw together many of these emerging online collections from around the world, as a gesture of international scholarly solidarity.14 Within the architectural sphere, we find the Canadian Centre of Architecture (CCA) in Montreal engaged on a long-term project to digitise its Cedric Price archive (although it is unclear whether this material will ever be made freely available online), or here in Britain, under the aegis of Irena Murray at the RIBA, a team led by Barnabas Calder is producing an online catalogue of the archive of Denys Lasdun, the once famous but now overlooked designer of the National Theatre and Royal College of Physicians; as part of this latter project, an online exhibition of some of Lasdun’s work will be created towards the end of the process.

 

So what happens when this kind of digitised material is externalised to all, reshaping the way in which we engage with architectural sources? Does the erasure of time and space caused by digital networks help to democratise the methods of research? We certainly argue it does in the case of the Archigram Archival Project, and the task for us therefore seemed to be to present the available material in as open and neutral a manner as possible, so as not to substitute one kind of restriction with another. Trans-spatial digital technology permits far greater freedom but at the same time it has the potential also for greater control and censorship, precisely because everything appears so open. The sheer weight of online sources might also be seen by some as a problem. As Simon Sadler points out:

 

‘Should future historians be kind enough to spare a thought for the efforts made by their predecessors to scratch together any evidence at all, then those same predecessors might sympathise with new researchers faced by the magnitude of evidence tipping out from fully opened and searchable archives. Academic scoops will be made less and less by finding things, more and more by saying something significant about those things.’15

 


Yet there are immense benefits as well. Drawn material and architectural models, so precarious and cumbersome in their original state, can be put into archives in a manner not possible before. So too can film, video and other ‘atypical’ media, and as a consequence the architectural archive offers scope for huge advances. This also allows the different media of architecture to co-exist in entirely new ways: the conventional paper archive has always had great difficulty in accommodating the multiple media used to create architecture. It’s for this reason that the Koolhaas/OMA archive at the Netherlands Architectural Institute is making such a big play of including the many study models produced by that practice to generate its designs. Hitherto, it would have been all but impossible for any architectural archive to present as much non-digital material in this way. Another significant benefit of digital archives, which the Archigram Archival Project demonstrates so clearly, is of allowing the source material to be easily and quickly re-ordered in many different ways.  The idea of 'the principle of first order' (i.e. the order in which the documents initially entered the collection), which archivists previously attached so much importance to, is thus replaced by all sorts of other ordering possibilities. Hence it’s not just a matter of making documents more accessible, but of allowing groups of documents, and indeed the archive as a whole, to have the potential to become something rather different -- thereby giving it the means to be thought about afresh.

 

 

  1. 3.     Implications for studying and understanding architecture 

With these wider possibilities of digital archives in mind, there seems a corollary implication for our analysis and understanding of architecture itself. As Adrian Forty pointed out so eloquently in Words and Buildings, citing Freart de Chambray and John Evelyn as his early-modern guides, there is a necessary interdependence of text and image, of word and drawing, in all architectural practice and discourse.16 Such a point might seem so obvious to be almost not be worth stating, yet Forty also shows there has been an uneasy relationship between words and drawings/buildings at least since the advent of modernism. Modernists such as Mies van der Rohe displayed dissatisfaction with the expression of architecture through words -- given that the design concept or actual building was seen as the thing, manifest unto itself -- and even those who regularly used both words and buildings to articulate their ideas, such as Le Corbusier, tended to keep these aspects essentially apart. It led to an unfortunate schism that Forty’s book aimed to counter. As he argued:

 

‘More particularly, architecture has, like all other art practices, been affected by the longstanding assumption in Western thought that experiences mediated through the senses are fundamentally incompatible with those mediated through language: that seeing something bears no relation to being told about it. Nowhere was this assumption more evident than in early twentieth-century modernist art, where it was held that the particular property of every art was to offer an experience unique to its own particular medium, incommunicable through any other medium.’17

 

 

This dichotomy between word/non-word within architecture created other undesirable tendencies, such as an over-separation of theory from design, and even the denial of design as a medium for research investigation. Interestingly, both of these aspects are something which Archigram’s archive helps to problematise so well. Here for instance is a group known for their exquisite visual imagery -- even to the extent that Mike Webb refers to what he and other members produced as architectural ‘eye candy’ -- and yet they take their name from a magazine that openly mixed words and images, frequently in the style of a comic book. There were certain Archigram members, notably Warren Chalk and David Greene, who effectively gave up architectural drawing altogether, preferring to write prose poems about contemporary society and its technological relationships. If Greene has a life goal, it is to shift architectural thinking away from the actuality of physical building and the need to represent ideas in static form through drawings; indeed, if one conceives of a dissolved techno-spatial field in which modern everyday life take place, as Greene does, then it is almost impossible to imagine what one might even start to draw.

 

And yet there are other Archigram members like Mike Webb that continue ‘to draw like a dream’, obsessively reworking his old projects -- some even from college days, like the Sin Centre -- almost 50 years later. Ron Herron was another who realised the undoubted power of the visual image, and whose son Simon recalls as having had the end-goal montage of Walking City arriving in Manhattan in his mind right from the beginning of that project; hence everything else was done as quickly as possible to get to that seminal image.18 Peter Cook is another Archigrammer who has always spoken about the importance of the visual image in architecture, virtually to the exclusion of any other considerations; his admirers appreciate this continuing dedication to architecture-as-drawing, while others detect a latent anti-intellectualism or love of pure form-making in his approach.

 

The purpose of this essay, however, is not to argue either way for any particular architectural approach, nor indeed is that desirable; text and image in architecture function along a sliding scale, and in myriad interdependent ways. What is useful to point out is the ability of the Archigram Archival Project to spike any pretensions for the division -- or supposed superiority or inferiority -- of the written/spoken/filmed word as opposed to the drawn image/physical model/building in architecture. A study of the new website/database shows precisely the extent to which Archigram was created as a dynamic amalgam of all these aspects: take away the images and one has a lot of interesting words, but which carry far less impact; take away the words, and one has images that don’t fully communicate their radical intent. If there ever was an architectural resource, in this case a historical archive, which proves the importance of Forty’s argument for an integrated understanding of architecture as both words and buildings -- while also recognising the need for both aspects to posit their own forms of expression and knowledge systems -- then it is the AAP website. All of Archigram’s various media were intended to operate and communicate with each other in a complex universe of signs and systems.

