Arhichitecture History Paper

T oward a Theor y of the

Architectural Program


OCTOBER 106, Fall 2003, pp. 59– 74. © 2003 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of T echnology.

Recent proposals and debates over the architectural redevelopment of Ground Zero have

highlighted the way in which, over the last t wo decades, the public role of architecture has

been gradually reduced to the symbolic and the emblemat ic. Its forms of expression are no

longer closely t ied back to the urban issues and physical planning quest ions t hat, from

Congrè s Internat ionaux d’ Architecture Moderne (CIAM) to T eam X, Neo-Realism to Neo-

Rat ionalism, Rotterdam to Internat ionale Bauausstellung Berlin (IBA), once energized and

mediated the pract ice of urban architecture. The questions that have arisen around the ethics

and aesthet ics appropriate to a site marked by disaster and cat astrophe have thrown into

relief the drawbacks of an architecture overinvested in symbolic form and individual medit a-

t ion on memory. Many discussions of the proposals for reconstruct ion, indeed, seemed to bear

out Guy Debord’ s 1964 ant icipation of an all-per vading spect acle culture. The difference,

expressed by Hal Foster with reference to the perceived effects of new and dramat ic designs

such as that for the Guggenheim Museo Bilbao by Frank Gehry, is that “ thirty years ago Guy

Debord deŽ ned spect acle as ‘ capit al accumulated to such a degree that it becomes an image,’ ”

but “ the reverse is now true as well: spect acle is an image accumulated to such a degree that

it becomes capit al.” 1

The issue here is, once again, one of “ program, ” a word all-but jett isoned in the high

days of postmodernism and deemed irrelevant to architectural “ meaning” since the discredit ing

of the seemingly narrow funct ionalism of the modern movement. In revisit ing this concept,

one of t he oldest in the histor y of professiona l architecture , t here is no intent to invoke

program in the limited funct ionalist or polit ical approaches of early modernism, nor even in

the revived t ypological and diagrammat ic forms of late modernism. Rather , a contemporary

sense of program would imply the radical interrogat ion of the ethical and environment al

condit ions of speciŽ c sites, which are considered as programs in themselves. Such programs

might not privilege architecture in the convent ional sense, but st imulate the development of a

new environmentalism construed according to what might be called the “ technologies of the

ever yday.” Such a new environment alism would not imply a subservience to “ green” building

mired in t he st at ic response of exist ing economies and primit ive technology, nor would it

follow the st at ic contextualism of the new urbanism mired in the nost algic response to a false

1. Hal Foster, Design and Crime (and Other Diat ribes) (London: Ver so, 2002), p. 41. sense of the “ good ” historical past, nor Ž nally would it accept the premises of global late

modernism mired in the false con Ž dence of technological universalism. Instead it would be

exible and adaptive, inventive and mobile in its response to environment al condit ions and

technological possibilit ies.

Not yet a movement, nor a uni Ž ed theory, this tendency toward the crit ical development

of the idea of program is driven by a number of intervent ions in the idea and pract ice of

design. It is manifested in the exploration of the potent ial of digital analysis and synthesis,

in the increasing interest in the formal and spat ial potent ial of new materials and structures,

and above all in t he migrat ion of the explorat ion of social and cultural forms from the

domain of art inst allat ion to public architecture. The spring 2003 retrospect ive of the work of

Diller + Sco Ž dio at the Whitney Museum of American Art points to the way in which crit ical

theor y, new media, and the invent ive reconstruct ion of space and t ime can imply program-

mat ic invent ion that is neither funct ionally “ determinist ” nor formally autonomous. It is

also evinced in the recent theorizat ion of the role of the “ diagram ” in architectural design —

that minimalist, reduced, schemat ic of spatial organizat ion and technological enclosure that

has, in the pract ice of Kazuyo Sejima and Rem Koolhaas, among others, become almost

iconographically represent at ive of a “ scient i Ž c ” approach to program. 2

Even the apparent division bet ween the postmodern expressionism cast igated by Foster

and a new sense of programmat ic invent ion is perhaps not as great as it may appear on the

surface. Many architects are bringing together their explorat ion of the formal potent ials of

digit al media and an equally radical approach toward the program by exploit ing all the

possibilit ies of animat ion and rendering programs to combine and represent informat ion and

thus overcoming one of the fundament al blocks to modern funct ionalism — the “ translat ion ”

of dat a into meaningful form. Design collaborat ives have adopted the interdisciplinary team

approaches of scient i Ž c research; fabricat ion is no longer so dist inct from concept ion since the

development of sophist icated output technology.

As is true of most radical inter vent ions in tradit ional processes of design, however ,

theorization of the new “ program ” in architecture lags seriously behind. If attempted at all in

a climate accepting of digit al determinism, it has tended to follow old patterns of discourse,

split once again bet ween science and art. Approached from the st andpoint of digit alizat ion,

theory rarely tackles more than the descript ion and explanation of new technological possibilit ies

and a void s cultur al or social studi es work on t he nat ure and ef fects of new med ia.

Approached from the st andpoint of critical revision of the program, theory remains embedded

in the art-historical discourses of the avant-gardes and their poststructural corollaries in critical

theor y and media analysis.

The emergence of a new sensibility to the architectural program considered in its broadest

terms recalls the opt imism of Reyner Banham and John Summerson in the late 1950s. Their

premise deemed that a closer attention to science — whether of percept ion, informat ion, or tech-

nology — would in the end lead to a fundament al reconcept ion of modernist funct ionalism,


2. For a discussion of “ diagram architecture,” see, among many recent texts, R. E. Somol, “ Dummy

T ext, or the Diagrammatic Basis of Contemporar y Architecture,” in Peter Eisenman, Diagram Diaries

(New York: Univer se, 1999) and my “ Diagrams of Diagrams: Architectural Abstract ion and Modern

Representation,” Represent at ions 72 (Fall 2000). 3. Reyner Banham, “ Architecture After 1960, ” Architectural Review 127, no. 755 ( January 1960), p. 9.

