[iDC] Re: archigram and others

Kazys Varnelis kazys at varnelis.net
Tue Sep 26 13:09:33 EDT 2006

Some thoughts about recent items on iDC

Regarding Archigram et. al. To be sure, Archigram was an influential  
and important group, but we also have to look at the whole picture  
when we turn back to them.

By the 1970 they were largely considered obsolete. There are a number  
of reasons for this, some covered in Simon's recent book Archigram.  
Architecture Without Architecture others in ‘”We shall not bulldoze  
Westminster Abbey”: Archigram and the retreat from technology’ by  
Martin Pawley. in Oppositions (7) Winter 1976-1977.

Archigram was, in many ways, the product of Fordist recovery in  
Britain. It was pro-technology, pro-machine, pro-mass consumption,  
pro-obsolescence, anti-theory. There is no question Archigram was  
crucial in playing a transitional role to post-Fordist approaches to  
architecture by attacking the establishment, by incorporating pop, by  
recognizing individualism, by incorporating technology and so on. By  
the early 1970s, however, the mechanical approach Archigram created  
was absorbed by the State (e.g. Rogers and Piano at Beaubourg),  
obsolescence, consumerism and technology had come under attack and  
groups like Superstudio and Archizoom suggested that, under the  
pressures of advanced capital and technology, instead of more  
architecture and more things, individuals needed to learn to live in  
a more generic and immaterial world. These groups would produce works  
that were not merely utopian as in Archigram's case but also  
simultaneously dystopian. At a seminar in the 1990s, I asked Koolhaas  
what he thought of Archigram while he was at the AA during his  
student years and his reaction was telling: I had no interest in  
Archigram, I was bringing Superstudio and Archizoom in to show  
everyone. So, not to say that Archigram and its envisioning of the  
future wasn't important, but we also need to keep that group in  
particular in perspective.

I see the current fascination with blobs (now well over a decade old)  
in the same light. Mark's critique is right on. The blob domesticates  
the force of the digital. The digital is dangerous to architecture.  
Easy to acquire tools allow anybody to be an architect. In response  
architecture does not so much embrace technology as move back to its  
old ways, to craft, to slowness and the handmade, even if the hand is  
now resting on a mouse, not on a pencil or on a hammer. Just as an  
Archigram drawing couldn't be made by just anyone, but only by  
someone with fantastic skill in drafting, blobs are designed and  
discussed as virtuoso performances, as expenditures demonstrating the  
skill of the architect both at the production of the design and its  

What next? To me the most interesting moment from the late 1960s was  
the moment after the dynamite that Archigram and the SI laid  
detonated. Media-based practices flourished, from Archizoom and  
Superstudio to Ant Farm, OMA, or the Architecture Machine Group and  
even in the responses from organizations such as the IUAV and the  
IAUS. Here's hoping our symposium can do a little of the same…

More information about the iDC mailing list