 

 

  1. 4. The scope of the Archigram Archival Project

It therefore seems poetic justice that making Archigram's work available online posed such fundamental problems and yet also suggested a lateral, technologically-enhanced alternative to traditional architectural archives.  In many ways, the aims of the AAP mirrored Archigram's own concerns, especially in terms of exploring how technology might re-order staid institutions through a purely digital resource. In other regards the project could be seen as anathema, applying academic structures and strictures to a group that were inherently, according to Reyner Banham's famous quote, ‘short on theory’.19 Placing this sort of challenging and essentially 'live' material into academic boxes could be said to be one of the paradoxes of the academic practice of our age (like offering research degrees in Pop Music), which is in many ways more conventional than the era it is now documenting as history.  With Archigram itself -- i.e. most of the people, and all the phenomenon -- still very much alive and kicking, the paradox presented us with particular challenges and opportunities.

 

 The Archigram Archival Project is, as a result, a new kind of archive. This is not just because it happens to be the largest and most ambitious public archive of any architect or architectural group:  ‘Is this the best website dedicated to a single architect ever?’ asks Kieran Long.20 It is also an entirely new construct.  It is not the digitisation of an existing, fully catalogued physical archive, such as with the collections, say, of Koolhaas/OMA at the NAI or Cedric Price at the CCA, but the formation of a purely digital archive out of spatially disparate collections. It is, moreover, designed for use both in an academic manner and as part of the wider, evolving and far more informal world of new online media. This is an invention born of necessity. The bulk of Archigram's work is held privately in two main collections: the Archigram Archive, which is managed by an Archigram member, Dennis Crompton, the group's own de facto archivist, who began collecting and recording their work in the 1960s; and the smaller Herron Archive, containing most of the material by Ron Herron, managed by his son Simon. Other members of the group, or their heirs, hold further material. Moreover certain items have been sold individually or in batches to major cultural institutions, including FRAC (Fonds Regional d'Art Contemporain) in Orleans, Centre Pompidou in Paris, DAM (Deutches Architekturmuseum) in Frankfurt, and MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York. The sum value of the overall Archigram collection is enormous -- potentially in the realm of millions of pounds -- and yet ownership of work done by so many people will always be complex.  Although several major institutions in America are reportedly keen to purchase the Archigram archive, 'it' is at least two distinct collections, which makes it very hard to be sold as a whole, or indeed even in part. Meanwhile, the work remains stored in domestic conditions, creating a huge responsibility for those holding the collections and with few resources available to record, catalogue or reproduce material that is inevitably in danger of decay and/or loss.

 

The aim for placing the whole Archigram collection online was therefore to bypass all issues of source, ownership and current location, working instead simply to make available a digital archive at the low-resolution size of images which Archigram usually allow students and others to use freely, with no copyright complications. We were, in effect, doing something which traditional institutions believed to be perverse (as they so carefully told us): in other words, we were working to increase the public accessibility and cultural value of an archive that we didn’t even own. But their comments missed the entire point. For us, the wider academic value was enormous: that of free and flexible access to a previously inaccessible and yet phenomenally influential architectural resource.

 

 

  1. 5. Methods used and issues encountered by the AAP

In many respects we might agree that the Archigram Archival Project was a perverse project. Archigram was always a collection of highly disparate individuals, who -- in every conceivable way -- sought to challenge the idea of straightjackets. They wanted above all to resist categorisation, to overthrow convention, to reinvent things, to refuse to be tied down, to challenge endlessly, and to work through spontaneity, reaction, naughtiness and fun (albeit a rather architectural kind of fun). Archigram consciously made their name by both adopting and overturning typical academic conventions.  For decades, all the members were supported principally by various schools of architecture in which they acted as iconoclasts, and whose ideology they effectively reshaped.21

 

And yet to carry out the Archigram Archival Project, we also needed to have 'official' backing and support. This came from our host institution, the University of Westminster -- publicly funded, bureaucratic, and not fundamentally flexible or spontaneous -- and from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), another publicly accountable body. Both required a clear, deliverable and detailed programme of research work, with step-by step-planning and predetermined academic outcomes. It required an organised process that was broadly antithetical to the spirit of Archigram, and which didn't necessarily suit the kind of material being included. At the same time, the project team had to work in close collaboration with the Archigram group or their heirs, who imposed their own requirements onto the eventual outcome. The process of working with them -- as depositors, advisors, experts, members of the steering group, contributors and gatekeepers -- was crucial to all aspects of the project. 

 

Financially, the AAP was funded by a Resource Enhancement Grant of almost £305,000 from the AHRC, and the resulting website/database was originally meant to be deposited onto their online repository, the Arts and Humanities Data Service.  The cancellation of this service shortly after the project began forced us to rethink and customise our own website/database, one that was more specifically designed to suit the organisation and idiosyncrasies of the Archigram archive. This flexibility meant we could produce a 'big friendly online database' that improved the clarity and user-friendliness of the resultant website. Shaping the database to our needs also meant we could maintain the highest levels of research and scholarly standards, thereby offering considerable opportunities for cross-referencing throughout the site. This freedom to design our own website/database was thus a revelation, since by then we had come to realise that cataloguing Archigram inevitably posed major practical and conceptual problems which kept arising. What, for example, counted as an 'Archigram project'? How could one deal with projects which are still effectively ongoing? How could one (and why should one) catalogue things which themselves were meant to resist categorisation?

