Essay by Warren Chalk. First published in Architectural Design.

No magic is so strong that it may not be overtaken by a newer brand. Images and iconography are disposable and extravagant homage inevitably arouses suspicion.

 

Initially associated with the iconography of the space programme and its underwater equivalents (and possibly the only architect member of the British Interplanetary Society), the urgent appeal in the sixties has now cooled for me. Man has leapt up and down on the moon, played a golf-stroke even, and we are not much better for it.

 

We have plumbed the depths of the ocean and anti-gravitated to another planet, but it is belligerently simple – clearly a military defence operation, and the spin-off back on earth in the final analysis is minimal.

 

Nevertheless, Archigram in 1964 and long before that, seeking new directions, embraced this technology wholeheartedly and produced underwater cities, living capsules and the rest.

 

David Greene, Spider [Michael] Webb and I clamoured ecstatically over the rocket support structures at Cape Kennedy. I visited the NASA control centre at Houston and later witnessed the second Surveyor (manless) moon landing on the monitors at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Los Angeles, collecting small fragments of the moon surface. But it was an omen. The technician assigned to me, sitting in front of a bank of 39 close-circuit TV monitors of the lunar operation, was in fact watching the Johnnie Carson Show on the fortieth.

 

But it is an enigma, transient urges, buried instances of a personal past, still stir the blood; because still no single architect or designer can hold a candle to the particular iconography that happened then.

 

Not to worry, the artists, designer, architect, may have no relevant role in society in any accepted form, but leaping about stimulates hide-bound mentalities. Cartoons and clowns are more meaningful than the Nixons, Heaths, Germaine Greers or Frosts of this world – hollow pretentiousness for humane humility.

 

Only more sophisticated humanity, only more sophisticated technology, working together in harmony, will help our children’s children’s children.

 

Archigram, Edited by Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron & Mike Webb, 1972 [reprinted New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999]