During my MArch I became interested in the work of Cedric Price. Despite his most famous projects not being built, Cedric Price is an increasingly influential figure in architect today. There is an expanse of literature written, not only about his projects, but also discussing his thoughts on the role of architecture in society, the role of the architect and ideas of authorship and his experimentation integrating technology with architecture.
In his works on Cedric Price, Stanley Mathews describes Price’s Fun Palace project (1961) as ‘events in time rather than objects in space’(Stanley Mathews, ‘The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture:Cedric Price and the Practices of Indeterminacy’ In Journal of Architectural Education Vol. 59, No. 3 (2006), 42). The illusive phrase has been the catalyst for this topic and the tool to evaluate Price’s views on architectural discourse and discuss how architecture can be described as an ‘event’ as opposed to an ‘object’. The unbuilt Fun Palace Project is analysed against the completed Inter- Action Centre (1976-2003) and the Pompidou Centre(1971),in this post, which are both considered to be physical manifestations of the Fun Palace. The Fun Palace has been credited with being the main inspiration for the design of the Pompidou Centre and, although a controversial building to begin with, its popularity has grown to establish it as an important part of Paris’ urban fabric. Inter-Action Centre, significantly smaller than the Fun Palace and the Pompidou Centre, has been coined the ‘bargain-basement’ version, as the design incorporated many of the same features as Fun Palace but was much less technologically advanced.
Product vs Process
One cultural idea that began to define the period of the 1950s and 60s was the idea of the ‘incomplete’ or ‘undetermined’. This appeared in science, with Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle, and in art with the work of Mondrian, which ‘implied infinite extension’(Simon Sadler, ‘Archigram Architecture Without Architecture’ Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT, 2005), 93). The open plan layout and composition of columns in the work of Mies Van De Rohe brought this concept into the domain of architecture. For Price, the idea of indeterminacy was related to his ideas about time as a sequence of events, a theory likened to the work of philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). It is this sequence of time that is apparent in Price’s attitude to design. Price proclaimed against the architects’ goal of producing ‘end-products’ explaining that ‘if the designer pays more attention to life/performance and sequential operational capacities than to end products, then he may at last find himself in the position of a social innovator’ (Cedric Price, (1969) ‘The Industrial Designer’ Architectural Design 39:2 found in ‘Cedric Price Works 1952-2003- A Forward-Minded Retrospective. Volume 2: Talks and Articles,’ ed. Hardingham, Samantha (2016) (London: Architectural Association, 2016), 108).
Cedric Price demonstrated the sequential nature of design, most evidently in his Inter-Action Centre. The Inter- Action Centre was a community arts centre designed for a community charity. The client needed a flexible space for including performance spaces, exhibition spaces, offices and media and nursery facilities. In order to create this, Price designed a two-storey, steel trussed frame with a membrane roof that covered the whole site. Prefab units sat within the centre of the frame with space to the north and south ends to allow for expansion. The design was created around giving flexibility to the community that would use it. One of the most successful parts of Inter- Action was this idea of process. During construction money ran short, but Price used this to an advantage; he designed the construction sequence so that the steel framework and foundations would initially be erected and define the space. This was then used to hold events such as markets and fairs, creating a lived and usable space. This also gave the community the chance to inhabit the volume which had the advantage of being a 1:1 working model. In this way the construction and life of Inter-Action became an event in itself. It became a place people could inhabit at different stages of its life in different ways.
The architecture became a backdrop to facilitate human activity. This idea may have had some influence from the International Situationists’ idea of ‘situations’. Situations were created to ‘stimulate new sorts of behaviour based on human encounter and play’ (Simon Sadler, ‘The Situationist City’ (Cambridge: The MIIT Press, 1998), 105). Constants was a member of International Situationists and, although Price didn’t refer to the work of IS directly, his work has a relationship with concepts in New Babylon. By defining a secure, roofed framework for Inter-Action Centre, it could be argued that this induced a change in behaviour where by people were encouraged to inhabit the space throughout its life. Price remarked, delightedly, that Inter-Action Centre ‘implies that something should be done to it’ (Cedric Price, ‘Inter-Action’ Domus 205/81 (1978), 281). Price intended to allow the community to be involved in developing the life of Inter-Action, past the point of his involvement.
