Ephemerality and Architecture

Saturday 10th Sept, 14.30-16.00, Room CG06

Chair: Professor Anne Massey, University of the Arts, London 

This session will explore ideas relating to ephemerality and permanence in architecture, and consider the ways in which conceptions of time have been an integral part of the design of cities.

Cedric Price and The Dynamics of Time
Professor Graeme Evans, Middlesex University
E: g.evans@mdx.ac.uk

The British architect Cedric Price (1934-2003) broke the conventional boundaries of architectural practice by continuously employing a broad pallet of potential design variables, engaging formal, infrastructural, organisational, operational and ethical factors into all of his design propositions. His readiness to collaborate with other disciplines, including Situationists, allowed him to challenge existing assumptions and introduce concepts such as impermanence, flexibility, indeterminacy and responsiveness in design. Today’s climate of increased uncertainty makes this attitude more relevant than ever.

This presentation will consider Price’s perspective on the dynamics of time through his various projects including ‘Potteries Thinkbelt’, ‘Ducklands’ and his seminal but unbuilt ‘Fun Palace’ (including its emulators such as the Pompidou Centre), and the model, but ultimately temporary Inter-Action Centre in north London (the author worked in this centre for seven years in the early 1980s and knew Cedric Price). Price’s vision for the Fun Palace was for a new kind of active and dynamic architecture which would permit multiple uses and would constantly adapt to change, thinking of the Fun Palace in terms of process, as events in time rather than objects in space. The building would have no single entry point and divide into activity zones. Price and Joan Littlewood had assembled a multi-disciplinary team from architecture, art, theatre, technology with cybernetics, and game theory, driving the facility’s day-to-day behaviour and performative strategies, which would be stimulated through feedback from users.

The Fun Palace as both a ‘laboratory of fun’ and ‘university of the streets’, continues to inspire designers and artists and this ‘timeless’ legacy from the early 1960s will be contrasted with what Cedric Price’s Fun Palace client, Joan Littlewood, foresaw as ‘permanent structures and concrete stadia stained and cracking, a legacy of noble architecture, quickly dating’. Presciently, fifty years later this is exactly what now occupies the intended site for the Fun Palace in the Olympicopolis development in Stratford, east London, and this development – and its sentimental Albertpolis ‘Victorian Futures’ historiography – will therefore be set against Price’s essentially Modernist design approach.

The Olympicopolis project (coined by London mayor Boris Johnson) seeks to develop the Stratford Waterfront area to host satellites of UCL, the London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells Theatre, the V&A and the Smithsonian. The site forms part of the Olympic Park created from the London 2012 Summer Olympics – a mega-event where time was of the essence – both fixed in time and ‘on time, on budget’ with a ‘future’ legacy of land uses planned ahead of time, as visualised in the architects’/masterplanners’ CGI aerial images.

42134488_mcandrewDreams of The Fun Palace and Plug-In City — Architectural Modularism and Cybernetics in the 1960s
Dr Claire McAndrew, Research Associate, Institute for Digital Innovation in the Built Environment, The Bartlett, UCL
E: c.mcandrew@ucl.ac.uk

This paper considers the visionary dreams of two architectural designs, The Fun Palace (1961), conceived by Cedric Price, and Archigram’s Plug-In City (1964), designed by Peter Cook. Each radical in their thinking around architectural modularism and the embrace of cybernetics, these designs speculated on a vision of the city that was temporally adaptive and anticipatory. Their aspiration was to drive flexibility and versatility from a collection of modular 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 closed systems of exchange where real-time data on human activity could control and modify the spatial form within which it was framed and so on, ad infinitum. Blending architecture, modular technology and society, their designs sought to provide liberation from modernism. And yet – in the same breath – their neo-futurist aspirations were also critiqued for bordering on experiments in social control (Matthews, 2005).

Purely dreams during the 1960s, we now find ourselves in an era where social media, GPS and apps provide data-feeds that shape our engagement within the city in a dynamically recursive manner. The Internet of Things, rise of big data applications and step-changes in building information modelling connecting digital data with designed objects, will undoubtedly shift our temporal relationship with cities further still.

