With Archigram, space and form meet and danceImagine a private cubicle, with ports for access to water, heat and food, which you could attach to your back and wear around the city. You could fold or spread the device apart, anywhere, anytime, to make a portable dwelling, looking much like a space capsule.
Or how about a “gasket home,” part of a portable complex of rows upon rows of itinerant buildings that travel on land and sea, like a city that can walk to its next location.
If these remind you of something out of science fiction, you are on the right track. They are some of the ideas of Archigram, a London-based architectural collective. The group’s six members looked to futuristic ideas like NASA towers, mobile launch pads, hovercraft and sci-fi comics as sources of inspiration. A display of the group’s visual archive is currently on display at Hangaram Design Art Museum, southern Seoul, titled “Archigram: Experimental Architecture 1961-1974.”
Archigram introduced a modular approach to architecture by adopting democratic ideals like “nomadism” and “mobility” into their design of urban structures. This was seen as an outrage among 1960s mainstream European architects, whose work leaned heavily toward functionalism. Yet Archigram’s work quickly inspired like-minded collectives like Italy’s Superstudio, Richard Rogers’ Centre Pompidou in Paris and Kenzo Tange in Tokyo.
Despite the numerous awards the group has won in worldwide competitions, including for their models for the Montreal Tower and at the Milan Triennial, few of the group’s works have made it into actual use. What served as an important outlet for the group’s ideas instead was the magazine bearing the group’s name, which triggered a new architectural movement across Europe. After only nine issues of their publication, Archigram’s theories left a lasting influence on architectural philosophy; many of their works are now passed around in world museums.
It would be an insult to confine Archigram’s works within a genre boundary such as “extreme experimental architecture” without an understanding of the group’s substantial accomplishments. Their sketches reveal the scientific precision behind the designs, all tested and approved by professional engineers.
Yet the sketches, texts and visual archives on display at the museum are profoundly alluring as raw images. Often of a contemplative quality, they are filled with dramatic visual cues that at times bridge function and metaphor. The methods of presentation the group pulls together ― whether through film, collage or music ― show that, for the members of Archigram, architecture was not merely a way to put a roof over people’s heads but a serious means of communication.
The eclectic arrangement of the exhibition matches well with the works on display. It allows the audience to move around a spatially fragmented gallery space that reflects faithfully the group’s intellectual approach to form and function.
In cities like Seoul, which is often considered a failed model of urban planning, the show also serves as a fresh reminder of the importance of architects. With creativity, urban space can become more than just a way to keep people within four walls.
by Park Soo-mee
“Archigram: Experimental Architecture 1962-74” runs through Aug. 31. Hangaram Design Art Museum is located within the Seoul Arts Center. For more information, call (02) 580-1538.