 

It is worth teasing out a few of the complexities. The Archigram era is usually taken as having lasted from the first Archigram magazine in 1961 until the closure of the Archigram Architects project office in 1974, suggesting then that 'Archigram projects' were those done within that time period by individuals or collaborations amongst the six core people in the Archigram group. Yet even the group's own archival material includes (and claims as being 'by' Archigram) projects that were designed before they even met, such as when working for the London County Council, or as students at various colleges. Furthermore, all of Archigram have continued to collaborate, exhibit and stage events since the 'end' date of 1974, and some -- though by no means all -- of these later events or projects are designated as 'Archigram projects’ in the group's own records. For instance, Warren Chalk collaborated on some projects with Ron Herron which aren’t seen as being 'Archigram projects’, and only the first iteration of the touring Archigram show has (so far) been given a project number by Dennis Crompton as the group’s archivist. Some members continue to work independently on designs which have long been numbered as 'Archigram' projects, most notably Mike Webb, who is still drawing his astonishing Temple Island scheme whose first seeds sprouted back in 1966. David Greene also continues to pursue his L.A.W.u.N. series of projects, but not necessarily in a sequentially numbered or clearly defined sequence (his recent book with Samantha Hardingham, L.A.W.u.N #19, has 20 alternative subtitles, for example).22 Then again, Greene has always specialised in elusive, anti-architectural projects with multiple names, or even projects-within-projects. Is L.A.W.u.N. part of Bottery? Or is it the other way round? Either way, his various iterations even numbered as projects by Crompton, although newer material generated by them has lately been absorbed into the Archigram Archives.

 

Another unavoidable issue is that the act of archiving implicitly involves a subjective categorisation and imposition of a way of organising and displaying the material within it. However impartial one tries to be, there is always be an element of debate around what is included, how it’s included, and where. This is all the more sensitive when dealing with a group like Archigram, whose graphic style and multivalent output of projects, drawings, events and opinion refutes simple categorisation. Two circumstances, however, enabled us to come up with a workable, easily searchable system.  One was that Dennis Crompton in his role as Archigram's archivist since the 1960s has defined his own project numbering system. By adopting this wholesale, with its definition of what was 'in' and 'out' and what drawings/ephemera belonged to particular projects, we were therefore following definitions used (at least in part) by Archigram themselves.23 So this then became a staple part of our would-be impartial research approach, which also included using Archigram's original projects texts in unmediated fashion, wherever possible, since they too represent historical records in themselves.  Through close discussion with Crompton, the organisation of the AAP became effectively that which he had established on Archigram's behalf -- and therefore it is 'authentic' to Archigram, as well as offering a pragmatic system for finding things rather than us trying to analyse them first.

 

The second helpful circumstance was, as noted, the latitude we had to devise our own website/database format and hosting mechanism, once the AHRC had closed their service down. Designed by two digital specialists, Filip Visnjic and Pierpaolo Di Panfilo, along with the rest of the project team, the AAP started out from Dennis Crompton's system and then developed this material into complex overlapping groupings. This in turn allowed for a more detailed cross-referenced structure of links and tags that gives the viewer comprehensive access to Archigram magazines, projects, texts, images and ephemera -- aided not only by the serendipity of being able to input any term on the model of search-engines like Google, but also by the site's simple navigation structure and consciously ‘invisible’, non-Archigram graphic design. We introduced as little as possible of our own text, and indeed only identified our presence through a discrete EXP 'blob' on each page. Content material can be explored either by the search box and by using the  'related items' function, leading the user to menus which then offer up other projects, personal ephemera, written texts, video interviews, etc.  This subtle system was developed throughout the final eighteen months of the project by continual testing and refinement, principally orchestrated by the project manager, Clare Hamman.

 

Archival organisation and graphic navigation thus aimed for absolute clarity in all ways -- including breaking the material down into simple understandable sections, which were then developed as the particular subject area demanded. The categories were intended to be useful rather than definitive. For this reason, the sections on 'Magazines' and 'Projects' contain much of the same material, but while ‘Projects' privileges the process of searching in different ways by treating all the projects as it they are alike, the 'Magazines' section is specifically customised to allow the viewer to browse the actual pages of Archigram or watch a video for each issue in which Dennis Crompton demonstrates how it was put together. Similarly, the sections on 'Shows' and 'People' offer different ways of ordering or grouping what is often overlapping information. 'People' acts as a profile page for the individual members of Archigram, and enables the viewer to reassess the whole archive from the perspective of any of the members; it also includes a long and growing list of Archigram collaborators, themselves tagged to relevant projects. 'Shows' links the exhibition projects to the 'back-up' collection of slides and to a digital version of the multimedia Archigram Opera (as adapted for the internet by Dan Crompton), providing an events-based view of the group's work.  Both these sections are conceived as 'stubs' that will easily allow new information to be attached in future.

 

The structure, design and navigation of the website/database are thus deceptively simple as well as highly innovative in terms of digital architectural archives. Filip Visnjic notes:

 

‘We have always been striving for simplicity and clarity. It is hard to even call it web design, but rather a framework for the incredible work that needed no introduction. The more we worked on it, the less we added, to a point where we even spent many days debating which logo should be used -- how can a site like this be branded when the brand is the work itself?  It is amazing to see now that we have achieved something that is totally transparent with only the work being in the forefront.’24

 

 

Design-wise, the site was made as clean and simple as possible so that our navigation systems did not detract from, or become confused with, Archigram's work. The main home page, for instance, looks like a patchwork of beautiful projects, but in fact the strip of bigger images at the top are in fact from Archigram projects picked at random every time someone logs in, so as to surprise and entice the viewer, while the mass of smaller thumbnails below can be scrolled over to find out what they are. They also act as an index of all the numbered projects, so that the familiar user can use them as a short-cut to a project they want to look up. Establishing this simplicity of the site in use took an enormous amount of work and beta-testing, for which we used people who knew Archigram well and those who were new to the subject. We knew of course that some visitors would come looking for visual material only, and would navigate around in that way, whereas others would rely more on textual descriptions. Flexibility of navigation and content material was therefore critical, and involved a large degree of digital customization, as Pierpaolo di Panfilo notes:

 

‘The software has been created from scratch to fit perfectly to the needs of the project. Firstly, a customised online back-end manager has been developed ... to understand how the research team wanted to build up this extensive data source. It needed to be very simple to use and accessible from several workstations while in progress, because of the massive amount of input needed for the cataloguing of Archigram work. For both the back-end and front-end of the site, we've been in some way developing it together. We didn't follow a "standard" project development plan, in that we had always changing requirements (as more material emerged and consultation continued) that an initial project plan could never foresee. So I firstly created a core system and then we've been adding the needed bits as we worked on it. In this way, we created exactly what was needed and delivered in a reasonable time-frame, which would have been quite impossible with a standard project development plan.

