Cedric Price (11 September 1934 – 10 August 2003) was an English architect, urban planner and writer on architecture. He developed the Fun Palace, a structure although never built greatly influenced Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in the design of the Centre Pompidou.
Price was born in Stone, Staffordshire as the son of the architect A.G. Price. He studied architecture at Cambridge University, St. John's College, graduating in 1955, and the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. From 1958 to 1964 he taught part-time at the AA and at the Council of Industrial Design. He later founded 'Polyark', an architectural schools network. Although he was never an official member of the Archigram studio, he just wrote for its magazine - Price’s work, with its combination of epic and unbuildable social experiments and small-scale interventions, followed a similar trajectory.
Before starting his own office in 1960, he was associated with Maxwell Fry and Denys Lasdun. The most enduring project in Price’s early years as an independent architect was the Fun Palace, a 1961 proposal for a vast, shed-like entertainment warehouse. Developed with the theatre producer Joan Littlewood, the Fun Palace was a cultural goods yard, a space formed by the enclosure beneath a travelling crane that could reconfigure the interior components according to the demands of the occupiers - creating a ‘laboratory of fun’. To conceive the Fun Palace Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood enlisted a cadre of scientists, sociologists, artists, engineers, and politicians, including Richard Buckminster Fuller, Yehudi Menuhin, Gordon Pask and Tony Benn. Their ambitious goal was to create an interactive environment, a new kind of architecture, capable of altering its form to accommodate the changing needs of the users. Using cybernetics and the latest computer technologies, Price hoped to create an improvisational architecture which would be capable of learning, anticipating, and adapting to the constantly evolving program. An array of sensors and inputs would provide real-time feedback on use and occupancy to computers which would allocate and alter spaces and resources according to projected needs. A site was chosen for the Fun Palace, on the banks of the Lea River in London's East End. However, after years of development and design, construction of the Fun Palace was blocked by mid-level bureaucrats in the Newham planning office. Price and Littlewood struggled to overcome bureaucratic opposition to the Fun Palace until 1975, when Price declared the then ten year old project obsolete.
The critic Reyner Banham included the Fun Palace in his 1965 discourse on ‘Clip-on Architecture’, writing that ‘day by day this giant neo-futurist machine will stir and re-shuffle its movable parts - walls and floors, ramps and walks, steerable moving staircases, seating and roofing, stages and movie screens, lighting and sound-systems - sometimes bursting at the seams with multiple activities, sometimes with only a small part walled in, but with the public poking about the exposed walls and stairs, pressing buttons to make things happen themselves.’ Fun Palace was quintessentially of the 1960s, a physical manifestation of the emerging liberalized, anti-hierarchical society. Its legacy is plain to see, and not just in its most obvious successor, the Pompidou Centre (1977), designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. The Pompidou generated visual hedonism from its naked admiration for the raw components of building: pipes, wires, vents and structure. The interior was free-form, intended as a series of transformable spaces . Price himself realised his Fun Palace concept on a much smaller scale in 1976 with the InterAction Project in in north London's Kentish Town. InterAction was a framework with plug-in, readymade Portakabins used for offices, toilet rooms, and utility spaces. The center which was renamed as InterChange, provided community services and creative outlets for local citizens until its demolition in 2003.
In 1964 Price worked on a vast urban design project dubbed the ‘Potteries Thinkbelt’, devised in direct response to the decline of north Staffordshire’s local ceramics industry, subsequent high unemployment and ravaged infrastructure. In its place Price suggested the establishment of a vast educational centre, 108 square miles of loosely linked ‘campus’ that would turn the region into the national centre of science and technology. The existing railway would form the Thinkbelt’s backbone, while all elements, from teaching units to housing, were reconfigurable, demountable and removable. For a scheme conceived in a pre-computer age, the parallels with contemporary networking arrangements, distance-learning initiatives and electronically connected communities are striking. Price’s understanding of the fundamental social shifts of the postwar era, from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, was largely ignored, however: one can only speculate on the outcome if even a tiny amount of his ambition and energy had been realized. The recent suggestion by Will Alsop (who worked in Price’s studio for four years) that the M62 corridor be reconfigured - mentally, if not physically - as a giant linear ‘Supercity’ owes a huge debt to the Thinkbelt.
Typical of Price’s provocations was Non-Plan, a 1969 broadside at the urban planning system that had so visibly failed during the Modernist period. Price and his collaborator Paul Barker suggested that planning controls should be abolished, a combination of extreme libertarianism and anarchy that did nothing to endear him to the architectural establishment. One of Price’s last works was ‘Magnet’, a 1997 exhibition devoted to the idea of small buildings as generators of interest and activity. Contemporary architecture is currently going through an iconic phase, a movement that can be traced back to Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim and its catalytic effect on local regeneration. As a result, attention-seeking ‘blobs’ are being parachuted into the urban context as signature works commissioned solely to bolster status, not social cohesion. Price’s magnets weren’t icons but attractors, part of the urban mix rather than objects that dominated their surroundings.
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