Reviewing material made accessible through The Archigram Archival Project, hosted by the University of Westminster, and the Cedric Price Collection held at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (alongside writings such as Sadler’s (2005), Archigram: Architecture Without Architecture and the works of artist and cybernetician, Roy Ascott, who advised on the cybernetics committee for The Fun Palace), this paper examines some of the key expressions of digital innovation captured by The Fun Palace and Plug-In City in the 1960s. Particular attention is paid to how the tropes of architectural modularism and cybernetics are reworked into UK contemporary design discourse.

Through this commentary, this paper casts light on the ways in which time has been conceived of being designed into the architectural fabric of cities and how through examination of critical debates, design history might respond to the challenges of the digital.

Expendabilia vs. Architecture: Debates around Permanence, Temporality and ‘Glamour’ in Architecture 1960-1971
Dr Jessica Kelly, Lecturer, Critical and Theoretical Studies, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham
E: jkelly1@ucreative.ac.uk T: @ardourlayman

In 1960, Reyner Banham wrote a series of articles in The Architectural Review called ‘Stocktaking’, which explored, among other things, the theme of ‘expendability’ in architecture. The series highlighted the very different perspectives within the editorial team about the relationship between architecture, popular culture and permanence. This paper will explore these debates over the longevity of architecture and the differing ideas about architecture’s response to changes in technology and taste over time. As well as revealing ideas about temporality and architecture, these exchanges allow us to reflect on the real or imagined generational divisions within architectural culture.

For instance, in one Stocktaking article, Hugh Casson dismissed architecture produced by ‘a team of specialists’ as akin to “the cornflake packet – efficient, salesworthy, disposable and to me, without any interest or value whatsoever” (Banham, 1960; p.386). Reyner Banham countered Casson’s suggestion that these mass industrially produced objects were “of no interest or value”, arguing that to “plenty of architects and fanciers of architecture, these things are of considerable value” (Banham, 1960; p.385). There were, Banham insisted, a new group of architects or journalists who were interested in ephemeral industrial design and popular culture and were increasingly concerned that architecture could not “match the design of expendabilia in function and aesthetic performance” (Banham, 1960; p.385). He went further than simply suggesting that the cornflake packet design should be a subject of serious consideration, he argued that buildings should be thought about in the same terms as such “expendables”, buildings were, after all, just “long-term expendables” (Banham, 1960; p.385). Banham’s insistence of the equivalency of the cornflake packet design and architecture reflected his interest in commercial culture and disposable design. Casson, on the other hand, and the older generation of editors dismissed these interests as “a preoccupation with glamour”.  The term ‘glamour’ became a by-word on the pages of the The Architectural Review for this debate over permanence in architecture.

The respective attraction to and rejection of ‘glamour’ was indicative of two different perspectives on architecture’s relationship to commercial culture and popular taste. There was agreement between both generations that architecture should be representative of the “spirit of the time”, but disagreement over what and where one should define as “the time”. This paper will trace these debates on the pages of The Architectural Review to reflect on the changing responses to time and permanence in British architectural culture.

Further Reading

Kelly, J (2015) ‘Vulgar Modernism: JM Richards, modernism and the vernacular in British architecture’, Architectural History, 58.

Matthews, S (2005) ‘The Fun Palace: Cedric Price’s experiment in architecture and technology’, Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research: 3(2),73-91.

McAndrew, C (in production) Performing architecture [The counter culture version], in Campkin, B and Ross, R (eds), Urban Pamphleteer Special Issue: Open Source Housing Crisis. London: UCL & Central Saint Martins.

McAndrew, C and Marmot, A (2015) ‘Techno-utopia and office design’, Design History Society Annual Conference: How we live, and how we might live: Design and the spirit of critical utopianism, 11-13 September, California College of the Arts, San Francisco.

