M+ Matters: Archigram Cities Online Symposium
Organised with the Department of Architecture, University of Hong Kong
Zoom 3: Transmissions
Date: 10 November 2020 (Tuesday)
Time: 7:30pm–9:45pm (Hong Kong)
Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Archigram. City Interchange, perspective, 1963. M+, Hong Kong. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES
Connecting the Archigram Spirit with Hong Kong
If anyone had built a place to deliver Archigram’s ideas and diagrams for a machine city, it probably would not have been far from Hong Kong’s hyper-dense, multilayered, multicultural, and ever-changing urban environment. If anyone can see the work of Archigram in the walkways of Hong Kong, it is testament to the profound influence of the group’s techno-visual and machine-functional provocations. In the same way, it could be argued that Archigram’s manifesto and Hong Kong’s development are built on similar beliefs in consumerism and infrastructure as solutions for the future. Archigram’s audacious initiatives and creative propositions critiquing society—abruptly but optimistically—sent shockwaves that continue to reverberate today. The relentless advancement of technology now warrants a critical repositioning of architecture and urbanism, just as technology inspired Archigam’s work. In addition, some of the social and urban phenomena left unaddressed by Archigram are now re-emerging with force in Hong Kong—many of these are human-centred issues of identity, liveability, and sustainability, which were at the core of the 2019 Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture. Through the presentation of projects inspired by Archigram as well as talks and workshops by designers whose thinking and work are influenced by the group, the Biennale aimed to share Archigram’s imaginative spirit with different communities of all ages and backgrounds in Hong Kong.
Roger Wu is an architect who has worked for a number of practices in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. He has extensive experience leading projects with complex design and operational requirements, as well as in practice management and business development. He is currently the Executive Director of Haw Par Music Foundation, a non-profit organisation established to oversee the revitalisation of the historic Haw Par Mansion in Tai Hang, Hong Kong, into a centre for music education. He was the Chief Curator of the 2019 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Hong Kong).
Archigram. Osakagram, 1970. M+, Hong Kong. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES
Dismantling Architecture! Archigram and Isozaki ca.1970
In the late 1960s, inspired by images they saw in the Japan Architect journal, Archigram members contacted and collaborated with the Tokyo-based Isozaki Arata. The architect, who had distinguished himself from the Metabolists, nevertheless introduced Archigram to his colleagues. This led to Archigram’s participation at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, where they presented a capsule with an edition of their magazine, titled ‘Osakagram’. The juxtaposition of their work with that of the Metabolists highlighted different visions of forces that would affect future cities. It underscored the conflict between centralised power and bottom-up processes. For Isozaki, the event represented an ideological crisis. He was caught between his devotion to his work for the government under Tange Kenzo’s ‘Big Roof’ at Expo ’70, and his sympathy for anti-institutional ideals. Upon leaving Tange, he realigned with those ideals, and articulated them in the book Destruction of Architecture (1975). Isozaki valued Archigram’s work, which he saw as ‘consistently counter-cultural’ and aiming ‘to dismantle the apparatus of Modern Architecture’. He preferred this stance to that of the Metabolists, which he believed was ‘manipulated in the interests of the government’s meretricious policies’. This presentation unfolds the ideological affinity between Isozaki and Archigram, examining how Archigram’s ideas of indeterminacy and temporality were transcribed by Isozaki, specifically as regards the dismantling of the modern ideals in the climate of post-war capitalism. The presentation examines the architects’ words and unbuilt projects and the reciprocal inspiration that was at play between London and Tokyo. It shows how Isozaki and Archigram reacted to the capitalist urban paradigm using irony in their representations, and reflects on the reasons their proposals never solved the conflict between their ‘counter-cultural’ ideals and the centralised power necessary to implement them. In so doing, the presentation affirms the relevance of Archigram and Isozaki’s proposals to twenty-first-century urbanism in Asia.
Ariel Genadt is an architect and scholar and Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. His research focuses on the relationship between construction and architectural expression of cultural and environmental aspects of places, and on the history and theory of twentieth-century architecture in Japan. Genadt holds a PhD in Architecture (University of Pennsylvania, 2016), a Master of Arts degree (Architectural Association, 2004) and a Bachelor of Architecture degree (Technion, Israel, 1997). He has collaborated as an architect on a range of buildings and urban design projects in Europe and Asia. In 2012, he was a Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences Fellow Researcher at the Kengo Kuma Lab, Tokyo University, and in 2013, a visiting scholar at the Fondazione Renzo Piano, Genoa. He has published scholarly articles in EAHN Architectural Histories, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Baumeister, and Topos. In 2018, he curated the exhibition Critical Abstractions: Modern Architecture in Japan at the University of Pennsylvania.
