Walking through the Walking City
New Babylon assumes that as a result of automation non-creative work will disappear
There’s a sense of regression as you progress round the exhibition Future City. The earliest utopia here (and the source for the layout, if the programme is to be taken seriously) is that of Situationist psychogeography- we begin with Debord and Constant Nieuwenhuys (whose New Babylon models look remarkably mechanoid) then most interestingly we go through Cedric Price and in particular to Archigram, whose work seems astoundingly advanced by today’s standards, let alone the early 60s: a cheaply xeroxed kinetic collision of Constructive fantasist Iakov Chernikov, Sant-Elia and (pre-emptively) Terry Gilliam. Much of the subsequent work, despite fascinating designs by Paul Virilio (of all people), Kenzo Tange and Zaha Hadid, seems totally in the shadow of this.
The house, the whole city and the frozen pea pack are all the same
Peter Cook of Archigram
Archigram and their 60s contemporaries’ forms- the mechanistic organicism, the outlandish curves and Constructivist girders, the tendency to a garish Architectural popism- are aped again and again, yet the innovations in terms of function are all but ignored. Something might look like the plug-in city or Ron Herron’s Walking City, but it doesn’t walk, it isn’t detachable or indeterminate…it might essentially serve the same fuction as a Victorian office block, albeit with more advanced technology, as in Koolhaas’ gorgeous and pointless Chinese tower. What happens around the late 70s to cause this loss of nerve might seem self-explanatory. But even the later projects suggest possibilities and openings through their formal extravagance- designing a Selfridges to look like an extraterrestrial creature might be mere window dressing, but suggests, despite itself, another everyday life.