Modernism and Time

Saturday 10th Sept, 9.30-11.00, Room CG06

Chair: Professor Jeremy Aynsley, University of Brighton

Twentieth century Modernism ostensibly sought to reject historicist thinking.  However, papers in this session explore the ways in which ideas about the past and of ‘timelessness’ were incorporated into apparently future-oriented Modernist designs in three different contexts, blurring the distinction between past, present and future.

‘An Experiment With Time’: Modern and Classical Influences in the Planning of an Early Modernist Landmark
Michael James Findlay
E: michaelfindlay105@gmail.com

High and Over (1928-1931), one of the earliest modern movement houses in England, was designed by two young colonial architects, Amyas Connell and Stewart Thompson for the archeologist and director of the British School at Rome, Bernard Ashmole. The first images of the house appeared in a 1930 article in Architect & Building News entitled ‘An Experiment With Time: A House at Amersham by A. D. Connell.’ This title was drawn from an influential philosophical essay by the Irish aeronautical engineer JW Dunne on dreams, precognition and the human experience of time. Dunne’s central notion was that time is eternally present and that the past, present and future are all happening together, an apposite starting point for discussing a pioneering modernist design that also reflected classical Roman planning. This duality has posed critical difficulties in placing High and Over in the historiography of Modernism.

It is generally thought that the radial planning of High and Over, with its three wings extending from a hexagonal core and a fountain at its centre, was based on a Roman prototype. This theory will be discussed with examples of baths from Hadrianic Rome. Connell and Thompson used the geometry of the hexagon as a regulating system for the house plan, but this system also determined the layout of the extensive gardens. The landscape plan is considered here, with reference to French modernist garden design of the 1920s, including the designs of the Armenian architect, Gabriel Guévrékian at the Paris Exposition and the Villa Noailles at Hyères (1927). Connell and Thompson’s plan for the main house was part of a much wider scheme for an estate of similar houses in a landscape setting that combined elements of Roman urban planning, French modernist synthetic gardens and the picturesque traditions of the English country house. These combined with other structures on the Amersham site to produce a hybrid architectural space that has escaped close critical examination, instead producing an outcome seen as fragmentary and unresolved. This narrative affects the way that High and Over has been treated in histories of British architecture where it is central through its early appearance on the scene but also apart, as though the architects sought to reconcile formal elements that could not co-exist.

With previously unseen images, including unpublished landscape plans from early in the project, this paper will trace the complex planning and realisation of the architects’ and client’s shared dream of a fusion of Roman, British and French design that would establish a start point for British modernism. High and Over occupies a place where the traditions of classicism and the emergent features of modernism intersected.

42134488_AnaBaezaIn and Out of Time: Displaying Design and Art at Temple Newsam Country House Museum
Ana Baeza-Ruiz, PhD Student, University of Leeds and the National Gallery
E: FHABR@LEEDS.AC.UK T: @abaeza90 W: Academia.edu Profile

Since the early 1990s, a growing interest in British modernism has extended our understanding of the manifold ways in which artists and designers negotiated competing visions of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century (Conekin, 1999; Buckley, 2007; Matless, 1990). While this has expanded the spatio-temporal scope of these design histories, emphasising that modernism was not simply a foreign import but a movement which grew indigenously on British soil, this strand of critique has not always engaged with the temporal turn in a more theoretical and analytical manner. This paper addresses this gap by focusing on the role of museums in art and design education in the regional context of Leeds in the late 1930s. It specifically explores Temple Newsam as a country house-museum whose new director Philip Hendy co-opted modernist ideas to promote a different kind of public engagement and aesthetic education. In restoring the country house, Hendy responded to the demands of British contemporary designers and inscribed it with an agenda that could meld the ideals of function and beauty and combine artefacts of different epochs by virtue of their design.