4. I b i d . , p . 9 . B a n h a m i s c i t i n g J o h n S u m m e r s o n , “ T h e C a s e f o r a T h e o r y o f M o d e r n

Architecture, ” Royal Inst itute of Brit ish Architects Journal , June 1957, pp. 307 – 10.

5. Banham, “ Architecture after 1960, ” p. 10.

not in order to free architecture from observance of funct ion, but rather to cast funct ionalism

in a vastly expanded Ž eld that included, from Banham ’s point of view, topology, percept ion,

biology, genet ics, informa t ion t heor y, and technolog y of all kinds. The following essay

explores Banham ’s attempt to theorize this turn in relat ion to the invent ive programmat ic

and formal strategies of the Archigram Group — work that has recently found resonance in

contemporary discourse as represent ing an important aspect of the prehistory of a potent ial

new approach to the architectural program.


Reyner Banham once remarked on the fact that the history of a period does

not always neat ly coincide with the calendar. “ For architectu r al purposes, ” he

observed, looking back from the vantage point of 1960, mid-century architecture —

that of the Festival of Br itain around 1950 — seemed less of a break with the past

of modernism than that that occurred later in the decade, after the building of Le

Corbusie r ’ s Ronchamp and closer to 1957. 3 Indeed, as he pointed out , John

Summer son in his celebra ted art icle of t hat year, “ The Case for a Theor y of

Modern Architecture, ” described what he called a “ Thirt y-Y ear Rule ” that measured

changes in architectural t aste and duly proposed 1957 as “ a year of architectural

cr isis. ” 4 The “ great divide ” that both Banham and Summerson detected in the late

1950s, despite their squabbles over it s architectural manifestat ion, was between a

modern movement universalized through the activit ies of CIAM and founded on

the “ mytholog y of Form and Funct ion, ” and a new, freer st yle, which, as Banham

noted, was character ized not so much by the often claimed “ end of functionalism ”

but by the death of the slogan “ Funct ionalism with a capital ‘ F ,’ and it s accompa-

nying delusion that cur ved forms were the work of untrammeled fancy .” 5 Against

this “ untrammel ed fancy ” that Nikolaus Pev sner was soon to character ize as a

“ New Histor icism, ” both Banham and Summer son were to propose alternat ives

based on what each thought of as the radical rethinking of funct ionalism, ideas no

longer immer sed in the largely symbolic guise espoused by the modern move-

ment, but based on “ real ” science. Banham, in search of what he called “ une autre

architecture, ” turned to the authorit y of milit ar y and corporate engineer s, biologi-

cal researcher s, and social scient ist s; Summer son out lined a new concept of the

program as the foundation of a “ theor y of modern architecture. ”

The modern movement , as de Ž ned by it s histor ians — Pev sner, Siegfr ied

Giedion, Henr y-Russell Hitchcock, and then Banham, had been under stood as

fundamen t ally “ funct ionalist ” in char acter. The nature of this funct ionalism

differed from histor ian to histor ian, but its rule over modern architecture seemed

supreme — it was a way of ignor ing the formal and st ylist ic differenc es of the

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 61 var ious avant- gardes in order to provide a unifying alibi, or de Ž ning foundation,

for architectural modernit y . It was from this funct ionalist posit ion that Pev sner ,

writ ing under the pseudonym Peter F . R. Donner in the Architectural Review in the

early 1940s, cr iticized Le Corbusier (formalist) and praised Walter Gropius (func-

t ionalis t) and later excor iated t he re turn of “ st yles ” charact er ized as a New

Histor icism. It was from this posit ion, too, that the Ž r st generat ion of modern

master s was cr it icized by T eam X, among other s, as narrow and ant ihumanist in

its functionalism. It was under this sign that John Summer son, wr it ing in the Royal

Inst itute of British Architects Journal in 1957, constructed his “ case for a theor y of

modern architecture. ” 6 And of cour se it was under this sign that Archigram itself

was to be denounced by these histor ians and architect s — by Giedion in the 1967

edition of Space, Time and Architecture , and by Alison and Peter Smithson in Without

Rhetoric of 1973.

Summer son rejected the idea of building up a theor y of modern architec-

ture based on the existence of modern buildings: to abstract formal character istics

from a select repertor y of modern buildings, or provide a grammar of form and

then to illustrate how the forms embody the ideas, would, he claimed, only “ add

up to something like a Palladio of modern architecture, a pedagogical reference

book ” that would end up as a “ hopelessly gimcrack ” rag-bag of aphorisms, platitudes,

and fancy jargon. Rather, a “ theor y ” of architectur e would be “ a st atement of

related ideas resting on a philosophical concept ion of the nature of architecture, ”

which he found in the st atement of a group of Mediterranean beliefs about reason

and ant iquity, stated by Albert i, reformulated in the age of Descartes, rewr itten in

Perrault ’ s cr it ique of Vitruvius, then again by Berlage, Durand, Hort a, Laugier ,

Viollet-le-Duc, Le Corbusier , Perret , and Pugin:

Perrault said antiquity is the thing and look how rational; Lodoli seems

to have said up with primit ive ant iquit y, only source of the rat ional;

Dur and said down with Laugier, r at ionaliz at ion means economi cs;

Pugin said down with ant iquit y, up with t he Gothic, and look how

rational; Viollet-le-Duc said up with Gothic, prototype of the rational.

