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Cedric Price

(1934—2003) architect


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(1934–2003). English architect, innovator, and iconoclast, the son of the cinema architect A. G. Price (1901–53). He established his practice in 1960, and, with Frank Newby (1926–2001) and Lord Snowdon (1930–), designed the Aviary at London Zoo (1961). The apostle of ‘low-cost, short-term, loose-fit’ architecture, he projected the Fun Palace (a Utopian C20 version of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens—a ‘university of the streets’ consisting of a structural lattice from which movable capsules (the appearance of which would be determined by what went on within them) were suspended for a wide variety of activities) for Joan Maud Littlewood (1914–2002) at Stratford East, London, one of his most influential (though unrealized) High Tech (a term he hated) projects. To Price, in an increasingly changing world flexibility was all: in 1967 he designed a range of inflatable plastic chairs, so a favourite armchair might accompany its owner when out for the evening (permanent chairs, after all, took up valuable space in the home). He even proposed a system of air-jets capable of supporting the human body so that beds could be dispensed with. Despite, or perhaps because of, these notions, Price became a guru. He advocated that buildings should be constructed of lightweight, easily dismountable parts in the interests of flexibility and ease of demolition, and he took an anti-aesthetic, anti-stylistic stance, believing that permanence, monumentality, and preservation in architecture were indefensible: not for him was Wren's dictum that ‘Architecture aims at Eternity’. For example, he advocated the demolition of York Minster because he believed that if the purposes for which a building was erected exist no longer, then that building should adapt or die: it does not seem to have occurred to him that such monuments might have many resonances, purposes, or reasons to be there quite apart from use. An enthusiastic and evangelical believer in the benefits of technology, he was a significant influence on many architects, notably Archigram, Foster, and Rogers. Price's work contained much imagery of ‘interactive’, ‘mobile’, ‘adaptable’, ‘impermanent’ buildings (including the Fun Palace), but it was Rogers and Piano who captured the headlines with what has been described as their ‘noisy interpretation’ of Price's ideas, the Beaubourg, or Centre Pompidou, Paris (1971–7), in which Price's imagery was adopted, but for an immobile structure that was, in essence, a monument to Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou (1911–74) and to the centralized French State. In the 1960s Price predicted the impact of Information Technology, and in 1964 projected the Potteries Thinkbelt, a proposal to invite Government intervention in the retraining of the unemployed in an area of major industrial decline in a ‘mobile university’. 1965 saw his ‘Pop-Up Parliament’, a kind of open-to-all ‘supermarket of democracy’ to replace the Palace of Westminster (another monument he scorned). In 1972 he proposed the Community Centre for the Inter-Action Trust, Kentish Town, a ‘flexible’ thoroughly serviced structure for communal activities. He reported on air structures for the Government in 1971, developed further in 1973. He believed that architecture should be active in preventive health, ‘to stop society topping itself’: to him, it could be a means of ‘dignifying life’. Time will tell how his career should be assessed: he had many ideas (which often fascinated students), but most remained as ideas, floating, without conclusion. See also pneumatic architecture.

From A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Architecture.


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