Video about the Archigram Archive acquisition into the M+ Collections. Transcript can be found below.

‘Hong Kong Is an Archigram City’: The Archigram Archive in the M+ Collections

📹📃Video transcript for ‘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.

Architectural drawing of a cross-section of a large structure. Different parts of the structure are numbered, with labels corresponding to the numbers listed below the drawing to show the different parts of the structure: residential units, escalator tubes, shop supply tubes and silos, shop units, compound unit shops, fast monoral, local monorail, craneway, heavy duty railway, maximum circulation area, fast road, local feeder road, local parking, local goods sorting, and environment seal balloon.

Plug-In City, Typical Section, Peter Cook, Archigram 1964. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES

Architectural drawing depicting three images of a structure in different stages. The first shows a red metal structure with multiple bars sticking out of it. The second image shows the same structure with the bars lengthening and unfolding outwards. In the final image, the bars have fully lengthened and are carrying platforms with structures on top. The central pole that has unfolded holds up a domed cover. Text above the images reads ‘A hovercraft opens up to become a village’.

Blow-Out Village, Peter Cook, Archigram 1966. © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES

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.

Drawing and collage of a somewhat abstract exhibition design. A red arrow points from lineart of a staircase on the left to a colourful and curvy floorplan on the right. Photographs, many showing images of women and children, are laid in a collage to show where they would go along the path of the exhibition. A pink structure that people can enter is in the middle of the exhibition.

Archigram Architects, Instant Malaysia, exhibition design for the Malaysia court at the Commonwealth Institute, 1972–1973, London, United Kingdom © ARCHIGRAM ARCHIVES

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.

A close-up photograph of an architectural model in which multiple balloons float above elevated highways holding up a large fabric or canvas.

Archigram’s Instant City model in the M+ storage. Photo © M+, Hong Kong.

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.

Two hands with blue medical gloves unpack a piece of paper showing a drawing and collage with the words ‘Rent-a-wall’ at the top.

Unpacking a drawing from Archigram’s Rent-a-Wall in the M+ storage. Photo © M+, Hong Kong.

An architectural drawing showing the same cross-section of Archigram’s Plug-In City as described above lies on a white surface.

A drawing from Archigram’s Plug-In City being unpacked in the M+ storage. Photo © M+, Hong Kong.

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