Eventually a voice is heard saying down with all the st yles and if it ’ s

rat ionalism you want , up with grain elevator s and look, how beaut iful! 7

Against this rat ional tradit ion, however , Summer son saw a new ver sion of author-

ity superceding the classical — that of the “ the biological ” as advanced by L á szl ó

Moholy-Nag y. As Moholy-Nag y stated, “ architecture will be brought to its fullest

realization only when the deepest knowledge of human life as a total phenomenon

in the biological whole is available. ” 8 For Moholy-Nag y, notes Summer son, the


6. Summer son, when he republished this essay in 1990, obser ved that it was the “ last gasp of pre-

war English modernism ” (MARS group etc.) ; the moment “ when the thought of my generat ion — the

MARS group generat ion — lost touch with the real world . . . not the conclusion which histor y required. ”

7. Summer son, “ The Case for a Theor y of Modern Architecture, ” p. 230.

8. L á szl ó Moholy-Nag y, The New Vision (New York: Wittenborn, 1949) pp. 159 – 60. biological was psychophysical — a demanding theor y of design matching a broad

idea of funct ion that called for “ the most far-reaching implications of cybernet ics

to be realized . . . if the artist ’ s funct ions were at last to be explicable in mechanis-

t ic terms. ” 9

In this argument , Summer son traced the idea of the classical, the rational,

and the organic to it s modern concept ion, a trajector y that moved “ from t he

ant ique (a world of form) to the program (a local fragment of social pattern). ”

Hence Summerson ’ s celebrated conclusion that “ the source of unity in modern

architecture is in the social sphere, in other words, the architect ’ s program — the

one new pr inciple involved in modern architecture. ” 10

In his terms, a program “ is the descr iption of the spatial dimensions, spat ial

r e l at i ons hi ps, and o t he r p hy si cal co ndi t i on s re qui r e d f or t he c on ve n ie nt

per formance of speci Ž c funct ions, ” all of which involve a “ process in t ime, ” a

rhythmically repet it ive pattern that sanct ions different relat ionships than those

sanct i Ž ed by the stat ic, classical tradition. 11 The problem he identi Ž ed, as with a

naive funct ionalism, was the need for a way to translate such programmatic ideas

into appropr iate form — a problem to which Summerson offer s no direct answer .

Dismissing Banham ’ s 1955 appeal to topolog y in his essay on the New Brutalism as

“ an attractive red herr ing (I think it ’s a herr ing), ” Summer son was quite dismayed

at the “ unfamili ar and complex forms [t hat were] cropping up ” in pract ices

around him because of the extension of the engineer ’s role. 12

Indeed his conclusion was pessimistic; sensing the incompatibility of a theor y

that holds two equal and opposite overr iding pr inciples, he concluded that any

theor y t hat posit s program as the only pr inciple leads either to “ intellec tual

contr ivances ” or to the unknown: “ the missing language will remain missing ” and

our discomfort in the face of this loss would soon be simply a “ scar left in the mind

by the violent swing which has taken place. ” 13

Banham, wr it ing three year s later, was more opt imist ic. While he sided with

Summ er son in deplor ing the st yl e-m onge r ing of t he 195 0s — “ it has be en a

per iod when an enterpr ising manufacturer could have put out a do-it-your self

pundit kit in which t he aspir ing t heor ist had only to fill in the blank in the

phrase The New ( . . . )-ism and set up in business ” — he found that “ most of the

blanket theor ies that have been launched have proven fallible, and partly because

most labels have concentrated on the purely formal side of what has been built

and projected, and failed to t ake into account the fact that nearly all the new

trends rely heavily on engineer s or technicia ns of genius (or nearly so). ” He

proposed that what was needed was “ a new and equally compelling slogan, ” and

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 63

9. Summer son, “ The Case for a Theor y of Modern Architecture, ” p. 232.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p. 233.

12. Ibid., p. 235.

13. Ibid. he suggested some of his own: “ Anticipatory Design, ” “ Une Architecture Autre, ”

“ All-in Package Design Service, ” and even “ A More Crumbly Aesthetic. ” 14

By asking t his quest ion, as well as implicit ly answer ing it on behalf of a

ne w ar chi tectur e, Banham i nt r oduced a se r i es of i nquir i es unde r t he t it le

“ Architecture after 1960 ” that he had initiated for Architectural Review . 15 Pr inted on

br ight yellow paper with red accents and bold t ypography , they were kicked off by

his own, now celebr ated art icle “ Stockt aking, ” wit h it s par allel discussi on of

“ T radition ” and “ Design ” and it s obvious design-fr iendly conclusion, and followed

by a group of e ssays on “ The Science Side ” by expert s on weapons systems ,

computer s, and the human sciences. The series cont inued with a symposium of

architects, chaired by Banham, on “ The Future of Univer sal Man, ” that paradigm

of the tradit ional architectural subject, and concluded with Banham ’s double bill

on “ Histor y under Revision, ” a combined questionnaire on “ Masterpieces of the

Mode rn M ovem ent , ” and a per sonal ex orcism of his ow n teache r Ni kolaus

Pev sner, “ Histor y and Psychoanalysis, ” in which the master was put on the couch

by the pupil. And just to demonstrate fairness, Banham allowed the old guard

back to reply, st ill on yellow paper, in a dyspeptic sequence of obser vat ions by the

editor s of Architectural Review : J. M. Richards, Hugh Casson, H. de C. Hastings,

and, of cour se, Nikolaus Pev sner . Banham, needless to say, had the last word,

adding sidebar notes where he disagreed with the editor s and a Ž nal note. His

message throughout the ser ies was clear : “ Funct ionalism with a capit al ‘ F ’ ” was

dead, long live funct ionalism, with a small “ f ” and a basis in real science. 16

However , while Banham was clearly in favor of borrowing from technolog y in

widespread Ž elds — rocketr y , as descr ibed by A. C. Brother s of English Electric, for

example, offered a lesson in “ tot al planning and teamwork ” — he was as suspicious

of t he contem por ar y archite ctur al fe t ishism of technol og y as he was of t he

modern movement ’ s myst ique. 17 “ Throughout the present centur y, ” he wrote,

“ architect s have made fet ishes of technological and scienti Ž c concepts out of context

and been disappointed by them when they developed according to the processes

of technological development , not according to the hopes of architects. ” And he

concluded, with self- conscious irony against his own enthusiasms, “ a generat ion

ago, it was ‘ The Machine ’ that let architect s down — tomorrow or the day after it


14. Banham, “ Architecture after 1960, ” p. 9.

15. “ The Future of Univer sal Man, ” Architectu ra l Review 127, no. 758 (Apr il 1960), pp. 253 – 60.

