‘Hong Kong Is an Archigram City’: The Archigram Archive in the M+ Collections
The below post was written by Aric Chen, Curator at Large, Design and Architecture, M+, about the recent acquisition of the Archigram Archive into the M+ Collections.
In 2013, M+ approached members of the 1960s and ’70s experimental architecture collective Archigram about including their work in the museum’s collection. When it turned out they were seeking a permanent home for nearly their entire archive—with its 20,000 items, including more than 3,000 drawings alongside models, videos, ephemera, and other materials—we made a strong case for M+, the new museum rising in Hong Kong with a global perspective, to be the institution for the archive. Based in London, Archigram is one of the most influential voices of architecture in the second half of the 20th century. Bringing their archive to M+ was an extraordinary chance to expand the discipline’s global narratives with new perspectives drawn from our region, while using Archigram to lend fresh eyes to how we look at architecture and cities closer to home.
Starting life as a publication of the same name, Archigram never actually built anything—at least not in the conventional sense. Instead, from 1961 to 1974, they produced publications, exhibitions, multimedia presentations, and, most famously, drawings, which have had a profound impact on how we see and think about architecture and cities today. Within their post-World War II milieu, Archigram reacted against what they saw as modernism’s increasingly staid conservatism and instead embraced technology, mass media, and popular culture to propose new modes, and ways of representing, architecture that were as adaptable and fast-moving as the times they lived in. The future of roving metropolises, self-contained living units, and pop-up cities concocted by the group’s six members—Warren Chalk (1927–1987), Peter Cook (b. 1936), Dennis Crompton (b. 1935), David Greene (b. 1937), Ron Herron (1930–2011), and Michael Webb (b. 1937)—continue to stir the architectural imagination today.
There was Cook’s Plug-In City (1964), with its megastructures that flexibly accommodated the ever-changing demands of the metropolis. And Herron’s Walking City (1964), which sent packs of nomadic, robot-like ‘cities’ roaming the Earth. For his Cushicle (1966-67), Webb devised a living unit that could be carried on one’s back while the mobile attractions, cultural amenities, and fanfare of Herron, Cook, and Crompton’s Instant City (1968) foretold the pop-up festival and event culture that permeates much of contemporary culture today.
Borrowing both the imagery and ethos of popular culture, Archigram found inspiration in everything from science fiction and comic books to hovercrafts, airships, fashion, and The Beatles, as well as California and Japan, which at the time represented compelling visions of the future. Archigram revelled in a global age of jet travel and mass communications. In Asia, their affinity for pods, capsules, megastructures, and cities as living organisms was shared with the Metabolists of 1960s Japan, whose Festival Plaza at the 1970 Expo in Osaka featured an Archigram exhibition.
Archigram’s vocabulary has time and again found resonance in eras of optimism and freewheeling experimentation. And so it should come as no surprise that, in the first years of this century, Chinese architects, including Ma Yansong of MAD, Urbanus, and Li Hu of OPEN Architecture, often looked to, and referenced, the group in their work.
The same can be said of architects in Hong Kong, a number of whom trained in the UK under Archigram members. In fact, the many interactions, both subtle and direct, between Archigram and architects throughout our region promise to reveal new readings on Archigram’s work. At the same time, Archigram offers another lens for looking at Hong Kong. You don’t have to squint too hard to see Hong Kong as more than just an accumulation of buildings. Instead, it is one of the world’s most remarkable urban laboratories—a hyper-intense layering of networked infrastructures and connective megastructures; flying escalators and media facades; and provisional sites, in constant flux, for the consumption of fleeting (or pop-up) amusements.
Though not by design, Hong Kong is an Archigram city if there ever was one. And it’s our hope that Archigram will offer us new ways of thinking about, and looking at, Hong Kong.