The question of temporality is central in the process of remaking the house-museum: on the one hand, Hendy wanted to emphasise the material and everyday qualities of the country house as a domestic place that could be familiar and engaging, and as such reference what was unique, ephemeral, and distinctive about its past. On the other, the pedagogical mission of the museum demanded intellectual uniformity, it meant categorically locating its exhibits in space and time and displaying them unambiguously as specimen representative of a wider culture. Such conflicts echoed tensions at the heart of British modernism, which focused on the everyday but simultaneously undertook the task of disciplining its chaotic and disorderly nature.

The paper argues that in effecting changes to Temple Newsam, Hendy’s agenda to popularise a specific aesthetic education both reflected yet also made permanent the everydayness of the setting. The selective filtering of the past hereby privileged the Georgian and the modern as styles exemplary of ‘good’ craftsmanship and assigned them particular meanings at the expense of other historical periods. The paper thus examines the compromises emerging from attempts to turn a lived-in house into a museum of decorative arts and emphasises the temporal dislocation of the everyday as it became subsumed within a general history of design. In this way, the paper addresses wider questions concerning the manner in which museums – and particularly design history museums – can enable or disable certain kinds of temporality about the artefacts they display and the design histories they construct.

“We did not want to make it a museum!”: Timeless Modern Design and the Presence of the Past in the Finland Pavilion Kirnu at the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010
Maija Makikalli, Lecturer, Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland
E: Maija.makikalli@ulapland.fi

This presentation focuses on the Finland pavilion Kirnu and the exhibition within it at the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010, and analyses them as designed artefacts representing the nation and its orientation within time.

Compared to several other European and non-European pavilions (eg Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Monaco and Saudi-Arabia), Kirnu does not include history in its narrative about Finland. The pavilion underlines the modern, future-oriented mentality, and as such it can be seen as a pure example of twentieth-century modernist, anti-historical thinking. However, as contemporary and future-oriented as it may be, the pavilion architecture (architect Teemu Kurkela, JKKM Architect) and the exhibition inside it (designed by Muotohiomo Ltd) include several continuums from past to present, such as Finnish modern design’s close relationship with nature. These continuums may have a tradition of more than hundred years. Classics of modern Finnish design, such as Tapio Wirkkala’s Ultima Thule glass (Iittala, 1968), or Maija Isola’s printed cotton fabrics (Marimekko, 1960) are exhibited alongside present-day design artefacts without any indication of the time when those were originally designed. Designed artefacts are exhibited without any temporal dimension, they appear literally timeless. The heritage of the twentieth-century Finnish modern design is incorporated in Kirnu, but this heritage is not made explicit to the visitors. The exhibition aims at a visually produced (almost without any words) here-and-now experience that combines temporal dimensions of past, present and future.

This paper draws examples from different kinds of representations of history in other countries’ pavilions at the Shanghai World Exhibition, and ponders the lack of history and the presence of traditions and continuums of Finnish design in the case of Kirnu.

Further Reading

BaezaRuiz, A (in production) ‘The Rhetoric of Looking: The Case of the National Gallery in London after WWII’, in: Proceedings of What does Heritage Change? Association for Critical Heritage Studies, Montreal.

Findlay, M and Barton, G (2015) ‘The Final Link in the Empire Route: New Zealand and the TEAL Short Solent Flying Boats’, in Cooper A, Paterson L and Wanhalla A (eds), He Taonga, He Kōrero: The Lives of Colonial Objects, Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Findlay, M (2014) ‘Waddell Smith Bungalow’, in Reynolds P and Stock N (eds), Bungalow: From Heritage to Contemporary, Auckland: Random House.

Findlay, M (2013) ‘Rutherford House’ and ‘McCoy House’, chapters in Hansen J (ed), Modern: New Zealand Homes from 1938 to 1977, Auckland: Random House.

Findlay, M (2012) ‘McCoy and Wixon Taiieri Mouth house’, in Hansen J (ed), Big House, Small House. Auckland: Random House.

Makikalli, M and Laitinen, R (eds) (2010) Esine ja aika. Materiaalisen kulttuurin historiaa (transl. Things and Time. History of Material Culture), Helsinki: SKS (The Publishing House of The Finnish Literature Society).