The website has been through many visual redesigns too, and ... for each step we've been working on it to reduce it to the strictly necessary bits because we wanted it to be "invisible" to the content of the archive. The website is just the Archigram work itself; no more is needed.’
25

 

 

Our collaborative, team-based method of working meant also that the AAP could be developed as a hybrid, interlaced academic and populist tool; this was entirely the outcome of employing website designers whose task was to conceive and design it in a way the general public could interact with easily. This approach has clearly reaped dividends. The 'launch' of the AAP website/database on alternative, less formal conduits of communication -- such as Twitter and Facebook -- immediately outpaced the more conventional launch party and press releases we also lined up. This tweeting, blogging, portable reorganisation of data flows was of course itself foreseen many decades ago in so many of Archigram's projects. As Visnjic explains:

 

‘The site went live on Sunday night, attacking visitors from Twitter mainly. Hundreds of re-tweets generated about 30k page views on Monday and even more on Tuesday. We believe this is only the beginning: people are linking to the main site, and the real traffic will come from references to specific projects, quotes, image linking, social bookmarking and much more.’26

 

 

At the same time, however, we always intended this research project to meet the highest possible academic standards. It provides the largest and most objective survey of Archigram's output to date. All the main project items were identified, cross-checked and sourced as far as we could, in conjunction with Crompton and others. The short text introductions for each project, which were written by the AAP team, draw on all this research material -- but also fundamentally on a reading of the Archigram images themselves, since these are often by far the most informative documents. We have further added interview sessions we organised with each of the depositors -- whether they were surviving Archigram members or their heirs -- along with a wide range of contextual information wherever this was made available to us.  The website/database also contains a major list of Archigram's collaborators and a genuinely authoritative, scholarly bibliography.  Besides this we solicited essays from major academics and practitioners -- such as Barry Curtis, Simon Sadler and Leon van Schaik -- which have been included in conjunction with some of our own writings on the subject. Beyond this, the website/database has also been designed to act as an ongoing and interactive archival checking process, whereby users are invited to email us with additional and/or better information. This is already happening; for example, the CCA have been able to help identify and check work which was done in collaboration with Cedric Price, so we can provide links to related material in their collection. Former collaborators of Archigram have also been contacting us to tell us more about their own roles.

 

The AAP does not in itself aim to create an authoritative contextualisation of Archigram, as would be perhaps the goal of a traditional archiving project. However, it does of course imply a form of contextualisation, even in its decision to use Dennis Crompton's numbering system and the way it chooses to accept his 'rational and normative' treatment of the core Archigram archive. A collection which has been based on the analyses of David Greene or Mike Webb would offer an unimaginably different construct. But in its favour, the very openness of the AAP cuts out some of the more typical contextualisation’s of Archigram that have been provided through the selective lens of previous historical studies. It allows new readings. Leon van Schaik, for instance, notes the way in which the site effectively cuts Archigram adrift from the traditional art-historical studies that always want to link them to the Smithsons and the 1950s Independent Group, and places them closer to the normative practice of the LCC Architects Department:

 

‘There are things we all ‘knew’: that many in the group came through the LCC; that some took the Smithsons as mentors; that they all worked on Taylor Woodrow projects … Nothing much about the Smithsons surfaces in this record, though there are startling similarities to Robin Hood Lane in the courtyard views of some housing projects done under the aegis of Taylor Woodrow.

 

What the website does is to present the LCC period as a substantial under-the-water element of the iceberg that is Archigram. It is startling to see how many core group ideas – plug in components for example – first manifest as built concrete forms. These seem challenged by the light touch of Webb and Greene’s student projects – although they first appear as collaborators on a Taylor Woodrow project.’27

 


Archigram have been typically portrayed (in books by architectural historians) as part of a thematic and consistent revolutionary movement in modernism -- a movement possibly appearing more consistent in the historians’ selective view of history than it did to those making it up at the time. As other historical archives come online -- such as the Smithsons or Cedric Price -- this wider historical context for Archigram may inevitably start to re-assert itself. But for now, the freshness of the AAP is entirely revealing: we are seeing now the whole of the material they created, which is indeed more, as Barry Curtis observes, than outsiders saw even at the time. As such, the AAP touches on the ambition that Archigram brought to the jaded British architectural scene in the early-1960s:

 

‘The comprehensive and flexible Archigram website conveys some of the fractal excitement of first encountering the original magazines.’28

 


Hence we regard the Archigram Archival Project not as a basic information site, but as a substantial academic achievement in itself. It achieves this partly by following in the tradition of the oeuvre complet (itself inevitably contextualised and selective); partly in the tradition of an architectural archive, albeit now in digital form; and partly in the completely new format that emerges from the media which produces it, enabling different types of research methodologies and patterns of use from the academic to the everyday. In this way, it suggests a re-reading of what archives might be in the age of the internet, when they may well exist as a hybridised academic/methodological authentication of ‘non-academic' material which already exists online -- as noted, challenging the outmoded location-and-ownership notion of research.

 

The AAP is therefore, in Marshall McLuhan's terminology, a mixture of temperatures, being both ‘cool’ and ‘hot’.29 It consciously mixes text and image, academic study and casual browsing, and relies on different types of user interaction and experience. The website/database consists of a core of managed and defined items, each of them numbered, named, indexed and referenced; bur at the same time it taps seamlessly into a network of connections, links, related sites -- some of them suggested by us through tagged, linked or randomising features -- the invisible structures which govern internet information. This latter aspect has grown exponentially from the first inaugural tweet sent by Filip Visnjic deliberately to 'launch' the site into an unpredictable, yet traceable, seething mass of use. In this manner, our concept of a ‘big friendly online database’ has been threaded into a tweeting, blogging technological forest. It is now amongst the most visited architectural websites around.30

 

 

  1. 6. New insights into Archigram (What are they like?)

The major reaction from our test sample of experts -- architectural historians, design tutors and such like -- was one of astonishment at the sheer volume, the generally dazzling beauty, and the incontrovertibly contradictory range of Archigram work which oscillates overtly from one kind of project to another. It’s a key point that mustn’t be overlooked. Dennis Crompton often starts his lectures by asking how many Archigram projects his audience can name. He says the average is about four or five; the best figure -- from ‘a really good audience’ -- gets up to fifteen. The Archigram projects that people can remember are, of course, the most famous one, the most quoted, and those which tend, as in old-style pre-social media, to possess a single famous iconic image. It is perhaps understandable why this comes to be. Authors and journalists have to request a specific image to accompany their written words, and they can only ask for images from those projects they already know about, which are therefore the ones which get endlessly repeated. This means that those few famous iconic images of Walking City, Instant City, Plug-In City -- the big, Sci-Fi, inflatable, megastructural visions of a revolutionised society -- are effectively defined as being Archigram, being used even at a stretch to illustrate and explain the group’s complex and contradictory ideas.