Despite not being built, ‘process’ manifested in a different way in the design and aims of the Fun Palace. Price picked two potential sites; the Isle of Dogs in London’s East End and Mill Mead. Both sites were wasteland, bombed during the war, but they both had good communication and transport links and were therefore significant and underutilised sites in the city. Price saw the potential of these sites and how the Fun Palace could create a ‘situation’ as a catalyst to activate and give life back to the area. As an impermanent structure with a life-span of 10 years, the Fun Palace would create an event and inhabit the landscape while, possibly, plans for a new project could be drawn up. The application for the Fun Palace was originally denied by London County Council Parks Commission for use of the Isle of Dogs site.
Price saw the importance of the building having a positive impact during all stages of its life, including the effect on the site following deconstruction. Price explains, in an article in: Techniques et Architecture, ‘that a shift from product to process has the social advantage of reducing the architect’s and designer’s present unhealthy concern with the completeness of the end-product’ (Cedric Price, ‘Creativity and Technology’ Techniques et Architecture; ‘Cedric Price Works 1952-2003- A Forward-Minded Retrospective. Volume 2: Talks and Articles.’ Ed. Hardingham, Samantha (London: Architectural Association, 2016) 234). The Inter-Action Centre, in comparison to traditional construction processes which entail unsafe building sites, delays or economic factors can be detrimental to the project, allowed use to be made of the site so that the framework provided an evolving backdrop for the people, and those events became the architecture. Le Corbusier proclaimed that it was the people who were the art and not the buildings and Price pushed this concept further to the forefront of his intention; to create an ‘architecture’ of anti-aesthetic.
In spite of Price’s ‘anti-aesthetic’ aim, the ‘utilitarian shed’ structure emerged as a style in its own right. It can be traced back to Rietveld-Schroder House by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld (Utrecht 1924). Reyner Banham produced the book ‘Theory and Design in the First Machine Age’ which depicted new technologies and structures using prefabricated and mass produced components. When the Pompidou Centre, by Rogers and Piano, was built in 1971, it became an emblem of this ‘high-tech’ aesthetic. Inspired by the Fun Palace, the Pompidou Centre is an art and cultural centre in Paris. Likened to a meccano set, the building is turned inside out with the structure and services creating the envelope to uninterrupted floor space within. In respect to Price’s ideas regarding process, it could be argued that the Pompidou Centre is a product, a product of the ‘utilitarian shed’ aesthetic. The competition for the Pompidou Centre, Rogers and Piano were required to submit drawings and a model of the ‘end-product’, of their design proposition. Price, however, refused to submit any perspective visions to be published of the Fun Palace until 1965 in an edition of Architectural Record, three years after beginning the project. He used sketches and diagramming in his designs but always as part of the process not the product as he said that he didn’t think the Fun Palace ‘would look the same twice’ (Cedric Price, ‘Life Conditioning,’ Architectural Design, (October 1966), 483).
Flexibility vs Rigidity
‘Events in time’ implies a relationship with motion and fluidity of occurrences as opposed to a rigid artefact. Originating with experiments of movement in cubism, the artists of the 1950s and 60s extended the idea of movement to performance art and happenings; using the human body to create theatrical installations and express movement which freed artists from the static nature of painting and sculpture. Sigfried Giedion discussed the idea of motion in the Eiffel Tower, emphasized by the ‘effect of a ‘rotating’ space that is produced by climbing the spiral flights of steps’ (Hilde Heynen, ‘Achitecture and Modernity: a Critique’ (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1999), 30). In the post war years, however architects sought to combine technology and motion to create flexible designs to accommodate the uncertainty in society.