Sym po sium w ith Antho ny Co x (se nio r p artner in Ar chitec t s ’ C o -Par tne r ship), G o rdo n G raham

(partner in the lively provincial of Ž ce), John Page (lecturer in building science, Liverpool Univer sity),

Lawrence Alloway (cr itic and program director, ICA); “ Histor y under Revision ” and “ Questionnaire,

Masterpieces of the Modern Movement , ” Architectural Review 127, no. 759 (May 1960), pp. 325 – 32,

including Banham, “ Histor y and Psychiatr y, ” pp. 326 – 32; “ Replies, ” Architectural Review 127, no. 760

( June 1960), pp. 381 – 88, with J. M. Richards, Nikolaus Pev sner, Hugh Casson, H. de C. Hast ings, and

sidebar notes by Banham.

16. Banham, “ Architecture after 1960, ” p. 10.

17. Re y ne r B an h am , “ Th e S c i e n c e S i d e : We ap o ns S y s te m s, C o m p u te r s , H u m an S c i e n c e s , ”

Architectural Review 127, no. 757 (March 1960), pp. 188 – 90. will be ‘ The Computer, ’ or Cybernetics or T opolog y. ” 18 Electronic comput ing like-

wise, as he responded to the summar y contr ibuted by R. B. Drummond of IBM,

“ can stand as an example of a topic on which the profession as a whole has been

eager to gulp down visionary general articles of a philosophical nature, without

scrutinizing either this useful tool, or their own mathemat ical needs to see just how

far computer s and architecture have anything to say to one another .” 19 He gave

the example of Charles Eames, who in 1959 had spoken at the RIBA on the

“ me nt al techni ques associa ted wit h com puter s ” import ant for archit ecture ;

Banham calls for a more analyt ical approach, examining how computer s might be

used, and “ how far .” 20

Dut ifully, Drummond out lined the contr ibut ions that comput ing might

make to aspect s of architect ural planning in four areas: operat ions research,

systems simulation, linear programming, and queuing theor y. But , he cautioned,

computer s could add litt le to the aesthet ic appearance of a building: “ They deal

in cold hard fact s. They have no aesthet ic sense what soever. Furthermore, they

have no imaginat ion. So, although I feel they may be used as aids to architecture,

it is st ill for t he human being to create that which is beaut iful. ” 21 Banham,

however , disputed this traditional separation between “ mathematics ” and “ art ” as

simply replicating the old form/ funct ion divide, point ing out “ not only that math-

ematics is part of the traditional equipment of the architect, but that aesthetics

and other aspects of human psycholog y are no longer mysteries necessar ily to be

set up against ‘ cold hard fact s. ’ ” 22 Further , the article by the future professor of

architecture at the Bartlett School (and his own future boss), Richard Llewelyn-

D av i e s of t he Nuf fi el d F oundat i on, had o pene d t he way to t he analy sis o f

suppose dly “ soft ” soci al and psychol ogical fact s: “ Psych ologica l matter s can be

assigned numerical values — and stat ist ical techniques make it increasingly feasible

to quant ify them — they become susceptible to mathematical manipulation. . . . An

increasing proport ion of the most jealously guarded ‘ professional secrets ’ of archi-

tecture are already quant i Ž able. ” 23 In a later response to Pevsner ’s irr it ation that,

throughout the ser ies, “ No architect really stood up to say that he is concerned

with visual values (i.e., aesthet ics) and that , if a building fails visually , we are not

interested in it ,” 24 Banham t art ly responded to his former teacher : “ No architect

stood up to say that he was concerned with visual values because visual values are

only one of six (ten? Ž ft y?) equally important values of design. ” 25 T o Pev sner ’ s fear

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 65

18. Ibid., p. 183.

19. Ibid., pp. 185 – 86.

20. Ibid., p. 185.

21. Ibid., p. 188.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid. Llewelyn Davies had wr itten: “ A ver y large part of the psychophysiological relationship

bet ween man and environment is likely to fall to the mathematician, not — as heretofore — the myst ic. ”

24. Nikolaus Pevsner, “ Reply ,” Architectural Review 127, no. 760 ( June 1960), p. 383.

25. Banham, “ Reply ,” p. 383. that “ you can have ‘ non-architecture ’ that way before you know where you are, ”

Banham rehear sed his not ion of a “ scient i Ž c aesthet ic. ” Admitt ing that “ certainly

a fully scient i Ž c aesthet ic is impossible now — but it is a thousand percent more

possible than it was thirt y year s ago, ” he explained, “ By a scient i Ž c aesthet ic, I

meant one that uses, as the basis and guide to design, observations (made according

to the normal laws of scienti Ž c evidence) of the actual effect of cert ain color s,

forms, symbols, spaces, light ing levels, acoust ic qualit ies, textures, per spect ive

effect s (in isolat ion or in tot al ‘ gest alts ’ ) on human viewer s. ” 26 In sum, the 1960s

ser ies implied what would be the radical conclusion to Banham ’ s Ž r st book, Theory

and Design in the First Machine Age , published in the same year :

It may well be that what we have hitherto under stood as architecture,

and what we are beginning to under stand of technology are incompatible

di sci pl i ne s. Th e ar ch it e ct w ho p ro pos es t o r un w i t h t e chnol o g y

knows that he will be in fast company, and that , in order to keep up,

he may have to emulate the Futur ist s and discard his whole cultural

load, including the professional garment s by which he is recognize d

as an architect . 27


Banham had spoken on “ clip -on components ” for the prefabricated ser vice

rooms of a house in his 1960 “ Stockt aking, ” but it was not unt il Ž ve year s later that

he developed a complete theor y of “ clip- on architecture ” in an art icle for Design

Quarterly , repr inted in the same year as an introduct ion to the special issue of

