For every building that gets built, countless others fail to get to site, abandoned for thousands of prosaic reasons. That means hard drives full of drawings describing in intimate detail how to construct things that will never get built. Archives of millions of terabytes form virtual parallel versions of the present.
Much of the time, architecture is the art of not building. And there have been few who have not built quite so extensively or as influentially as Cedric Price. A selection of his projects go on show at the Design Museum at the end of June.
His unique way of looking at the world single handedley steered architecture from dour and worthy 1950s Modernism into something more vital. His influence spread through drawings, writing, teaching, and even a little building ?????? (the aviary at London Zoo, which looks like a gigantic robot Pterodactyl perched on the edge of the Regents Canal, the Interact Centre – a modest stack of Portakabins next to Kentish Town West). Quite frankly, he is the godfather of contemporary architecture?????? Archigram, Venturi & Scott Brown, OMA, Liebeskind, Hadid et al directly, indirectly or laterally owe Price for signposting what architecture might be and how architects might work in post-modern, consumerist, pop-cultured, complicated times. Even the lucrative careers of sober knights Richard Rogers and Norman Foster are unthinkable without Prices influence.
The reason isn??????t what he built, but how he thought. Prices work might have been imaginative and utopian, but it was also rooted in an understanding of buildings in the real world. He believed architecture had to embrace contemporary life rather than produce old-fashioned monuments. Which meant rather than aspiring to be timeless edifices, architecture had to become unpredictable, flexible, ephemeral, uncertain, open ended ?????? and through embracing these un-architectural qualities would become fun, liberating, relevant, and useful. As the Design Museums exhibition title says: ??????Doubt, Delight and Change??????.
Price more often cast architecture as the problem rather than the solution, arguing that traditional buildings prevented you doing much more than they allowed you to do.
He recognised that architecture isn’t a thing but a concept – a connection networks of people, organisations and economies that happen to coincide in one place. Importantly, he valued architecture that adds to life, rather than architecture obsessed with its own aesthetic.
One of the exhibited projects is the Fun Palace, a project begun in the late fifties, discussed and drawn for five years before being abandoned. It had gigantic ambition – but an ambition that was not exactly clear. It was designed as large chunks of infrastructure – cranes, towers, equipment that would let people hang out, get creative, learn stuff – all in a fluid, experimental manner. Essentially, a great big machine that would help people have fun. Price reworked the modernist idea of architecture as a machine for living in, reflecting our changing relationship with machines – think of the difference between the heavy, noisy, dirty, and lethal machines of a Victorian industry that were about physical power, and the gadgets strewn around todays average home: clean, quiet, fun, sensory, information devices.
Though he died in 2003, Cedric Price makes contemporary architects look more conservative than Prince Charles. His broad, human, funny, vision of architecture remains as challenging now as 40 years ago.
Doubt, Delight + Change – Design Museum, London
25 June 2005 to 9 October 2005
published in Tank