Another secret origin of ArchigramMay 29, 2009
According to Nicola Twilley’s tweets, however, I feel like I got a good capsule of his talk with Archigram’s cofounder Peter Cook; Geoff asked at one point, “Who were the old Archigram”—inverting, she says, the “the typical, who-is-the-new-Archigram? formulation” (a question Geoff more or less asks Cook in the soon-to-be-released BLDGBLOG Book, about which there will be a larger discussion shortly).
This reminded me of an anecdote Mike Webb, another Archigram original and longtime US resident, at last week’s 49 Cities discussion at the Storefront. On recounting the origins of Archigram, he explained that as poor but intellectually restless and ambitious young architects, they worked day jobs and conspired at night. That their tear-it-down to build-it-up mentality was a reaction to the failure of UK postwar planning and architects like Frederick Gibberd who hard-planned dreary new towns like Huffington and Harlow. And that in the spirit of the time, every subversive new studio like Archigram, Archizoom, Ant Farm, and Superstudio blurred the distinction among visionary proposals and the lampooning of such, but that all were compelled to work on that visionary scale, to “do a city.”
Webb then intimated a childhood experience which he said solidified in him the desire to be the kind of architect he became. In an illustrated book about trains—a passion for which he has yet to shake—he was hypnotized by an extremely detailed exploded diagram of Grand Central Station. He noticed a misprint: in the labyrinthine diagram it appeared that 42nd Street actually passed through or over the terminal building itself. But this mistake was itself a delightful speculative alternative to what he knew to be the reality: “The thought of driving over Grand Central Station set me on my path.”