In Reyner Banham’s 1965 article ‘Clip on Architecture’ discusses the methods of indeterminate architecture or ‘endless’ architecture explored by Archigram, the Smithsons and Richard Llewelyn Davis during the 1950s and 60s. Llewelyn Davis’, Northwick Park Hospital (1961-1974) was based on Miesian ideas about repetition of columns and details to create an apparently ‘infinate’ facade. The Smithsons’, House of the Future (1955), and Archigram’s Plug-In City (1964), were projects composed of modular units which were flexible in their ability to be added or subtracted from the building whole. Plug-in City also proposed kit-of-part structures which were made from prefabricated elements and assembled together to create a unified whole. ‘Kit-of-parts’ here refers to the construction idea, born out of the industrial revolution and new materials, that used a series of smaller components fitted together to create a complete vast structure. Price used prefabricated, ‘kit-of-part’ construction to create internal volumes in the design for Inter-Action Centre. The internal volumes sat in the middle of the major steel framework, allowing future extension to the south and north sides.
In basic terms, both the Pompidou Centre and the Fun Palace used a similar method for designing ‘flexibility’. Both have a major structural framework which allowed more temporary structures to be erected inside. The Pompidou Centre has uninterrupted floors of volume 170 x 48 x 7m. By comparison, the Fun Palace had a major framework that defined a space of 114 x 260 x 37m (divided into six stories-although no single solid floor separated the floors). In both projects the framework contained the vertical circulation. Roger and Piano had a hierarchy of flexibility in terms of time and effort taken. The easiest adaptable element is the ‘burlanschaft partitions that can be moved in a minute, the larger suspended museum partition may take an hour and the fire walls may take a day to unbolt’ (Piano and Rogers Architects; Renzo Piano Workshop Ove Arup and Partners; Arup Group Ltd; edited by Futagawa Yukio ‘Centre Beaubourg, Paris, France, 1972-1977’ Series: GA global architecture : an enc encyclopedia of modern architecture, (44 Tokyo : A.D.A. Edita, 1977), 6-7). The framework also allowed partitions to clip on and off the major structure. Despite these details, Kenneth Frampton, in his book: Modern Architecture, A Critical History, asserts that the expansive exhibition floors do not provide sufficient wall space to work as a gallery, arguing that another ‘building needed to be built within the skeletal volume’ (Kenneth Frampton, ‘Modern Architecture : A critical History,’ (London: Thames and Hudson LTD 1992), 285). He goes on to criticise the amount of space, deeming it excessive, resulting in ‘an under-provision of wall surface and an over-provision of flexibility’ (Ibid.) Frampton points out the drawback of simply defining a space within which flexible elements can be assembled and dissembled. Additionally, Frampton’s comments highlight that the ability to change the environment isn’t within the power or competence of the visiting public.
In the design for the Fun Palace, Price wanted to give the control of flexibility to the users. Therefore, in addition to the major framework, kit-of-part and inflatable enclosures, Price wanted to incorporate responsive technology into the design as he believed that ‘architects must generate technologies which are creative in operation’ (Price, 2016, 235). Technology was already being used in the work of artist Roy Ascott who experimented with combining theatrical installations with information technology to create ‘artwork that would interact with and respond to users’ (Matthew, 1984, 41). Price teamed up with Buckminster Fuller, Frank Newby, a structural engineer, and Gordon Pask, a cybernetics engineer and an acquaintance of both Price and Littlewood. Cybernetics and game theory, in simple terms, used the mathematical principles of probability and relativity to design a system that would ‘learn’ behavioural patterns and predict future activities by using a feedback system where the computers would document the user controls and, after collecting data, would be able to use the probability of certain movements based on these algorithms. The movements required by the users would control a 4.5m deep gantry crane, suspended from the roof and spanning the width of the structure, which would move the units along the length of the building. The ‘activity affinity system’ controlled the location and duration of a given unit, therefore ‘the internal plan was permanently in flux, altering hourly or weekly or at any interval in between, to achieve the desired immediacy of use’ (Samantha Hardingham, ‘Cedric Price Works 1952-2003- A Forward-Minded Retrospective. Volume 1: Projects’ (London: Architectural Association, 2016), 55-56). Unfortunately, there was a reaction against the use of cybernetics as it created ‘social control’ and seemingly treated humans as data.