 

What the AAP reveals so clearly is that these famous projects are only one part -- and indeed often an atypical part -- of the ongoing heated arguments between various members of Archigram as to what architecture might be, or what it might do, in the dawning age of technological innovation and consumerism. Their whole endeavour was thus always far wider, more unpredictable and more challenging that it often appears. And while this story of wider debate and internal dissension has been said by Archigram members themselves (famously, they called themselves a 'dysfunctional male family' at the RIBA Gold Medal award ceremony), and has been described by Archigram's major historian, Simon Sadler, this inside view is contradicted by the recurrent consistency of the images selectively reproduced by the architectural media.31 Up till now, there has always been the extreme difficulty of coming across any other, competing imagery created by Archigram, much less of seeing it as part of a seething, project-based debate within the group.  But now the AAP provides all those elusive images that one might need (whether talking of disappearance, as discussed by Sadler, or of digital dissemination and communication, described by Hadas Steiner).32 The website/database also enables the Archigram archive to be viewed in the context of sheer numbers: in other words, the amount of projects which prototyped audio-visual or quasi-digital innovations, for example; or the constant churning out of exhibition designs; or the counterbalance between the real, sometimes built, projects and the growing phantoms of anti-architecture which gathered towards the end of Archigram. Our cataloguing system deliberately offers a startling measure of equivalence between these and other competing strands. 

 

As a consequence, the AAP, as launched, contains 202 numbered projects (not all chronological) and almost 10,000 drawings and images, including Archigram's source slides for the lectures they gave, and other related ephemera. All this in itself starts to loosen our previously rigid definitions of the group. Simon Sadler praises the loose, fluid connections of subject matter which provides insights when one looks at their lecture slides:

 

‘The singularly moving sight within Archigram’s archive is, accordingly, its slide collection. Things. Things seen. Places. Signs and Structures—hmm, not a lot of architecture, to be honest, and precious little of what there is, is of canonical standing.’33

 

 

In the eyes of Leon van Schaik, he is fascinated by interrelation of built and buildable work with the apparently more fantastical projects:

 

‘Despite the ways in which Archigram is often (these days) lumped with 1960s avant-garde movements with very tenuous interests in the real-politik of the construction industry, the website reveals that this is not a ‘paper’ architecture avant-garde, but a set of researches intent on being built. Fascinating to compare Peter Cook’s current designs for a university in Vienna with his competition entry for the Lincoln Civic Centre (1961) – almost the same parti … Perhaps we do all begin with an idea and pursue it remorselessly throughout our careers.’34

 

 

The Archigram Archival Project thus contains heady stuff. The project numbering starts off with a potent mix: elegant modernist built schemes (including the Chelsea Fire Station and College of Art) by Warren Chalk and Ron Herron, and later Dennis Crompton, at the LCC, leading up to their better-known role in the South Bank centre -- a still controversial project that linked Brutalism to a more picturesque informality which somehow evaded the usual 'iconic' definitions of architectural form. Next up on the list is the radical, would-have-been-failed student projects produced by those two natural resistors, Mike Webb (Sin Centre; Furniture Manufacturers Building) and David Greene (Mosque), while still students at ostensibly conventional modernist schools of architecture. And all this had happened even before the first meeting between Cook and Greene triggered the formation of the Archigram group.

 

Archigram's own project numbering often belies strict chronology. Also predating the idea of an Archigram 'group' at all was the first of the nine-and-a-half issues of Archigram magazine. Spanning from 1961 till 1974, and put together in the offices and homes of Archigrammers (with their children helping with cut-outs and even trying to sell copies at school), these constitute an innate description of the Archigram story.  Archigram was, as historians point out, originally conceived primarily as a mechanism of communication, but the original magazines themselves, printed in various complicated formats, have become impossibly rare and are too difficult to reproduce, so they are little seen now. For the first time since they were produced, they are widely available on the AAP, albeit in size-restricted form due to copyright reasons.

 

These issues of Archigram magazine switched from simple collage techniques -- indeed, almost poster formats -- intended as a way to publicise ideas and work that was 'refused' by modernist journals of the times, to become increasingly polemical and themed. Soon they were dealing with issues of throw-away architecture, science fiction, population growth, cities, etc.  Archigram also acted as a proper freeform agit-prop magazine, collecting work by other sympathetic contributors as well as the group themselves, but increasingly it shaped a coherent argument -- one in which ideas, texts and projects operated together to rethink the scope and limits of architectural imagination via the specific medium of a printed magazine. Intriguingly, this defining aspect of the Archigram phenomenon ends with what can be seen as a symbolic fork: Archigram 9, which was the famous 'seed issue’ from 1970, pointed towards the abstract potential of design, whereas Archigram 9½, antithetically, was a showpiece for the 'real' architectural projects which were then being designed by the 'real' Archigram Architects office four years later.

 

Initially, it had been our intention to make the magazines the central interpretative device for the entire AAP website/database, so that viewers could enter the site and browse through the magazines, and from there move seamlessly on to explore the projects, to create analogous experience to that of the original readers.  In the event, this proved impossible, principally because of the restrictions placed upon the size at which we were allowed by Archigram to put their images on the internet.35 But we now also realise this would have fore-grounded our interpretation of the material over Archigram's own ordering system, which in the end we accepted was a more appropriate format.  However, the re-reading of the Archigram magazines as a framework for the whole group’s output  -- as suggested both by Denise Scott Brown and by the ‘Little Magazines’ project led by Beatriz Colomina at Princeton University -- remains a tasty project for future researchers.36

 