Architectural Design largely devoted to the Archigram Group. 28 Here he traced the

genealog y of “ clip-on, ” from the idea of “ endlessness ” with regard to st andardiza-

tion, and, according to Llewelyn-Davies, from Mies van der Rohe through to the

not ion of a “ cell with ser vices, ” introduced by the Smithsons in their plastic House

of the Future of 1955, by Ionel Schein in France, and Monsanto in the U.S. The

concept ion of the house as a mass - produce d product , mass -market ed like a

D et r oit car but put tog et he r w it h pr efabr icated compon e nt s, had inspi re d

B a nh am i n 1 9 6 1 t o o ut l i ne a l a t e -1 9 5 0 s un p ub l i sh e d ar t i cl e o n “ c l i p - o n

philosophy. ” And Cedr ic Pr ice ’ s Fun Palace, conceived by Joan Litt lewood and

considered by Price as a “ giant neo-futur ist machine, ” ran very close to the program-

matic revolut ion for which he was calling in 1960: a giant “ ant i-building ” seen as a

“ zone of tot al probability, in which the possibility of participat ing in pract ically

ever ything could be caused to exist .” 29 Three year s later , Archigram had rever sed


26. Ibid., pp. 386 – 87.

27. Reyner Banham, Theor y and Design in the First Machine Age (London: Architectural Press, 1960),

p. 329.

28. Reyner Banham, “ A Clip -on Architecture, ” Architectural Design 35 (November 1965) , pp. 534 – 35;

Ž r st published in Design Quarterly 63 (1965).

29. Ibid., p. 535. the idea of “ clip -on ” by adopt ing that of “ plug-in, ” but Banham was ready to fold

this into his theor y: “ T oo much should not be made of this distinction bet ween

extreme forms of the t wo concepts: technically they are often intimately confused

in the same project , and the aesthetic tradit ion overruns niceties of mechanical

discr imination. ” 30 In returning here to an “ aesthet ic tradition, ” Banham revealed

his real agenda with regard to “ une autre architecture ” : a call for an architecture

that technologically overcame all previous architectures to possess an expressive

form . Against t he way in which t he “ archi tecture of t he est ablishm ent ” had

adopted prefabr icat ion — “ the picturesque prefabr ication techniques of the tile-

hung schools of the CLASP system ” — a prefabr icated system for school building

adopte d by a consor t i um of l ocal aut hor it i es in t he 19 60s — he was equall y

opposed to the theor ies of “ cyberneticist s and O and R men ” who predicted that

“ a computer ized cit y might look like anything or nothing. ” For this reason he was

enthusiast ic about Archigram ’ s Plug-in Cit y , because, as he wrote, “ most of us want

[a computer ized city] to look like something , we don ’ t want form to follow function

into oblivion. ” 31

For Banham Archigram ’ s project s — as he character ized t hem: Zoom Cit y,

Com pute r Cit y, Off-t he -Pe g Cit y, Com pl ete ly E xpenda ble Ci t y, and Pl ug-in

Cit y — were import ant as much for the technolog y on which they were predi-

cat ed as for t he i r ae st he t i c qu ali t ie s. “ Arch ig ra m can ’ t t el l yo u for ce r t ai n

whether Plug-in Cit y can be made to work, but it can tell you what it might look

like. ” 32 Thus whet her or not their proposals are accept able to technicia ns or

dism issed as Pop fr ivolit y, t he y offer i mpor t ant f orma l lesson s. B anham has

traced a movement from proposit ions about the contr ibut ion of technolog y to

aesthet ics in the 1950s, to, with Archigram, “ aesthetics offer ing to give technolog y

it s marching order s. ” 33


Of al l t hose i nte r rog at i ng “ une aut re ar chi te ctur e ” i n t he 1 9 60 s, t he

Archigram Group, under the cover of what seemed to be irreverent and harmless

play, launched t he most fundament al cr it ique of the tradit ional architectur al

program. The Ž r st issue of the magazine Archigram in May 1961, which consisted

of a single page with a foldout and David Greene ’ s polemical subst itut ion of the

“ poetr y of br icks ” with a poetr y of “ countdown, orbit al helmet s, and discord of

mechanical body transport ation and leg walking, ” set the tone. It was followed by

eight issues from 1963 to 1970, which developed themes that embraced issues of

expendability and consumer ism at the broadest scale. Publicly announced in the

Living Cit y exhibit ion of 1963 at the ICA and developed in project s for Plug-in

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 67

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid. C i t y ( P e t e r C o o k , 1 9 6 4 ), C o m pu t e r C i t y ( D e nn i s C r o m p t o n , 1 9 6 4 ), an d

Underwater Cit y, Moving Cit ies (Ron Herron, 1964), Archigram explored all the

potent ials for technolog y and social engineer ing to reshape the environme nt .

In atables, infrastructures, pods, blobs, blebs, globs, and gloops were proposed

as the engines of a culture dedicated to nomadism, social emancipat ion, endless

exchange, interact ive response systems, and, following the lead of Cedr ic Pr ice,

pleasure, fun, and comfort on the mater ial and psychological level. All of which

were designed with witty technological poet ics to place the tot al synthet ic envi-

ronment — human, psychologic al, ecological , and technologic al — Ž rmly on the

agenda. 34

The effect of Archigram ’ s work bet ween 1961 and 1970 was to project into

society a program and an aesthet ic for the tot al environment — not “ environmen-

t a l d e s i g n ” o r “ co m p u t e r- a i d e d d e s i g n , ” n o r t he h i g h - t e c h i d e a l i s m o f a

Buckminster Fuller or the naturalist organicism of a Paolo Soler i, nor the psycho-

l o g i c al n i hi l i s m o f t he S i t uat i o n i st s or t h e i r on i c ni hi l i sm o f g r o u ps l i k e

Super studio or Archizoom — but an environm ent alism that worked with ever y

aspect of the contemporar y environme nt , from consumer desire to ecological

demand, from media to medium, from dream to the dream machine, from the

suburban kit to the electronic tomato. They meant to invent not ways of being

determined by the technologies of conser vat ion and sust ainabilit y; not ways of

being con Ž ned by building codes and practices founded on existing market eco-

nomics and distr ibut ion; not ways of reinvent ing architecture or ways of killing

architecture; not ways of rewr iting theor y or simply introducing “ new ” concepts

into old theor y; not ways of redistr ibut ing architect ural languages and forms

across new technolo gical sur faces; not ways of arguing one language against

another, one histor ical precedent against another, one polit ic of class against

another — but rather to throw out the whole, baby with bathwater, and start again

with the elements of the known, and combine them across genres, species, and

disciplin es in hit herto unknown ways. Warren Chalk, wr it ing at a moment of

“ technological backlash, ” argued for this new approach, fully agreeing that “ either

the environment goes or we go, ” and that “ our very sur vival depends on an ecolog-

ical utopia, otherwise we will be destroyed, ” but a utopia that has perforce to be

built with a “ more sophisticated technolog y , a more sophisticated science. ” 35 Against

what he called a “ hippy-type philosophy ,” yet fully aware of the enormous signi Ž -

cance of W oodstock ’ s momentary welding of synthetic and natural environments,

he calls for the building of what David Greene imagined as a “ cybernetic forest ” cou-

pled with technological play of an order that would extend the “ existing situation ”

and create a new “ man/ machine relat ionship, ” a “ people-or iented technology .” 36 As

Greene himself wrote,


34. Se e Archi te ct u ra l De si gn 35 (N ove m be r 196 5), pp. 55 9 – 73, and Pe te r C o ok , e d ., Arch igra m

(Boston: Birkhauser , 1972; repr int, New York: Pr inceton Architectural Press, 1999).

35. Warren Chalk, “ T ouch Not Other wise We Will be Destroye d, ” in Peter Cook, ed., Archigram ,

p. 138.

36. Ibid. I like to think

(r ight now please!)

of a cybernet ic forest

Ž lled with pines and electronica

where deer stroll peacefully

past computer s

as if they were ower s

with spining blossoms 37

Whether represented “ architecturally ” in Peter Cook ’s studies in metamor-

phosis — his “ Addhox ” kit s for suburbia marketed as a set of part s (bay box, deluxe

bay, lean-to, garden screen, fun tubes, garden tray , etc.) and the new prototypes of

suburba n expansi on (cr ater cit ies and hedger ow villag es) — or in t he bodily

extensions of the cyborgs in their cushicles designed by Mike W ebb, this “ greening ”

of the machine and “ machining ” of nature was per soni Ž ed, so to speak, by the

image of t he chamele on. “ People are walking archite cture ” imagine s people

assisted in their walking by a host of half-natural-half-machine gizmos, of which

the electronic tomato promised to “ direct your business operations, do the shop-

ping, hunt or Ž sh, or just enjoy electronic instamatic voyeur ism, from the comfort

of your own home. ” 38

One could write the “ programs ” of Archigram as a ser ies more or less system-

atic of such extensions and expansions of tradit ional funct ionalism. We might also

see them as pointing to the future, or rather our own present , as their invent ions

might seem to write the specs for all the Sony home gadgets, the home of Ž ces, and

univer sal remote controller s of today. But there is a crucial a difference: techno-

logical foresight is, for Archigram, not the end in view nor the answer they want.

For their programmat ic project was not only ser ious and instrument al — it was

cert ainly all that — but also fun and ironic, ser ious and sensor y at the same t ime;

the profound differenc e bet ween a programma ble remote and an “ electroni c

tomato ” is that the remote is simply an extension in space and t ime of our Ž nger ,

whereas the electronic tomato inter sect s the organic and the mechanical, the sen-

sor y and t he fu nc t i onal, i n such a way as to dist urb all t he ve r it ie s of t he

functional program on the one hand and the psychedelic program on the other .


It was in 1972 t hat Banham wrote of Archigram , “ Archigram is short on

theor y , long on draftsmanship and craftsmanship. They ’ re in the image business

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 69

37. David Greene, “ Gardener ’s Notebook, ” in Peter Cook, ed., Archigram , p. 110.

38. Ron Herron, Warren C halk, and David Greene, “ Manzak and Electronic Tomato, ” in Peter

Cook, ed., Archigram , p. 124. and they have been blessed with the power to create some of the most compelling

images of our time. ” 39 T o use the word “ image ” in this context was then, and is

now, of course to conjure up all the specter s of spectacular culture, of sur face and

mass ornament , that , from Kracauer through Debord to Baudr illard, have gener-

ally indicated a capitulat ion to the (postmodern) culture of capitalism at its wor st .

But Banham, in his faintly dismissive character izat ion of Archigram as an

image business, is in fact rest ing on a theor y that he had developed only a few

year s earlier , which lent real substance to the sobr iquet “ image ” : that not ion of

the “ image ” Ž rst posed by Gombr ich in the 1950s and adopted by Banham in his

character izat ion of that Ž r st “ postmodern ” Br it ish architecture movement , the

New Brut alism. 40 There, Banham uses the term to escape from classical aesthetics,

to re fe r to some t hing t hat , while not confo rm ing to t r adit i onal canons of

judgment , was nevertheless, in his terms, “ visually valuable, ” requir ing “ that the

building should be an immediately apprehensible visual entity and that the form

grasped by the eye should be con Ž rmed by exper ience of the building in use. ” 41

For Banham, this “ imageability ” meant that the building in some way was “ concep-

tual, ” more an idea of the relation of form to function than a reality, and without

any r equi re m ent t hat t he buil ding be form al o r to polog ical. A n im age for

Banham, whether referr ing to a Jackson Pollock or a Cadillac, meant “ something

which is visually valuable, but not necessar ily by the standards of classical aesthetics, ”

and, paraphrasing Thomas Aquinas, “ that which seen, affect s the emot ions. ” 42

In architectural terms, according to Banham, this implied that a building did

not need to be “ formal ” in tradit ional terms; it could also be aformal and still be

conceptual. Here he was att acking what he called “ rout ine Palladians as well as

routine Funct ionalist s, ” and he took the Smithson ’ s Golden Lane project as an

example that “ created a coherent visual image by nonformal means ” because of its

visible circulat ion, ident i Ž able unit s of habit at ion, and the presence of human

beings as part of the tot al image, which was represent ed in per spect ives with

people collaged so that “ the human presence almost overwhelmed the architec-

ture .” 43 In Golde n Lane , as at Sheffi eld Univer sit y, “ aforma lism becom es as

posit ive a force in its composit ion as it does in a paint ing by Burr i or Pollock. ” 44