Had the Fun Palace been built, it is unclear whether the technology would have worked, creating a flexible and dynamic performance, or whether the cybernetic ‘social control’ implications would have deterred visitors. Nevertheless, there are other similarities between the design for the Pompidou Centre and the Fun Palace. Both included interactive screens on the facades and both orginial designs allowed people to wander freely through the spaces. Both included a freely accessible ground floor level to encourage people to enter. Price wanted to have a completely open structure with no environmental envelope, in order to encourage 24-hour use of the structure. In order to combat the environmental issues of the structure being exposed, Price proposed incorporating ‘charged static vapour screens, optical barriers, UV light, warm-air barriers and tensioned roof blinds, with the whole continually cleaned by recirculated river water’ (Hardingham, (2016), 55-56). In the case of the Pompidou Centre, practicalities and security resulted in restirctions to ground floor accesss, the removal of the proposed animated screen and, in 1997, the escalators to the public rooftop were restricted to ticket holders only. The detail of the façade for the Pompidou Centre allows the glazing to be removed as it isn’t attached to the columns. This is unlikely to happen, however the issues caused by the absence of an environmental envelope in the design of the Fun Palace alone would be problematic. In light of these restrictions, it is hard to argue that the Fun Palace would have been the open spectacle of movement Price intended.
Despite the restrictions practicalities may cause, Price’s work highlights the tension between freedom and control, where ‘the freedoms of the indeterminate buildings are generated out of pre-determined systems of control’ (Jonathan Hughs, ‘The indeterminate building’ in Non-Plan: Essays on freedom participation and change in modern architecture and urbanism, ed. Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2000), 103). He recognised the limitations of the use of modular, kit-of-part and extension methods of adaptability alone. His efforts in the pursuit of a virtual, responsive flexibility however, are still ahead of their time today and are possibly one of the reasons why Price’s contribution to architectural discourse is still so alive.
Impermanence vs Monumentality
In 1943 Sigfried Giedion set out his ‘Nine Points on New Monumentality’ which expresses the need for a new monumentality using new materials, such as lightweight metals, and techniques that more appropriately represented modern society. Price did not believe that creating monuments should be the aim of the architect and firmly maintained that buildings should have a life-span. Despite this, arguably, it is in Giedion’s nine points that Price’s influence on mainstream modernism is most evident. Giedion refers to the use of varying ‘mobile elements’ and mentions the use of technology ‘big animated surfaces with the use of colour and movement’ (Ockman, Joan (1993) ‘Architecture Culture 1943-1968’ (Columbia University, 1993), 30). In his eighth point, Giedion also makes reference to the importance of the site. As mentioned previously, Price also saw the importance of site and saw the Fun Palace as a ‘stepping stone to establish a new urban centre’ to transform a derelict, underutilised sites.
