LivingCity-structures by Simon Sadler

from: Archigram Architecture without architecture // Simon Sadler, 2005

… And yet big urban schemes, Archigram began to suspect, were becoming a thing of the past. Nineteen sixty-three was the year in which the City Centre group of top property developers hit crisis and losses. It was also the year, wrote Christopher Booker, of “the first realization of just how ill-fated were to be Britain’s two largest shopping precinct schemes, those at the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and at the Elephant and Castle, South London, both of which had been announced in the same month in 1959 and were now nearing completion.” The “Living city” catalogue pushed further into the future, beyond traffic intersections and property development, to a moment when the city as we know it has become something else, a “Thing” (figure)….

David Greene and Michael Webb were looking forward to a structure more ethereal than the Fulham study or Cook’s Plug In, something like “a vast net encircling the earth”, hung from Zeppelins, staffed by cosmonauts. “Living City” reprinted Frederick Keisler’s 1925 description of a “Space City”: 

A system of tension in free space
A change of space into urbanism
No foundations
No walls
Detachment from the earth
Suppression of the static axis
In creating new possibilities for living it creates a new society

Archigram’s pursuit of this “indeterminist” prophecy would characterize the main thrust of its design work from then on. And citizens too would be refigured, not as “consumers” but – to borrow Raymond Williams’s critical distinction of the time – as “users”. “Living City” for all its celebration of ordinary citizens – their tastes, habits, and experiences – had tended to portray them as subjects to the fixed forms of urban architecture, flowing through the spaces left in between buildings. “Living City” indicated, finally , a more radical possibility, of buildings themselves yielding, bearing no harder on users than an other item of everyday life (clothes, cars, packaging). By the end of its journey, Archigram would pare down even the weight of urban infrastructure, leaving citizens with just the in-between “situations” of encounter, stimulation, and change.



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