Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Hatchet

The following is a review of 'Experimental Architecture' by Peter Cook, written by a 'Kit Pedler' and appearing in the April 1971 issue of Architectural Design:
One of the most disturbing features about the immediate future is the very real probability that people can become agreeably conditioned to accept any one of a hundred different technological nightmares. Alvin Toffler on the other hand has recently suggested that we can no longer adapt rapidly enough to a galloping future and that we shall become victims of Future Shock.
After reading this book I am in profound shock. I find that I can live in an "urban finger" the only justification for which appears to be that the complex has concrete digits. I can crawl my way into one of the convolutions of the old "bowellism", a vertical assembly of hollow concrete intestines with windows. I can surround myself with "fun places", "Instant cities" and inflatable buildings ("Mum, can we come and stay with you for a few days, somebody pricked our living room again"). Bored perhaps with the sheer brilliance of the designers, I can then walk to "plug-in-city" pausing for a quick trip in an "environmental box" or a session in a "mind-expander". Finally, having visited a friend curled up in a foetal position in his glass fibre "living pod" I can return to my own PVC pad thanking whichever guru happens to be in vogue at the time for the unspeakable perfections of my surroundings.
Architects often seem to me to be one of the most arrogant species at liberty. Having absorbed a sprinkling of philosophy and a crude knowledge of technical concepts, they develop the ability to translate what is largely impudent dogma into concrete and metal reality, and then have the sheer nerve to justify the initial idea by post hoc rationalisation. What probably started as an absolutely "sooper" idea in the intellectual wastelands of NW1 turns into a fraudulent justification for a real building where people are rather regrettably inserted.
Mr. Cook's congested text is a minor masterpiece of such rationalisation. Amidst page after page of glimpses from the obvious, there are apologies for each project variously labelled as "on-going", "myth exploding" or just "experimental". If one is simple minded enough to suppose that a house - is a dwelling place - is a home - for an individual, then Mr. Cook's future is not for you. Nearly all his explanations offer a complex reason for the relative validity of the project he is describing. One is interested to note for example that "... perhaps it is inevitable that the satellite piece of furniture which moves as an individual package will lead to the mechanised foot rather than do anything which implies a regular hierarchy (even one as loose as that of furniture: to dwelling: to location)". Do you know I never knew that before - just as law is for the lawyers - and medicine is for the doctors, so architecture is quite evidently for architects.
Amidst all the glossy verbosity of this book there is practically no mention of the gentle human frame. It appears to be a rather tiresome protoplasmic appendage, to be fitted in somewhere at the end of a designer's monument to his own frivolity.
I wish, I could believe, that Mr. Cook had written a black comedy, a private in-joke for his colleagues. Sadly, I conclude that he is serious.
A couple of things pop to mind: first of all, who is behind 'Kit Pedlar'? In the culture of pseudonyms I wonder if it's yet another of Martin Pawley's efforts, sticking the knife in in his own inimitable way. But there's more going on, because it's obviously also a parody of the shocked conservative voice that would become much louder by the end of the decade, and then would become the dominant voice by the eighties. Experimental Architecture is by no means a great book, but the sheer anger with which people would fall back on a vulgar Heideggerian notion of dwelling as an excuse to suppress anything even remotely communal or 'modern' about house building and promote reactionary notions about how and where people should live, and what the house should mean in terms of its relationship to the wider economy, is perfectly ventriloquised here.

If anyone can shed any light on this, please let me know...