There are, however, some more traditional ideas about monuments in the Nine Points. Point one states ‘Monuments are human landmarks which men have created as symbols for their ideals, for their aims, and for their actions. They are intended to outlive the period which originated them, and constitute a heritage for future generations. As such, they form a link between the past and the future’ (Ockman, 1993, 29). There is an idea about time and process here, that follows on from part 2. It is interesting that in his book : Space, Time and Architecture, Giedion refers to Henri Bergson. Giedion remarks that he understands Bergson’s famous phrase that history ‘gnaws incessantly on the future’ (Sigfried Giedion, ‘Space, Time and Architecture: The growth of a new tradition’ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, thirteenth printing, 1997), xliii). Therefore, although Price promotes consideration of the fourth dimension, and has written and given lectures on the idea of anticipatory architecture, he rarely talks about the role of architectural history, despite being extremely interested in it. Historical significance has led to the Pompidou Centre being referred to as a monument in numerous articles and literature since it has been built. The Pompidou Centre signifies a turning point of Parisian architecture and society which stands out as different from the other monumental structures such as the Eiffel Tower and Mitterand’s Grands Projets. It has become a crucial part of the identity of Paris. Considering this, Price didn’t believe the role of the architect should be the ‘provider of visually recognizable symbols of identity, place and activity’ (Mary Lou Lobsinger, ‘Cedric Price: An Architecture of the Performance’, in Anxious Modernism, ed. William Goldhagen, Sarah and Legault, Rejean. (Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2000), 124). Arguably, there is an irony here as the Fun Palace would have been a huge landmark set into the landscape, simply for sheer size. Additionally, Cedric Price was the first person to suggest having an enormous Ferris Wheel placed on the South Bank, which has since become, possibly, the most recognisable symbol for London.
In an interview with J B Archer discussing Inter-Action Centre, Price said that ‘buildings would become possibly monumentally sublime if their lifetime was far more sensitively attuned to their usefulness’ (Cedric Price and B J Archer, ‘London: Inter-Action Centre; Architects Cedric Price’, Domus no 581, April 1978), 21). Therefore, presumably Price didn’t reject the idea of monumental buildings, he even made reference to traditional proportions of buildings such as the Pantheon and the Crystal Palace when designing the Fun Palace; rather Price contested buildings exceeding their social relevance and becoming monumentalised. Price also questions the absence of monuments which could be a take on the Smithson’s brutalist ideas of ‘as found’ and discovery of relics. Although brutalism was at the opposite end of the spectrum of modernism, and the ‘as found’ idea usually referred to historic relics, there is a similar understanding of absence expressed in both ideas.
Price’s idea of life-span or ‘planned obsolescence’ is expressed most clearly in his argument against preservation. In ‘The Built Environment, a Case Against Conservation’, 1981, Price argued that the British attitude of preserving buildings prohibited regeneration of the built environment to suit the requirements of current societies. Price’s belief was that buildings are only relevant to society for certain amounts of time, past which they would no longer be needed. Price even fought against English Heritage, who wanted to list Inter-Action centre, arguing that the building only had a life-span of 20 years; it was demolished in 2003. Sigfried Giedion expresses a similar view in his book: Space, Time and Architecture. He discusses the organic nature of architecture, stating that ‘architecture exists to serve man who is as perishable as a plant. Thus architecture also bears certain human and plant-like traits’ (Giedion, 1997, 874). Although seemingly contradictory of the importance of heritage stated in his Nine Points, Giedion also agrees in the natural progression of buildings coming-to-an-end. Richard Rogers expresses a similar view in his book: ‘Cities for a Small Planet’ explaining that ‘modern life can no longer be defined in the long term and consequently cannot be contained within a static order of symbolic buildings and spaces’ (Richard Rogers and Philip Gumuchdjian, ‘Cities for a small planet,’ (London, Faber and Faber Limited, 1997), 163). Rogers alludes to Price’s ideas about life-span and against preservation. He doesn’t, however, provide a prediction of when a building has passed it’s sell-by-date or when it may be time for the demolition of the Pompidou Centre.
Reyner Banham described the Pompidou Centre as ‘a permanent image of change’ in an article in the New Society in 1986 entitled: ‘Art-Space Angst’. In this article Banham discusses the monumentalising of the ‘technology shed’ (Reyner Banham, ‘Arts in Society: Art-space angst.’ New Society, 75, (Jan 24 1986), 152) that is emblematic of the age of mobility and technology. For this reason, the Pompidou Centre has been widely criticised. The retrofit in 2000 and high-maintenance up-keep would have signalled the end of its life-time to Price and some critics argue ‘it lost its spontaneity’ (Vikki Millerm, ‘In Praise of Pompidou,’ Building Design. Issue no 1672 (2005), 14). Nevertheless, people still enjoy the building and it is a popular attraction. Even Reyner Banham expressed a delight in the building saying, ‘even as I checked out the complaints, and noted that there was substance in some of them, cheerfulness kept breaking through. It is still a whizz to visit, and you can sense just why it is so monstrously popular…Pompidou is an experience in its own right, whatever is going on’ (Banham, 1986, 152).
