13 April 2017
Pioneer, utopian, innovator and visionary, Cedric Price owes his fame to some of the most radical proposals of the 20th century, including the futuristic and never built Fun Palace (1960-66), a multipurpose building designed to be dismantled and intended to host performances of various kinds, and the Potteries Thinkbelt (1963-67), a sort of mobile university for 20,000 students to be located on the railroad lines of a disused industrial area, with classrooms in the cars of the trains, inflatable lecture halls and a schedule oriented toward widespread democratic education and economic growth. Two pieces of a huge collection of projects, studies and texts on which the eccentric Englishman worked for over fifty years. The mammoth two-volume anthology Cedric Price Works 1952-2003: A Forward-Minded Retrospective, edited by Samantha Hardingham for the Architectural Association in London and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, covers for the first time his entire body of work. The first volume, Projects, presents with over 900 images, including drawings, models and photographs, 112 of the designs produced by the architect in the White Room of his London studio. Alternating actual constructions with schemes that never got past the drawing board, the catalogue documents Price’s interest in an ephemeral and interactive architecture sensitive to people’s desires. Thus the flexible layout that would have allowed the Fun Palace to house any sort of activity can be found again in a pavilion for play that could be configured by its little users; while the strategic approach at the base of the Potteries Thinkbelt, in which the reactivation of a disused railroad would have given a boost to a whole region, reemerges in the McAppy Report (1973-75), which turned measures to improve safety on construction sites into stratagems for making workers happy. The same insights return in the form of irreverent words in the second volume, Articles & Talks, which brings together the public lectures and innumerable articles through which Price, an accomplished speaker and proficient wielder of the pen, tried to put across his revolutionary message. What emerges is the image of a practical and consistent professional, whose drawings and writings were complementary elements of a program that set out to question the certainties of the architectural discipline. So the editor’s choice to deal with these contributions separately might appear inappropriate. In reality, however, the two parts of Cedric Price Works, accompanied by an essential critical apparatus and organized on a purely chronological basis, are an extraordinary work of reference, offering a free interpretation and overview of a many-sided activity just waiting to be discovered.