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Archigram wins Royal Gold Medal

NEWS

Archigram, the forward-looking experimental architecture collective from the 1960s, has won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for 2002, subject to the sanction of the institute's ruling council.

The AJ has learnt that the award to Archigram, from a nomination by past president David Rock and ahead of rumoured contenders such as Rafael Moneo, owed something to pressure from some quarters for a British winner once more. Archigram is the first from the UK to win since Colin Rowe in 1995 and will take the prize - council permitting - in the Queen's Golden Jubilee year.

Ron Herron, Peter Cook, David Greene, Dennis Crompton, Michael 'Spider'Webb and Warren Chalk formed the Archigram group in London in 1961 and produced a radical, influential magazine of the same name over the 12 years they worked together. