Imagine yourself a couple of months out of architecture school recalling the moments and projects that helped change your view of the world—a powerful exhibition, a design project that got your imagination going, the astounding work of your peers in studio, the big ideas you discussed, the small details you noticed. Put some of that together as an image-word collage on a sheet of letter paper; print 400 copies in somebody’s office; cut a potato to give each one a red stamp for color; staple it to another sheet presenting images of your group’s best projects. Then see if you can get everyone you know to buy a copy for about 75 cents. This is the unlikely beginning of Archigram, one of the most influential architectural publications of the 20th century.
The projects in the first issue, “Paper One,” are wild and sprawling, a “breakaway from graphpaper.” The words wind around and through the drawings; more poetry than essay, they lament:
the love is gone
The love is gone
The poetry in bricks is lost.
We want to drag into building some of the poetry of countdown,
orbital helmets, discord of mechanical body transportation methods
and leg walking
Initially the work of British architects David Greene, Peter Cook, and Michael Webb, Archigram announced an energetic, youthful architecture connected to the present and hopeful about the future, and much more fun than modernism. The roughly annual publication evolved over nine editions from 1961 to 1970; it became more refined but remained unpredictable, bold, and entertaining. Issue 3 on the theme of “Throw-Away Architecture” offered seven single-sided pages on hand-stapled bright yellow paper. Unfolding Amazing Archigram 4: Zoom Issue presented an array of colorful hand-cut pop-up “Entertainments Towers” by Cook, Warren Chalk, and Ron Herron. Inside the brilliant green Issue 9—the “fruitiest yet”—Archigram readers received a free packet of flower seeds stapled to page 11. Its sinuously printed pages in red, purple, green, brown, and orange ink on colored paper discuss the blending of machines and nature, global networks, instant cities, robot appliances, and “architecture in a state of flux.”
Soon, students and faculty at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design will be able to page through these astounding artifacts. GSD Special Collections has just acquired all nine full editions of Archigram and a large assembly of related ephemera—handwritten notes, cards, flyers, posters, newspaper clippings, magazines, and books.
Special Collection Archivist Ines Zalduendo notes that the acquisition is timely for the GSD because of students’ current fascinations: “This generation is really attracted to the 1960s visionaries. I see a comeback and an interest in visionary architecture. Just as important, the acquisition gives context to collections of other architectural icons already in the archives, especially Alison and Peter Smithson and Kenzō Tange.”
The early issues of Archigram, in particular, are rare and difficult to find, but M+ museum in Hong Kong also recently purchased the full archives. Handling the original issues, it becomes immediately clear how valuable they are as a physical collection. Archigram’s raw quality and variety can be fully appreciated: The red potato stamp, the hand-stapled pages, the manually cut pop-up, and the seed packet convey powerful impressions unavailable in online versions.
Although there are no plans yet for an Archigram exhibition, Zalduendo and Michelle Baildon, Collections Strategy Team Lead, hint that discussions are underway. Cataloging and preservation work will take a little time, but Baildon suggests that the collection will be accessible sometime in spring 2020. Then, GSD students will be able to page through the work of young visionaries from the 1960s and perhaps see themselves and the work of their generation in a similarly audacious, hopeful frame of mind.