Thursday, 6 December 2012

Indispensible Archigram Work

    Michael Webb's Cushicle was produced in 1964, the year Archigram 4: "Zoom Issue", featuring the Plug-In-City was published. Later that year, the Gasket Homes were also produced. These projects explored ways to integrate technology in a total urban society.

The Plug-In-City
by Warren Chalk, Peter Cook and Dennis Crompton

    This is a vision of a computer-controlled society where all buildings are expendable. The project questions: “What if the whole urban environment were structured for change?”. Its response is a dramatic, endless cityscapes of stacked capsules on superstructures, locking together yet easily removable by crane. Transportation merely involves moving up or down a level and cars are absent, replaced monorails. In Archigram 4, Warren Chalk writes “the home, the whole city and the frozen pea pack are one in the same”, a manifesto of the Plug-In concept. On the same page, he writes “the idea of an expendable environment is somehow akin to anarchy… as it in order to make it work [we] would bulldoze Westminster Alley”. He is right about the attitude toward expendability, as the idea of the idea of plug-in city was called cold and soulless in a Sunday Times article from September 20th, 1964.

This assessment is not wholly true of untrue. In the drawings, the Plug-In City is envisioned to encompass huge areas of land as superstructures connecting the ends of the country. Yet, each building outcrop is deliberately ‘varietous’, to avoid being a ‘deadly piece of built mathematics’, a clear rejection of modernism. Still, the laneways, cranes and airships of the Plug-In City are deliberately emphasized and are the constituent and vital technologies of the city. Though a fully built environment, places would constantly exchange parts and be updated and reinvented to accommodate their inhabitants’ conditions. Whenever faced with questions such as ‘where do the babies and seniors live?’ Chalk, Cook and Crompton would return to their drawings and invent a new plug-in. So, in a way, the environment is both unwelcoming and fully accommodating.

A map representing spread of 
the Plug-In-City in red

Basic structural framework of the Plug-In City with attached plug-ins
Artwork depicting the Plug-In-City


A Capsule Home
by Warren Chalk were the beginning of Archigrams extensive work with the word ‘capsule’. Chalk was commissioned to design a prefabricated dwelling space capsule by Taylor Woodrow and the only constraint was that they needed to stack. The Capsule Home quickly became a study in ergonomics. Using cars as an analogy, Chalk proposed a system of total interchangeability. Each cluster of capsules would have a crane overhead for opening out or clipping in the highly sophisticated parts. They were imagined to be pressed metal though pressed paper was also considered for weight. The capsules, though a separate project, were realized to be the necessary form of mass residence in the Plug-In City. The Capsule Home, even when separate from the city, inevitably implies a lifestyle of total urbanism.

    Plug-In City, Gasket Homes and the Cushicle all require a central armature. They are all predicated on an assembly of expendable parts. They explore technology as the framework of dwellings and, consistent with the theme of Arhigram 4, are science fiction dreams. These are maximally ergonomic dwelling solutions for different scales- the Cushicle for the individual, the Capsule Home for the Family, the Plug-In City for the community. The Cushicle like a tiny capsule with flexible walls. Anywhere the Cushicle goes, the amenities of the city are brought too: the Cushicle too implies total urbanism. 

Elevations and Plans of a Capsule homes
 on a superstructure
Elevations and Sections of some 
Plug-In-City superstructures
Despite the foresight of including a screen, Webb did not foresee the elimination of bunny ears.
The armature of the Cushicle