More Than 200 Projects are included in the Archigram Archival Project. The AAP uses the group’s mainly chronological numbering system and includes everything given an Archigram project number. This comprises projects done by members before they met, the Archigram magazines (grouped together at no. 100), the projects done by Archigram as a group between 1961 and 1974, and some later projects.
The polytechnic, the second to be founded in the country, was established in 1891 in modest premises – a reworked and re-fronted house of the c.1820s. During the following century it expanded to encompass an entire island block in central Woolwich, resulting in a fascinating assemblage of largely purpose-built educational premises of various dates. These include the original converted house and gymnasium, as well as workshops, a hall and classroom ranges. Over half of the complex predates the Second World War, varying in the treatment of its different parts between Classical grandeur and simple utilitarianism. A substantial post-war extension, achieved, only after considerable delays and difficulties, in 1962-4, marks a radical stylistic break with the preceding buildings. Imbued with a ‘brutalist’ aesthetic, the extension was the work of the Schools Division of the London County Council’s Architect’s Department, then enjoying a notable period of creative experimentation.
The extension, designed in 1958-9, comprised two separate blocks on different streets, constructed with an in situ reinforced concrete frame and brick infill. Its arrangement was dictated by a complex brief that had to accommodate ground-floor commercial premises as well as a diversity of functional areas, including offices, refectory, a boiler house and classrooms. The architectural principles behind ‘the New Brutalism’, developed and espoused by Alison and Peter Smithson in the early 1950s, emphasised function over appearance and the ‘honest’ use of materials. In practice, particularly as developed by the LCC, this often translated into the use of board-marked concrete, blocky geometric forms, raised walkways and the refusal to impose a unifying external treatment. This was the case at Woolwich, where first-floor circulation and linking bridges between the buildings made particular sense because of the compromised ground floor and disparate site. The principal frontage on Wellington Street is relatively low-key; instead, the set-piece is a boldly handled lecture theatre, a cantilevered concrete box with a glazed foyer.
The design of the extension followed the usual practice of the LCC in the 1950s; it was carried out by a group of architects working beneath a team leader, in this instance George Trevett. A leading role seems to have been given to one team member, Ron Herron, who had previously worked on the well-received Sidmouth Street School (1957-9). In 1960 Herron joined the team working on the South Bank Centre, in many ways the apogee of the LCC Brutalist style, leaving in 1961 to achieve much greater fame as part of the experimental group Archigram. The South Bank Centre has come to be appreciated and valued (if not always loved), but Woolwich Polytechnic extension has remained obscure and under-appreciated.