Archigram

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Origins

Archigram was a group of artists formed in 1961 (52 years ago) by a group of young architects from London - Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron and Michael Webb.

Magazine

Archigram made a magazine, which was first published in 1961 on a big sheet of the cheapest available paper. It included Greene’s poems and sketches of architectural projects designed by Cook, and also voiced their frustration with the British architectural establishment.They sold 300 copies of their magazine at nine pence each, mostly to architectural students and assistants in architects’ offices. The magazine was laughed at and saw as a student joke; who thought it would "Die a natural death". A year later, Greene and Webb printed a second, more substantial, issue which was typeset on stapled pages like a typical magazine.

ICA

Pop art hit the headlines when The New Realists, an exhibition featuring the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claus Oldenburg, opened in New York. Cook, Greene, Webb and their new collaborators – Chalk, Crompton and Herron – were invited to produce an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. It opened in 1963 as Living City, a manifesto for their belief “in the city as a unique organism” - more than a collection of buildings, but a means of liberating people by embracing technology.

What Happened Next?

Living City caught the attention of Reyner Banham who, having championed Alison and Peter Smithson, two of the few “senior architects” whom the Archigram group admired, in the 1950s, now hailed Archigram as the pioneers of a new pop architecture in the 1960s. Instead of dying a “natural death”, Archigram – the magazine and its editors – flourished.

Two artists - two cities

Archigram’s approach to architecture was fun, as shown by two of the group’s most memorable projects: Ron Herron’s drawings of a Walking City, in which a city of giant, reptilian structures literally strolled across the globe on enormous legs until it found a place where it wanted to settle; and the crane-mounted living pods that could be plugged in anywhere in Peter Cook’s Plug-in City.

Archigram's Architecture

 Archigram also dreamt up strange buildings/houses to fulfil the functions of traditional buildings from miniaturised capsule homes like Ron Herron and Warren Chalk’s Gasket Homes and David Greene’s Living Pod, and Michael Webb’s Cushicle mobile environment and his wearable house, the Suitaloon.

Big Plans

By the end of the 1960s, Archigram’s magazine was selling several thousand copies an issue and had published the work of then-aspiring architects such as Nicholas Grimshaw, Arata Isozaki, Hans Hollein and Frei Otto as well as the members of the group. In 1969, the group, which, by then, had gained Colin Fournier and Ken Allison, opened an architectural practise after winning a competition to design a leisure centre in Monte-Carlo. The funding collapsed and the leisure center was never built.

Good Bye

When the practise dissolved in 1974, Archigram had realised three projects, all completed in 1973 by Dennis Crompton and Ron Herron: a children’s playground in Milton Keynes, an exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute in London and a swimming pool for the singer Rod Stewart. “Archigram gave us a chance to let rip and show what we wanted to do if only anyone would let us,” said Ron Herron just before his death in 1994. “They didn’t.”