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Freedom from Ordinary Architecture Status

The period post world war II was the major driving force for innovation along with advancements in technology. The years after the war radically saw the construction of experimental houses which in turn gave rise to modernism globally. However, the young modernist architects were highly dissatisfied as to what Modernism had become instead of searching for new, creative forms of expression with the changing times.

England became the center of intellectual conversations and the question of style post world war became a topic of debate among the architects which later then filtered into the hands of the students. One of the outcomes of these controversial discussions was a magazine names Polygon which said would devote to the “outlook of new generation of architecture”. And perhaps, it was Archigram who defined the architectural style of the 1960s more than any other artists.

Archigram was a group of 6 highly radical individuals from the Architectural Association which were directed and motivated highly by industrialization and the rise of technology. Their style focused on the cultural imagination of an epoch- mass consumer culture, pop culture movement, futurism and was categorized as avant-garde. Owing to all this, Archigram became one of the most influential groups, for visionary architecture, of all times. As opposed to the serious, brutalist, monumental forms of buildings, their style was perceived more as colorful, light, playful and hedonistic. Like pop artists at around the same time, they wanted their art form to draw energy from the explosions of technology and consumer culture that were happening all around them.

They wanted architecture to be just as dynamic, lively and pulsating as they saw the humans around them rather than eternalizing it. For them cities were like veins and humans, blood, always in motion, never static and complimenting each other.

They tried to bridge the gap between what was built and what could be built and proposed buildings that moved, that shone in the dark, that could be changed at their users’ will.

Plug-In City – Peter Cook

Between 1960 and 1974 Archigram created over 900 drawings, among them the plan for the “Plug-in City” by Peter Cook. This provocative project was inspired from the building boom in Europe and suggests a hypothetical fantasy city, containing modular residential units that “plug in” to a central infrastructural mega machine. The Plug-in City is not a city or a building, but a constantly evolving megastructure which is an enormous framework that incorporates residences, transportation and other essential services--all movable by giant cranes.

The concept aimed to give people more flexibility and choice in the design owing to the consumer culture then. He came up with an alternative way of putting a city together i.e. to lift up the city from the ground and enjoy space in a very different and an unconventional way.

Persistent precedents and concerns of modernism lay at the heart of Plug-In City’s theoretical impulse, not limited to the concept of collective living, integration of transportation and the accommodation of rapid change in the urban environment.

­­­Walking City – Ron Herron

Ron Herron’s A Walking City was originally set in a dystopian New York, the giant robots would walk over water and land to wherever they were required, connecting with others to create one big hub just like a city. The moving cities emerged from the idea of urban mobility and Herron proposed that this was the change that was needed, these mobile giants could bring resources and urban development’s wherever they were necessary. Herron’s initial inspiration for the roaming robots came from insects combined with revolutionary machinery. Although the pods seemed independent they relied on the transfer of goods and people wherever they landed, they did this by ‘plugging into’ way stations to exchange. To him, architecture should never be stagnant as it would defeat the purpose of helping people and rather should be dynamic, always growing and adapting to its surrounding. Herron’s vision of the future was one that had been ravaged by a nuclear war where the citizens of the world needed a refuge, his suggestion was designed to be a simple yet affective way to survive on the surface whilst avoiding the nuclear damage.

Instant City – Peter Cook

With Instant City, the architects developed the idea of a “traveling metropolis,” a package that temporarily infiltrates a community. This city superimposes, for a time, new spaces for communication onto an existing city. This audio-visual environment (of words and images projected onto suspended screens), associated with mobile objects (airships and hot air balloons with tents, pods and mobile homes hanging from them,) and with technological objects (gantry cranes, refineries and robots) creates a city that consumes information, one intended for a population in movement. The first step towards network of information, education, leisure and facilities, Instant City is brought to the towns on the edge of a metropolis by a fleet of all-terrain vehicles and helicopters. In this way, the local community is integrated into the metropolitan community. This idea of infiltration is intended as a complementary rather than foreign addition to the communities visited. The vehicles are then transformed into dirigibles. Instant City is precisely what its name implies: when it arrives on a site, it creates an event and then disappears, thereby signifying that architecture does not have to be a construction and can be simply an event, an action in the present. It is probably one of the first examples of network architecture (25 years before the birth of internet), a network bringing together a dispersed urban fabric.

Capsule Homes – Warren Chalk

The idea of conceptual project – Capsule Homes – arose from the concept of living in the space capsule, where living space is hard to conquer, everything is centered on more basic needs, and strictly personal space is becoming smaller. This project is essentially a space capsule modified to a form of portable, expendable home. The Capsule Homes is especially significant project between Archigram’s projects, because it follows group’s key principles – mobility, adaptability, and expendability. Each capsule is designed efficiently with fold-away parts, such as a fold-out screen and a clip-on appliance wall to create additional space. The outside will be free to be whatever color or design one wants it to be, while being displayed to the world around. Component parts of different models are interchangeable and may be replaced when outdated or when needs arise. The units may be organized in a cluster, plugging into one another to create a larger structure that may be arranged horizontally or vertically as in Capsule Homes Tower.

Archigram wanted to revolutionize the perception of architecture which was from an architecture that had been reduced to the level of symbol to an architecture which was more experiential and had a certain speculative enjoyment. They wanted to strongly emphasis on the tight knit connection between people and architecture. Through their ground-breaking proposals they not only romanticized the idea of prefabrication and the role of technology in architecture but also devised concepts to reflect the consumer culture of the 60’s and give people more flexibility and choice in the design.

Archigram’s projects were a dialect between permanence and temporality, between mobile and ephemeral and about a utopian vision of architecture freed from its restraining ideology.

They believed that Human psychology and emotions play a very crucial role in which they see an object or a place.

For them, architecture (be it as temporary as the instant city) blurred the boundaries between different cultures and people. It was a way to bring in people together, to trigger an exchange of ideas, knowledge which gradually changed the way a person perceived his surrounding thereby giving the city/place a completely different character.

Article By Team Farnsworth

1. Sonya Gupta

2. Kruthik Jain


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