The Archigram magazines can nonetheless be treated as an explanatory framework of concerns for a range of projects which emerge as startlingly distinct -- if endlessly overlapping -- types. There are the famous Archigram tropes: large-scale urban visualisations that adopted the technologies of the space race and oil refineries and highways to propose pre-‘Oil Crisis’ ideas for the reinvention of modern cities, either as a series of megastructures or as highly serviced, mobile, temporary elements: one was meant to be able to plug in, clip on, drop out, drop in. Then there are the tiny designed components for this new vision of urban life -- clothes, gadgets, gizmos, and working prototypes of a consumer-driven technological revolution -- which have proved to be by far the most accurate of Archigram's speculations. Even the names of our current communication tools -- pods, apples, blackberries and tweets -- are profoundly in the same vein as Archigram's language from almost fifty years ago.37 So these components may have begun as adjuncts to the brazen megastructures, but they increasingly superseded them as the real smallness -- and cultural vastness -- of urban reconfigurations took centre stage. Increasingly, Archigram came to suggest a world in which architecture would even supersede itself, with new communications technology rendering traditional architecture (buildings and cities) of little importance as patterns of everyday life took over.38

 

By looking at the AAP format, viewers can actually see the heated argument in project form about what architecture could be; indeed, about what Archigram was and should be. Amongst the strands of work which developed, one spots a clear, central urge to create exhibitions/events/publications -- suggesting that Archigram remained, as it had begun, essentially a communications project. Yet even this emphasis on communication systems might be said to have taken on highly differentiated forms. Ron Herron's work suggested a kind of easy-add, real-world adjustment through built projects; another approach from the rather old-fashioned form of global iterations of the travelling Archigram exhibition; while yet another -- and possibly the most significant of all -- came from communication within architectural educational institutions worldwide, whereby, as noted, members of Archigram served to shift attention towards experimental approaches to design projects.  Again, the AAP offers rich material for future study of each of these different communication strands within Archigram’s work.

 

At the same time, however, the website/database reveals the relatively unknown extent, as Leon van Schaik stresses, of the body of 'real' work that ran right through the wider Archigram project from beginning to end. This refers not just to those projects done by various members in their 'day jobs', but also those they did when together, and which are duly listed as being Archigram projects. They include straightforward, eminently buildable competition entries -- lots of housing projects, for instance, with sensible technological innovations designed not to scare the horses (or planners). Then there were what Dennis Crompton at the AAP launch event described as the 'boring' projects, such as Rod Stewart's swimming pool or a basement restaurant fit-out in central London.39 Indeed, there are many examples of the kind of work that any practice which is starting up tends to do, including the aforementioned competition entries -- often done in multiples, with two or more entries submitted at a time by different members of the group, as if they were really determined to win something.  These pop up all the way through, and are particularly notable towards the end in the early-1970s, when the 'real' Archigram practice was in operation. By then, they appear in stark opposition to Webb’s and Greene's ephemeral, beautiful and powerfully 'invisible' projects.

 

Amongst all the competing positions within the Archigram oeuvre, it is these 'invisible' projects while are perhaps the most compelling of all. Fascinating schemes like Mike Webb’s Drive-in Housing/ Auto Environment grow from a simple enough Archigram-like proposal to an extraordinarily obsessive, gorgeous cul-de-sac exploring the beauties of the automobile. Or, like David Greene's L.A.W.u.N., they propose a moratorium on building, an argument for the total disappearance of architecture. Or, like Temple Island, in its mind-expanding attempts to draw what is invisible, they offer some of the most potent analyses of architectural aesthetics of those, or any other, times. Bizarrely, these latter conceptual projects -- all meditations, in some ways, on absence, and indeed on absence as the essence of beauty -- form an invisible core at the heart of the Archigram project, profoundly antithetical to all conventional notions of architecture.

 

In the end, these mutually challenging strands of work can also be read as a sort of uber-argument: how can architecture re-invent itself? Is real architectural practice a suitable medium for doing this, or does it always provoke inherent compromise? A sense of this internal debate could be seen in David Greene's waspish criticisms of Richard Rogers over the Pompidou Centre at Supercrit#3, held at the University of Westminster in April 2005, or in Peter Cook's determined argument in favour of 'real' architecture expressed in his speech at the AAP launch event.40 The big parallel test-case on the scale of Pompidou for Archigram would have been the unbuilt Monte Carlo casino project, but this was of course cancelled in 1973. So it remains a moot point between members of the group -- and their heirs, their pupils, their critics, etc. -- as to what exactly 'is' and 'isn't' Archigram. Safe to say this is something on which, by definition, there will never be agreement. 

 

While we cannot claim that our insights are altogether new, the Archigram Archival Project is already provoking new thoughts and reactions even from experts. Indeed the project helps scholars like Simon Sadler to articulate their views, as he openly acknowledges:

 

‘... what appears is approximately what I would have expected to see in the days when the Archigram Archive was still mysteriously hidden “under beds and behind walls.” Here, still, is the rhetorical disappearance of architecture, whereupon one half of the Archigram group disappears into a meditation upon that disappearance, David Greene affecting suicide by photocopier, only for the other half to design its way out of the impasse, Ron Herron converting the kitchen and swimming pool at Rod Stewart’s Berkshire home. Both sides of Archigram affect contemporary architecture so deeply, I continue to think, that it is impossible to isolate their legacies as they seep into today’s architectural landscape of flows and folds and interfaces and ecologies.’41

 

 

Sadler's own research, like this essay, is written largely for an academic audience, and thus (like this essay) for a 'not-very-Archigram' sort of audience. Thus a distinctive feature of the AAP website/database is that it is meant instead for Archigram's original audience, i.e. the general public. A total of almost 250,000 page views in two weeks after launching would suggest, however belatedly, that the AAP site is probably beating all others hollow in reaching that audience.  And in this new medium, albeit at restricted resolution, you can see all the diversity, all the argument, with Archigram, as well as just reading about it.  So this digital archive makes Archigram's resistant-to-categorisation-material open for viewing, not just by dedicated academics but by anyone who has access to the internet, in a way which releases the subject for entirely fresh interpretations.

