Check out this short dystopian film, pills
shot on the cheap but it looks high budget.

Check out this short dystopian film, pills
shot on the cheap but it looks high budget.

Archigram began as a group of young London architects who shared a unique vision of future architecture. The group formed around the publication of Archigram, what is ed
a magazine lasting roughly from 1961 to 1974. The name “Archigram” was derived from the combination of the words Architecture + Telegram. Each of the ten issues had a general theme and was created collaboratively: cut-and-pasted, check
drawn, medicine photocopied, and assembled. Members of the project continued to collaborate beyond this limited time frame and many are still practitioners and educators within the architectural field.

Archigram defined an aesthetic that threaded throughout their collage, model-making, proposals, etc. Their designs took elements of mid-to-late modernism (glass, steel, concrete, minimal ornament and exposed structural components) and brought in bits and pieces of pop ephemera, outer-space and psychedelia. Theirs was a formal architecture with counter-cultural sensibilities. The magazine promoted speculative work and criticism of architecture’s role in daily life, ranging from inflatable personal environments, walking cities, and plug-in everything to the more intangible notion that the emancipation of man will come through technological innovation. Their work would prove to be influential but was not always theoretically rigorous. Sometimes they pushed boundaries of what was possible while at others the results were poorly received and weakly thought out.

Much of their middle and later work (post-1964) involved transforming space through architectural interventions and often returned to the ideas of modularity, movement, and future technologies. This period is especially fruitful because it generated their most outlandish and interesting proposals. It also is crucial because of its socio-political context, situated amongst the widespread global upheavals and the youth movement of the late 1960’s.

Some of their more fanciful proposals/projects, Blow-Out Village, Instant City and Tuned Suburb involved a notion of performative logistics. In the way that a travelling circus coming to town draws attention to itself, the Instant City was a “’travelling metropolis’, a package that comes to a community, giving it a taste of the metropolitan dynamic—which is temporarily grafted on to the local centre—and whilst the community is still recovering from the shock, uses this catalyst as the first stage of a national hook-up. A network of information-education-entertainment—‘play-and-know yourself’ facilities.”

Likewise, Tuned Suburb consisted of “accretions of modern technology that showed how existing places could be tuned up, lifted to another dimension”

These projects and others involved a performance in both the objects appearance and also its programmatic elements—the object itself was only a part of the grander unfolding and transformation, a transformation of the object and a transformative experience for the end-user. These deployments of technological and cultural packages were thought to create a carnival-like transformation of drab towns and drab lives.

Archigram’s proposals can be read as an idealistic vision of social transformation through media and technologies. Their vision of opening up society through fun and provocative interventions still carries weight in the art and design community although it is difficult to see how dropping a ready-made cosmopolitanism on a small country town would be well-received. Many of their other projects of this time involved technologies of movement; turned-out caravans, space suits, living pods, etc. This clear obsession with freedom as given by access to technology recurs often.

Archigram was clearly a product of its times. They are often considered part of the avant-garde but as Manfredo Tafuri explains in Theory and History of Architecture:

Experimental movements can hide behind revolutionary statements as much as they like, but their real task is not subversion but the widening, the decomposition and re-composition in new modulations, of the linguistic material, of the figurative codes, of the conventions that, by definition, they have assumed as reality (105).

Archigram does not appear to be in the business of subversion. Instead they insist on broadening the field and study of architecture. Both the avant-garde and experimental practitioners serve to expand notions of “what is architecture,” but unintentionally a number of these proposals circumscribe the possibility for human interaction and put forth a middle-class vision of what is socially desirable or possible. Their work fits solidly in its historical moment and is part-and-parcel to the counter-cultural currents swirling around at that particular time. Even in the most fantastical speculative proposals the transformation is just a widening of culture not a revolutionary upheaval.

University of Westminster in the UK has put together an extensive web-based archive of Archigram. Feast your Eyes!
You can view nearly all their projects, proposals, interviews and ephemera here.