The Archigram Movement

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Very little has been written about the visionary, predominantly British architectural movement, Archigram, since it first came to prominence in 1960. Of the scant texts available (of which many are in Japanese, as opposed to English), the authors generally attempt to describe this radical form of architecture only in terms of its designers/innovators - Ron Herron, Michael Webb, Warren Chalk and Dennis Crompton - and the ways in which it differs from the pre-existing traditions. The fascination of an architectural collective, members of which have envisioned leviathan walking cities (Ron Herron, Walking City, 1964), and people living inside bubbles (David Greene, Inflatable Suit-Home, 1968) compels one to question why academics and critics have not yet pursued more detailed studies in this subject area. The aim of the Archigram Group was not only to alter the way we envisage architecture; its members wanted to change civilisation on every possible level - physically, socially and culturally. Since reading Herbert Lachmayer's dissection of Archigram, which states that the movement proposes a `democratic emancipated capitalism, directed towards a humane working environment, pleasure-oriented consumption, and the pursuit of individual happiness', I have questioned the political motivations of the movement. It is my intention to examine one particular aspect of Archigram which has not to date been discussed in any great depth. In this study, I hope to speculate on the political stance of the Archigram movement as a whole, and to analyse the extent to which Archigram may be said to reflect the political and social climate of post-war consumer culture in the West. I will begin by interpreting the collision of two seemingly incompatible economic systems - communism/ socialism and capitalism - which Archigram represents, before moving on to a discussion of the elements of Futurism, Fascism and idealism inherent in the movement. I will also cite other relevant cultural events of the day, influences and world visions.

Drawn from his 1859 Critique of the Political Economy, communism as described by Karl Marx advocates a classless society in which private ownership has been abolished and the means of production belong to the community, whereas socialism is an economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned collectively by the community, usually through the state. In Leninist theory, socialism is a transitional stage in the development of a society from capitalism to communism. Marx perceived that the economy is the driving force behind all social change; that changes in the economic base affect the social superstructure - eg. the legal and education systems - which is raised upon it.

Many of Marx' and Engels' ideas appear to have indirectly influenced the proponents of Archigram. For example, Marx believed in the de-individualisation of society for the greater good. He maintained that a civilisation where everyone was equal, with the abolition of class systems, would lead to a better and more mutually productive society. The designs of Peter Cook and his contemporaries reflect to an extent these notions. They envisioned a society where everyone lived in non-static homes (Instant City, 1968), forging a close link between mobility and freedom. This idea of `travelling environments' would potentially allow settlements or communities to evolve undivided by social strata, with no suburbs or privileged areas. David Greene's Living Pods (1966) are akin to the modern caravan or mobile home - capsules that could move about freely, even underground, and be attached to any number of other pods to create a transient society. In an ideal situation, everyone, rich or poor, would have one of these living pods, and could connect themselves to any other pod, with no regard to social class, financial status etc., but we know from experience that people would soon look for other ways of expressing...
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