 

 

7. A definition of architecture through its media

McLuhan may or may not have been right to say that the medium is the message; probably it is more the case that the message is selected, shaped and fused with the contemporary forms of media, both in terms of content and the way we receive it. In this sense, content cannot be seen as a separate thing. Architecture has been somewhat reluctant to admit that it too operates in such a way, although some scholars have pointed this out all too clearly.42 Because it uses such a new form of media, the AAP proposes a very different model of constructing architectural archives. In one way, just as new forms of media always tend to follow old ones, it could be seen as a copy of a 'real' archive online (albeit with rather enviable abilities to cross reference and reorganise).43 But in quite another way, it is an entirely new animal; one which has a different economy of production and reception, and therefore a different ethos.  With help from its collaborators and funders and host institution, the EXP research centre has in effect created an archive which it does not own. This new freedom of ubiquitous low-resolution copies opens up major possibilities for the types of things which can be archived in future. It doesn’t mean archives will ever become independent of ownership and money or institutional protocol -- indeed, in many senses it complicates all these issues, because so many different criteria come into play. The AAP still has powerful relationships to financial issues, naturally, even if this is not expressed through direct financial reward: but it has to be acknowledged that the AHRC funding reinforced the academic criteria to which the archival project had to adhere, and the process of archiving was duly compelled to happen independently of any private discussions between the holders of the Archigram collections -- which might well still be for sale -- and potential purchasing institutions.44 In fact, this mutual self-interest of academic researchers and owners of archival material through the AAP offers maybe a useful model for future collections as long as our current consumerist-technological society lasts.

 

And in this regard, the AAP also bears another definite imprint of Archigram. The group's work consisted of a love affair with the possibilities of combinations of technology and consumer culture on modern society, and yet it is notable that the longevity of Archigram -- the ongoing influential careers of the members themselves -- hasn’t been sustained by media companies like Apple or Microsoft.45 Instead, financial support for Archigram members has derived largely from educational institutions, and specifically from that educational form which is so fertile at reinventing ways of doing things: the architecture school. Even more particularly, it has been the kind of architecture school in central London which sustained, and in the end was reinvented by, Archigram members who taught there.

 

Today, it is possible to say that the internet itself, that new great medium of our age, is changing the nature of all our definitions.  It makes research faster than ever before, and yet seems also to make it more unstable and unreliable: the ‘Wiki’ phenomenon being the great parable of this condition. But is the seeming fixity of old-fashioned printed text media any kind of guarantee of intellectual probity? Haven't academic mistakes and misconceptions, indeed fakes, been pretty consistent through the ages?  Doesn't the sheer volume and speed of digital knowledge in itself offer its own kind of alternative, numerical form of scientific authenticity?  As when Googling medical symptoms, the internet offers amazingly fast links to high-quality scientific information, while also allowing us to discern the reflected shapes of our own paranoia within the seething mass of information -- thereby offering a working demonstration of just how easy it is to 'prove' anything if one is a hypochondriac. As such, does this also not show us just how provisional our supposed 'fixes' on information can be?

 

Whether or not we are presupposing or supporting this kind of flexible reading -- having elected to create a website/database in the first place -- the AAP does appear to 'fix' Archigram as having been astonishingly prescient: they were a good fifty years ahead of the game in envisioning our consumerist, largely apolitical, hedonistic yet environmentally concerned, technologically-enabled, image-obsessed culture. Archigram seem to have foreseen the pleasures (if not the problems) of portable technology, of the confusion of work and fun, of the rise and rise of the human being as a consumer. The AAP also suggests (if not proves) that architecture schools are indeed the 'laboratory of ideas' that we keep telling people they are.  They rehearsed and indeed played out the arguments besetting the architectural education which they reinvented in their own image -- was it to turn students into artists, critics, builders, form-makers, anti-architects, or superstars?  And are these aspirations inherently in conflict?  Or is it precisely these conflicts which generate such a rich, influential and predictive field of activity for architects in the first place?

 

Those nagging problems of definition -- e.g. what 'is' and 'isn't' Archigram, 'what is' and 'isn't' an archive -- remain the live and insoluble ones, about which academics can do no more than lay down their provisional markers. In this new, far more active and varied archival medium, we are -- ever more it seems -- only tiny members of a vast swarm of people who have conflicting and changing opinions about such questions. Users of this new digital medium, as they view and post material onto the AAP website/database -- creating their own imaginative structures from it -- will be as traceable as our self-conscious, research-recorded tracks in producing it. 

 

Like all academic propositions, the Archigram Archival Project makes as safe and reliable as it can a solid core of information, so that it is available for addition and contradiction and reinterpretation by subsequent scholars. As such it is a part of ongoing academic research practice. Yet in another way, the AAP seems to us also to mirror the types of projects emerging from the conceptually remodelled architectural schools which Archigram reshaped, as well as the types of ideas generated by the group.  Seen as this kind of proposition – part-database, part-technological forest -- it could even be claimed as being equivalent to a design research project. And that shifting definition of what architecture is, and what architects can be and should do, is something which Archigram members -- each in their own separate ways, and maybe most strongly in their inherent challenges to each other -- demanded that we should continually reinvent.

 

 

 

Endnotes

1. Fraser, Murray (with Kerr, Joe). Architecture and the ‘Special Relationship’: The American Influence on Post-War British Architecture. London/New York: Routledge, 2007, p. 284.

2http://www.thingsmagazine.net/, Things Magazine, 22 April 2010 (accessed on 2 May 2010).

3. Email message from Dr Irena Murray, Sir Banister Fletcher Director of the British Architectural Library, RIBA, London, to the AAP team, April 2010.

4. Definition obtained from the Oxford English Dictionary.

5. Hill, Jonathan. ‘Introduction to Criticism by Design’, in Rendell, Jane et al (eds.). Critical Architecture. London/New York: Routledge, 2007, p. 167.

6. Pevsner, Nikolaus. A History of Building Types. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976, pp. 99-110; Pepper, Simon. ‘Storehouses of Knowledge: The Free Library Movement and The Birth of Modern Library Architecture’, in Black, Alistair & Hoare, Peter (eds.). The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland - Vol. 3, 1850-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 584-608; Black, Alistair, Pepper, Simon & Bagshaw, Kaye. Books, Buildings and Social Engineering: Early Public Libraries in Britain from Past to Present. Aldershot/Burlington, Vt.: 2009.

7. Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1935), reprinted in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. London: Pimlico, 1999, pp. 217-252.

8. Benjamin, Walter. ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1939) -- a slightly different English translation of which can be read, for instance, at: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm, Marxists’ Internet Archive website (accessed 25 April 2010).

