Archigram has always been more rock star than starchitect. The six-member group—Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron, and Michael Webb—produced some of the most revolutionary designs of the 1960s and early 1970s. Drawing on consumer culture as well as new technologies, their self-published pamphlets challenged stuffy high Modernism and the architectural status quo by envisioning, among other fantastical things, walking cities. As the bad boys of pop architecture, they’ve made giddy fans out of students, academics, and practitioners over the years. Yet it was still a surprise when the Archigram Archival Project, an online visual database of the group’s work that launched in April, immediately went viral, racking up 100,000 page views in its first week.
Conceived when the firm received the 2002 Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the site was developed by a team from the University of Westminster’s research center for experimental practice in the Department of Architecture. “Archigram’s work is not finite,” says project manager Clare Hamman. “We designed a site that could grow, so that extra things—like films or all of Ron Herron’s boxes of ephemera—could be added later.”
Yet the site is already a research gold mine. In addition to some 10,000 images, it includes collaborator bios, cross-linked to projects, and long interviews with Crompton about each of the nine (and a half) magazines Archigram produced between 1961 and 1974. (The holder of Archigram’s archives, Crompton worked with the Westminster team to make the site a reality.) The trove seems to offer up endless new material for analysis: sketches from the “Living City” exhibition, for example, or a master-planning proposal for a London shopping center. Finding evidence of visionary and mundane projects in the archive underscores the fact that while Archigram is best known for whimsy, its members were, and are, quite serious about architecture.
“I think we were curious about everything,” Crompton says. “What has become apparent in the last 10 to 15 years,” he adds, “is that we’ve become the subject of legitimate academic study.”