This was a result of the Smithsons ’ general att itude toward composit ion, not in

tradit ional formal terms, but apparent ly casual informalit y: this was a composi-

tional approach based not on elementar y rule-and-compass geometr y, but on “ an

intuitive sense of topolog y. ” It was, concluded Banham, the presence of topolog y

over geometr y that marked the incept ion of “ un autre architectu re, ” another


39. Banham, “ A Comment from Peter Reyner Banham, ” in Peter Cook, ed., Archigram , p. 5.

40. Reyner Banham, “ The New Brut alism, ” Architectural Review 118 (December 1955), pp. 354 – 61;

repr inted in A Crit ic Writes: Essays by Reyner Banham , selected by Mar y Banham, Paul Barker, Sutherland

Lyall, Cedr ic Pr ice, foreword by Peter Hall (Berkeley: Univer sity of California Press, 1996), pp. 7 – 15.

41. Banham, “ The New Brut alism, ” in A Crit ic Writes , p. 12.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., p. 14.

44. Ibid. architecture, which displayed its qualities through the character ist ics of penetra-

t ion, circulat ion, t he relat ions bet ween inside and out side, and above all the

surface of appercept ion that, Ž nally, gave the image its force and subst ance: “ thus

beaut y and geometr y supplanted by image and topolog y. ” 45 Image, for Banham,

evidently related to what in 1960 he was to claim as the only aesthet ic “ teachable ”

along scienti Ž c lines: “ No theor y of aesthetics (except possibly Picturesque) that

could be t aught in schools, t akes any cognizance of the memor y-factor in seeing. ” 46

A year later Banham, who was evident ly straining to Ž nd an appropr iate

object for his image-theor y in the Hunst anton School, found even the Smithsons

wanting in their response to his aesthetic condit ions, in the context of the group

displays in the This Is T omorrow exhibit ion at the Whitechapel Art Galler y. The

“ Patio and Pavilion, ” designed by the Smithsons, Nigel Hender son, and Eduardo

Paolozzi , was a collect ion of object s in a shed wit hin a court yard that in the

Smithsons ’ words represented “ the fundament al necessities of the human habit at

in a ser ies of symbols, ” and was, for Banham, “ the New Brutalists at their most

submissive to tradit ional values . . . in an exalted sense, a con Ž rmation of accepted

values and symbols. ” The inst allat ion by John Voelcker, Richard Hamilton, and

John McHale, on the other hand, seemed more “ Brutalist ” in character than the

Brut alist s. These art ist s “ employed opt ical illusions, scale rever sions, oblique struc-

tures and fragmented images to disrupt stock responses and put the viewer back

on a tabula rasa of individual responsibility for his own atomized sensor y awareness

of im ag e s of onl y l ocal and c onte m por ar y sig ni fi cance .” U lt im ate l y, i t w as

Brut alism ’ s refusal of abstract concept s and it s use of “ concrete images — images

that can carr y the mass of tradition and association, or the energ y of novelty and

technology, but resist classi Ž cat ion by the geometr ical disciplines by which most

other exhibit s were dominated ” — that, for Banham, represented the authent icit y

of the movement . Banham ’ s image, then, was not only a passive symbol of ever y-

day life or technolog ical desire, but also an act ive part icipant in t he viewer ’ s

sensor y Ž eld, and it used all the techniques of modernist disrupt ion — of shock

and displacement — to embed it s effect s in exper ience. 47

In this context, for Banham to have accused Archigram of imagism would be

to see Archigram as a movement concerned with the nonformal, nontradit ional,

nonarchitectural; with the quest ion of process unencumbered by geometr y; with

topologies rather than geometr ies; and thus with an “ architecture ” fundamentally

disjointed from academicism and histor icism. Indeed, it was exactly what Banham

wanted, although he could not quite see it through his Brut alist blinder s.

Such a theor y of the image, then, begins to deepen our own interpretat ion

of what Archigram wanted, beyond the overt ly br illiant subterfuges of advert ising

techniques, Pop and Op, collage and mont age, super graphics, and the like that

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 71

45. Ibid., p. 15.

46. Banham, “ Reply ,” pp. 382 – 83.

47. Reyner Banham, “ This Is T omor row Exhibit, ” Architectural Review 120, no. 716 (September 1956),

pp. 186 – 88. rendered the actual images of Archigram so seduct ive and arresting. For to see an

underlying commitment to topolog y and the image as a con Ž rmat ion of synthetic

exper ience was to begin the process of building out of Archigram a “ program ” for

architectu re that goes beyond it s sur face effect s. It was in this sense t hat , for

Banham, at least in 1965 before his retreat into more convent ional architectural

par adig m s of t he “ we l l-te m per ed env ir onme nt , ” Ar chi gr am w as to pr ov ide

Summer son ’ s “ missing language. ”


Forty-thre e year s after Banham ’ s Architectural Review “ stockt aking, ” reinforc-

ing B anham ’ s v i ew of a hi stor y out of sy nc wi t h a cal endar, Re m Kool haas

published his own “ review ” of architecture in the new centur y , symptomat ically

not in an architectural journal but in Wired magazine, once the hip site of com-

put e r fe t i shism , now re b or n as t he o r acl e o f po st-S il i con- Val le y -m e lt dow n

dystopia. 48 “ The Ult imate At las for the 21st Centur y ” is presented for the new

centur y as an assemb lage of t hirt y “ space s ” al phabet i cally r anged from “ ad

space ” to “ waning space. ” Like Banham ’ s “ 1960, ” with it s “ science for children ”

appro ach to archi te ct s int i m at ing t he i r ow n i mm ine nt dem i se , but unl ik e