David Greene, Archigram. Living Pod, section, 1966. M+, Hong Kong. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES
‘Plug-In’ Communism: Archigram’s Influence on Soviet Architectural Counterculture
During the early 1970s, a group of Soviet designers at the Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) in Moscow developed a series of imaginative counter-projects that envisioned alternative models for domestic life under socialism. The most prominent among them was the Dwelling-Theatre, a system of mobile elements that promised to render traditional modes of material possession and place-ness obsolete. Designed by Aleksandr Riabushin, Evgeny Bogdanov, and Vladimir Paperny, the Dwelling-Theatre was awash with references to Archigram’s projects and representational techniques. The idea of domestic communication hardware plugged into larger urban infrastructures owed much to Dennis Crompton’s concept for Computer City (1964), while the principles of an expandable interior can be traced back to Archigram’s Plug ’n’ Clip Dwelling (1965). This presentation considers the immense, yet understudied, influence that Archigram exerted on Soviet architecture groups of the 1970s. Russian architects like Riabushin were deeply affected by the work and visualisations of Archigram, and also managed to introduce the work of the British group into Soviet publications, making it accessible to designers behind the Iron Curtain for the first time. Similar to Archigram, the VNIITE group relied and mobilised publications and exhibitions for the dissemination of their ideas. Unlike their Western counterparts, Soviet designers were largely restricted to official channels of communication, such as Arkhitektura SSSR (the official journal of the USSR Union of Architects), the contents of which were subject to heavy ideological scrutiny. The VNIITE group’s publicising, appropriation, and paraphrasing of Archigram’s work can thus itself be understood as a form of countercultural practice, a balancing act between open admiration of a Western radical architecture group and a tactfully disguised call to arms for Soviet designers to conceive new modes of utopian practice that challenged the strict confines and pragmatism of socialist planning.
Evangelos Kotsioris is a New York–based architectural historian, educator, and architect whose research focuses on the intersections of architecture with science, technology, and media. Currently, he is a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Architecture & Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was the 2016–2017 Emerging Curator at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where he organised the exhibition Lab Cult: An Unorthodox History of Interchanges Between Science and Architecture. Kotsioris holds an MArch II degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). For his doctoral research at the Princeton School of Architecture, he received the Carter Manny Citation for Special Recognition by the Graham Foundation in Chicago. He has taught at Princeton University, the GSD, Barnard College and Columbia University, the Boston Architectural Center, and the Cooper Union. His writing has appeared in Perspecta, New Geographies, The Architectural Review, Volume, Manifest, post, Conditions, On Site, and elsewhere.
Warren Chalk, Archigram. Underwater City, elevation, 1964. M+, Hong Kong. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES
The Archigram show—a more or less continuous broadcast with multiple reruns for almost sixty years—is now shifting network. Transmission will resume shortly. Do not adjust your set. Yet. This talk explores the network addictions of Archigram, both in the internal circuits of its diverse projects and in the external circuits connecting it to global and historical nets of experimental designers. Archigram broadcast images of a less boring life in the age of broadcasting—trying to strip architecture of weight, immobility, and English weather to expose an agile interactive architecture of communication. What does it mean for such a programme born in the golden age of TV to be retransmitted in the less-than-golden age of cell phones?
Mark Wigley is Professor of Architecture at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). He is a historian and theorist who explores the intersection of architecture, art, philosophy, culture, and technology. His books include: The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt (MIT Press, 1993); White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (MIT Press, 1996); Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (010 Publishers, 1999); Buckminster Fuller Inc.: Architecture in the Age of Radio (Lars Müller Publishers, 2016); Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design (Lars Müller Publishers, 2019), with Beatriz Colomina; and Cutting Matta-Clark: The Anarchitecture Investigation (Canadian Centre for Architecture, Lars Müller Publishers, and Columbia GSAPP). He has curated exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Drawing Center, and Columbia University in New York; Witte de With and Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam; and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. His most recent exhibition and book is Passing through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark (Power Station of Art, 2019).