Chapter 6. Dreams of The Fun Palace and Plug-In City — Architectural Modularism andCybernetics in the 1960s Dr ClaireMcAndrew, UCL Institute for Digital Innovation in the Built EnvironmentTheBartlett, University College London IntroductionThis chapterconsiders the neo-futurist visions of two architectural designs from the 1960s,Archigram’s Plug-In City (1964) designed by Peter Cook and The Fun Palace (1964)conceived by Cedric Price. Each were radical in their thinking aroundarchitectural modularism and in the case of The Fun Palace – embrace of cyberneticthought.iTheir designs speculated onvisions that were temporally adaptive and represented an idealistic belief in a betterfuture, with an aspiration to drive flexibility and versatility from a collection ofmodular units that could be arranged and re-arranged, time and time again.
Reversing the assumed stability of architectural form,The Fun Palace and Plug-In City were conceived as systemswhere human activity could control and modify the spatial form within which itwas framed and so, ad infinitum. Blending modular architecture, technologyand society, theirdesigns sought to provide liberation from modernism.Reviewing material made accessible through The Archigram ArchivalProject hosted by the University of Westminster and the Cedric Price Collectionheld at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, this chapter examines some of thekey expressions of neo-futurism captured by these 1960s designs. Through thiscommentary, it casts light on the ways in which time has been conceived ofbeing designed into the architectural fabric of cities, and how through examinationof critical debates we might find relevance in design history, today. Newpossibilities for architectureFormed in 1960 at the ArchitectureAssociation in London, Archigram was formed of six architects and designers:Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb and DavidGreene. This avant-garde collective focused their attention on the newpossibilities for architecture, creating fictional alternatives around the aestheticand functionality of cities. Archigram produced nine (and a half!) issues of anexperimental publication that featured these visions and went by the same name– Archi meaning architecture; and gram taking its meaning fromthe urgency associated with a telegram.
Plug-In City was designed by Peter Cook in 1964, but is considered the outcome of anumber of ideas produced in the early years of the collective. These includedfor example, Cook’s metal housing cabin (also known as Young People’s Housing) designedin 1961 which employed a megastructure of concrete within which removable living capsules wereinserted, aptly described as ‘car body type units on precast guts’.iiIt was also informed by The Nottingham Shopping Centre Project designed in 1962with David Greene. Shared permanent shop and office buildings as well as expendablemobile shop units serviced via a tunnel system and removed by cranes, sought toresolve the problems of frequent servicing and unit replacement.The Living City exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts inLondon which featured Peter Cook’s Come-GoProject (also known as CityWith Existing Technology) in 1963 – a speculative proposal for aninfrastructure of services, communications and facilities which would allowcities to literally ‘come and go’ – was also instrumental in the formulation ofthe Plug-In City concept.
Issue 2 of LivingArts Magazine (1963) which served as the catalogue to the exhibition, sought to articulate this vitality in amanifesto and series of written/illustrated viewpoints. Here, Peter Cook expressesa restlessness with the permanence of built form against the ever-quickeningpace of city life: ‘Fashion’ is a dirty word, so is the word ‘Temporary’, so is ‘Flashy’.Yet it is the creation of those things that are necessarily fashionable,temporary or flashy that has more to do with the vitality of cities than’monument-building’. The pulsation of city life is fast, so why not that of itsenvironment? It reflects rise and fall, coming and going … change, so why notbuild for this?iiiThrough the eyes of the collective, architecture was seen as just one partof the city. Vivid portrayals in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue, playfullyreferred to the other parts (man, survival, crowd, movement andcommunication) as ‘gloop subjects’.
Such gloops were compartments of the giantbrain of the computer that contributed to the totality of the living city. Through such works, it became obvious that the studio ought to explorehow the city as a whole, could be designed, framed and programmed for change.i The Fun Palace formally established aCybernetics Committee spearheaded by Gordon Pask. Such thought is left implicitto the Plug-In City; speaking in a broader sense to the hypothetical potentialof controlling a city system using technology to continuously adapt and respondto social and environmental forces. This is an idea that would surface andbecome more formalised in Dennis Crompton’s Computer City (1964) and BeyondArchitecture Archigram Issue No.7 (1966).ii Linkto archigram archive.iii (Cook,1963, p.80) Issue 2, Living Arts Magazine