Banham, Koolhaas ’ s Koolworld produces a world vision ent irely counter to any

ideal of design, technological or aesthet ic. This world is mapped with relent less

“ realism ” : it s new front ier s are those of populat ion growth and it s economic and

social consequences — youth is mapped against the cost of pension plans; pr ison-

er s against domains of civil and polit ical libert y; telev ision owner ship against

illiteracy. Real alternat ive spaces — that escape control est ablished for the pur-

po se s of t ax e v as io n, wa ste di spo sal (e l e ct ro ni c and m ar i t im e ), ab or t i on,

eut hanasia, same- sex partner ships, and human stem- cell cloning are seen as

“ new islands ” mapped against the virtual spaces of global commerce and manu-

facture, polit ics and power . The only “ architectural ” image, and the last in the

re v iew, is t hat of a desert ed capi tol at Chandig arh, “ all t hat ’ s left from t he

Western imaginat ion ’ s most radical attempt to organize public space. ” 49 New

York, capit al of the t went ieth centur y, is, as Koolhaas concludes, “ delir ious no

more ” in the t went y- Ž r st .

Reader s of Koolhaas are, of cour se, familiar with all of this as well as his

recent forays into the “ junkspace ” of modern capitalism by way of guides to the

development of the Pearl River Delt a and shopping guides recent ly interpreted by

Fredr ic Jameson as forms of an apocalyptic utopia that attempt to “ imagine capital-

ism by way of imagining the end of the world. ” 50 But the Wired “ at las ” promises

more than these deliberately extra-large collect ions: its insertion within the pages


48. Rem Koolhaas, “ The Ult imate Atlas for the 21st Centur y ,” WIRED ( June 2003), pp. 132 – 69.

49. Ibid., p. 169.

50. Fredr ic Jameson, “ Future Cit y ,” New Left Review second ser ies 21 (May – June 2003), p. 76. of the ultimate glossy of networld, whose editor ial is often indist inguishable from

advert isements for speedy Hewlett-Packard pr inter s, edges its sur vey of real junk-

space uneasily into the terr itor y of the virtual even as it challenges designer s of

real space to comprehend the sublime (an aesthet ic term that appear s once more

in its post-postmodern form) of the real. As Felicity D. Scott argues in her contribu-

t ion to this issue of October , here the early “ ironic ” stance of OMA is occluded.

Rather than the world of the future, this is an inventor y of the present , building

up, in Koolhaas ’ s terms, “ a fragment of an image, a pixelated map of an emerging

world. ” And this emerging world, while reject ing architectu ral terminolo g y as

inadequate for its descr iption, retains architecture in it s virtual dimensions: “ think

chat rooms , Web sites , and Ž re walls ,” wr ites Koolhaas.

Architecture is then brought to the Web to de Ž ne it s new spat ial dimensions,

even as Banham brought computer s to the reader s of the Architectural Review . But

where for Koolhaas to “ report on the world ” as his contr ibutors “ see it ” is not to

claim a pr ivilege for any form of information, only for it s manner of framing, for

Banham informat ion, was, in and of it self, bound to change the architectur al

world in form. In 1960, the fundamental question was the nature of the “ program ”

conceived of in the widest possible sense, adopted for architecture, a program that

comprehended and subsumed both function and form. Not “ form follows func-

t ion, ” but form as, in a real sense, program and vice ver sa. For Banham a truly

scient i Ž c program for architectur e would t ake in all aspect s previousl y left to

tradition, including the aesthet ics of percept ion, human response (visual, psycho-

logical, biological), technologies of the environment , and the like; science would

simply reveal and propose the best solutions to the design of shelter . For Koolhaas,

science offer s no solut ions, only knowledge; solut ions are the province of the

global managers of power and markets. Architects, armed with the precise tools

offered by informat ion and visual mapping, can only perceive and predict; their

role is not in invent ing the program , but ident ifying it s r aw mater ial. If for

Summer son and Banham it was imperat ive to rewr ite theor y in order to promul-

gate their new sense of t he program, t heor y as both rat ional elucidat ion and

manifesto, for Koolhaas such theor y is manifested by the cat alog, on-line and

potentially exhaust ive, theor y as inventor y.

Recent theor y has put forward the not ion of the diagram as one potent ial

form-making instrument in the face of such an inventor y. The diagram seems

aut hor it at ive and scient ific amid a world of gr aphs and char t s and wit hout

rhe tor ic in a world clutte red wit h t he residu es of archite ctur al expres sions.

Banham, too, believed in diagrams; his celebrated remark that “ histor y is a graph ”

evinced his faith in prediction and progress. But where Banham looked to archi-

tecture (or it s replacement) as the form-giving and invent ive motor for his graphs,

the new, global, Koolhaas seems to have ent irely surpassed the ef Ž cacy even of his

own diagrams and found architecture ’ s pleasure pr inciple instead in the relentless

negat ion of traditional strategies and ideals.

Confronted with this unstructured and potentially ethically neutral catalog,

T oward a Theory of the Architectural Program 73 the moment ar y alliance bet ween Archigram and Banham seems to offer more

than a histor ical corrective to contemporar y exper iment s in virtual architecture.

As Mark Wigley has pointed out , Archigram was more than a “ sci- Ž ” and Pop blip

on the screen of architectural histor y; it was embedded in the ver y processes of

architectur al pract ice, imaginar y and real. Banham ’ s insistence on the role of

aesthet ics — of the viewer and in exper ience — in the promulgat ion of a new archi-

tecture adds to this signi Ž cance and invokes the possibilit y of reconceiving the

not ion of program in a way that occludes the fat al modernist gap between form

and function and incorporates environment al concerns, technolog y, and formal

invention as integral to a single discour se. 51 “ Une architecture autre ” was, in 1960,

a promise of “ tomorrow ” ; its realization today has become not only possible, but

also urgent .


51. Mark Wigley, “ The Fict ion of Architecture, ” in Out of Site: Fict ional Architectural Spaces, ed. Anne

Ellegood (New York: New Museum of Contemporar y Art, 2002) , pp. 37 – 49.