ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVAL PROJECT

 

Barry Curtis


The comprehensive and flexible Archigram website conveys some of the fractal excitement of first encountering the original magazines. Impact alternates with fascination in the details, and the affinities they set up, inside and outside the image. The organisation of the site offers unfamiliar variants of well-known illustrations, and some surprising might-have-been projects that haven’t been previously reproduced, such as a proposed Globe Theatre and a National Gallery extension. There are precursors of the Pompidou Centre and some ‘Oz’-like transitions between monochrome projects for a world that is identifiably of its time and the visionary formulations of a possible future. In even the most conventional projects there is a perceptible reaching out to a more dimensionally complex architecture.

 

The chronological bar that traces the twenty years of Archigram activity offers the opportunity to trace timely enthusiasms – ideas taken up and explored individually and collectively. There are themes that relate to specific projects and preoccupations that are refined and re-oriented. Incredulity at the achievement of so much in such a short time is compounded by the scope of reference. Every page and project is imbued by the extended sensorium of the group and their extensive travels and contacts. The images and texts testify to an urgent mission to dissolve and reconstitute architecture in relation to cultural and technological change, and to take advantage of the full range of fictions and realities encountered en route.

 

Forty years ago, Archigram were speculating on an architecture ‘whose labels had come off’ (It’s a….[1970]) in spite of the stubborn persistence of planning regulations and the retardant effect of ‘labelling’ –many of the images of a potential public realm are beginning to look a little familiar. Virtuality is perhaps more in the software than could have been envisaged but the vividly rendered public pleasures have been partially realised and we are all ‘Infogonks’ now, even if the architectural hardware is not as adaptive and participative as Archigram would have liked. Towers that share some of this imaginative energy are being built, suburbs are timidly tuned and homes are, at last accessing infotainment in the spirit of these grandparental times.

 

The more you zoom, the more astonishing the fragments and details are. The page by page access to the magazines 1 – 9½ establishes them as vividly of their time, but also as radically prescient. The sheer hard work and virtuosity is visible throughout, particularly in the surviving records of exhibitions and events. In spite of the urgency of the polemic there is a prevailing visual pleasure, a sustained creative energy that makes this now-visible body of work iconic, surprising and timeless. 


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