9http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr/corbuweb/morpheus.aspx?sysId=19&sysLanguage=en-en&itemPos=1&sysParentId=19&clearQuery=1, Fondation Corbusier website (accessed 25 April 2010).

10http://en.nai.nl/collection__research/archives__collections/ready_to_use/detailready/_rp_left1_elementId/1_131568, Netherlands Architectural Institute website (accessed 25 April 2010).

11. Comments made by Rem Koolhaas at Supercrit #5: Delirious New York, Department of Architecture, University of Westminster, London, 5 May 2006.

12http://nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/, National Gallery website (accessed 25 April 2010).

13http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124173896716198603.html, Alter, Alexandra. ‘Next Age of Discovery’, Wall Street Journal Online website, 8 May 2009 (accessed 25 April 2010).

14http://www.wdl.org/en/, World Digital Library website (accessed 25 April 2010): For a discussion of how these new digital resources are actually impacting on knowledge and learning, see Roberto Simanowski, Roberto et al (eds.), Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2010.

15. Simon Sadler, essay on ‘On Opening the Archigram Archives’, written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

16. Forty, Adrian. Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

17. Ibid, pp. 12-13.

18. Interview with Simon Herron by Murray Fraser for the Archigram Archival Project, viewable at http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk/person-interview.php?id=8&iid=26.

19. Reyner Banham's quote in Cook, Peter (ed.) Archigram. London: Archigram Group, 1970 [second edition published London: Studio Vista, 1972; subsequent editions include New York: Praeger, 1972; Basel/Boston: Birkhauser, 1991; New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999], p. 5; the frequent misquotations and misuses of this quote themselves demonstrate the complex nature of the media that Archigram worked with and are discussed in relation to -- collage and text, generated and borrowed images, homemade compositions and with unreliable spellings, and above all urgent, free and definitely not academic.

20. Twitter comment by Kieran Long, 19th April 2009.

21. See, for example, Sadler, Simon. Archigram: Architecture without Architecture. Cambridge, Mass/London: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 8, 140-191 -- this book discusses the group’s educational impact, as was also shown by the joint-award of the Annie Spink Prize in 2002 to Peter Cook and David Greene for lifelong achievement in architectural education.

22. Greene, David; and Hardingham, Samantha. L.A.W.U.N Project #19: The Disreputable Projects of David Greene. London: AA Publications, 2008.

23. In fact, Dennis Crompton's numbering system is ongoing, in the sense that he continues to collect ever more items of their work, and so the AAP team expects that material brought lately into the archives (e.g. Greene's most recent L.A.W.u.N. projects) may well gain Archigram numbers at some time. Hence the numbering system for AAP has to be seen provisional, but is up-to-date at time of 'going to press' (i.e. April 2010). 'Missing' numbers may relate to missing projects or to those projects which cannot be included for copyright or technical reasons: typically this refers to films, television programmes and audio-visual material. Where we have information on these items, they are found listed in the AAP bibliography.

24. Email message from Filip Visnjic, WAG Architecture, to the AAP team, April 2010.

25. Email message from Pierpaolo di Panfilo to the AAP team, April 2010.

26. Email message from Filip Visnjic, WAG Architecture, to the AAP team, April 2010.

27. Leon van Schaik, essay written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

28. Barry Curtis, essay written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

29. McLuhan's ever-challenging definitions of media 'temperatures' are set out in his seminal book: McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York/London: McGraw Hill/Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.

30. By 22 April 2010, just four days after the AAP went live, it had received more than 100,000 page views; two weeks later, it had generated over 42,000 visitors and almost 250,000 page hits, largely as a result of activity on Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, within ten days of launching the AAP was on the top 1000 sites on Twitter as rated by Topsy, as can be viewed at http://topsy.com/archigram.westminster.ac.uk/index.php.

31. See, for example, http://www.strangeharvest.com/mt/archive/read_mes/archigrams_pastoral_futurism.php, Sam Jacob’s website (accessed 27 April 2010).

32. Sadler, Simon, op. cit., 2005; Steiner, Hadas. Beyond Archigram: The Structure of Circulation. London/New York: Routledge, 2009.

33. Simon Sadler, essay on ‘On Opening the Archigram Archives’, written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

34. Leon van Schaik, essay written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

35. This means that it is in many cases impossible to read all text and images together as in the original magazines, except on the high-resolution version which can be viewed by researchers by appointment at the University of Westminster. The online version on the AAP, however, provides transcripts of the texts instead, while protecting the originals from pirated reproduction.

36. Scott Brown, Denise. ‘Little Magazines in Architecture and Urbanism’, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, vol. 34 no. 4, July 1968, pp. 223-232; http://www.clipstampfold.com, Little Magazines website (accessed 25 April 2010).

37. This technological theme is pursued in Steiner, Hadas, op.cit.

38. Greene, David and Hardingham, Samantha, op. cit.

39. The full video of Dennis Crompton’s speech at the AAP launch on 19 April 2010 can be viewed on http://www.exp-edu.org/.

40. Rattenbury, Kester, and Hardingham, Samantha (eds.). Supercrit #3: Richard Rogers, Pompidou Centre, London/New York: Routledge, forthcoming: Peter Cook’s talk at the AAP launch on 19 April 2010 can also be viewed at http://www.exp-edu.org/.

41. Simon Sadler, essay on ‘On Opening the Archigram Archives’, written specially for the AAP website, February 2010.

42. Rattenbury, Kester (ed.) This Is Not Architecture: Media Constructions. London: Routledge, 2002.

43. See, for instance, James Ackerman, ‘On the Origins of Architectural Photography’, in Rattenbury, Kester, op. cit.

44. The commercial potential of the website/database was always a concern for the AHRC, and so the University of Westminster had to stipulate that it would not make any commercial gain from the AAP project, although such financial realities are of course a side-effect which enabled the whole enterprise to happen in the first place; even a low-resolution website might well unavoidably help to market images for Archigram.

45. Interestingly, as part of the L.A.W.u.N. project carried out while at EXP, David Greene and Samantha Hardingham in fact visited Orange to seek commercial funding; viewers of the long-running series of movie ads in recent years, in which famous actors pitch for funding for their ideal movies, may be amused to note that money wasn’t forthcoming.


Contact us

CAPTCHA Image
Send