In the case of the Fun Palace Project and Inter-Action Centre, Price issued a prediction of when they would no longer serve a purpose to society. By assessing the Pompidou Centre it is clear that despite the need for refurbishments and ‘loss of spontaneity’ the building is still a valued platform for social events. Possibly a reason for this is its position in the historic and cultural background of the city, as it acts as a landmark but still has a role in society. It is evident, therefore, that there is an argument against Price’s assumption that the Fun Palace would only be relevant for 10 years; its relevance could cease before the 10 years is up or decades later. However, it is the temporal nature of Price’s work that defines it as an event in time.
The aim of this research has been to fundamentally evaluate Cedric Price’s ideas about architecture and to understand if it is possible for architecture to become events, shifting and turning in space rather than stagnant objects.
I began this research with an open mind, unsure as to what the outcome may be, however I predicted that Price’s work must be both an event in time and an object in space as I presumed the practicalities of erecting the Fun Palace would render it an object. After completing thorough research into Price’s ideas and influences from architectural discourse over the 20th century, I have observed that it is the temporal nature Price imposes on his projects that sets them free from the constraints of historic and environmental practicalities.
Despite Price’s insistence that the Fun Palace is no longer socially relevant, in 2004 a conference was held in Berlin titled ‘Fun Palace 200X’ (Philip Christou, ‘Making fun of buildings,’ Building Design. Issue no 1648 (2004), 25). Esteemed architects met to discuss possibilities for the Palast der Republik, formerly a multifunctional public building with political significance, which had been gutted due to asbestos with only the steel structure and concrete floor remaining. The cost of demolition or of constructing a new building were too great therefore the architects proposed creating a Fun Palace, a place for performances and multifunctional uses, to give a new life to the building while funds could be found for a longer term solution. Despite being deemed ‘unsuitable’ due to the Palast’s significance within the city, the conference illustrates the versatility of the Fun Palace project. Similar to the original Fun Palace, the conditions of the site and surrounding environment gave significance to the structure as a facilitator of activity. Therefore, although Price didn’t think the Fun Palace was socially relevant, there are conditions whereby the project, as a precedent, has become socially relevant again.
Price’s presence can also be felt in architectural discourse today. Practices such as Assemble, EXYZT and 00 Architects create temporary structure with designed life-span to invite public participation. Similar to Price, their work animates unused spaces. For instance, Assemble’s project ‘Folly for a Flyover’ (London, 2011) activates the unused area beneath two traffic bridges; their project Cineroleum (London, 2010) created a cinema from a disused petrol station. Temporality lifts the restrictions imposed due to environmental consideration and security because, as Cedric Price says, ‘its stated and designed limited life will in itself enable the palace to be used in the particular mental behaviour pitch reserved for immensely important impermanent objects of cherished social immediacy’ (Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood (1968), 129). The idea of life-span plays a key role in Price’s legacy, as it suggests that buildings may share subjectivity with their inhabitants; that buildings may be said to have a ‘story’ which unfolds in time, with a beginning, middle and ending. This life process is the key to meaning, to allow the building to reach its natural end rather than becoming fossilised in space. Both the Fun Palace and the Inter-Action Centre play their part in the search for meaning and Price’s aim to connect with the human as individual and not only facilitate the needs of the social animal but to aid the development of society. In spite of the potential issues of manifesting the Fun Palace in reality, it is hard to argue that the Fun Palace is anything other than an event in time.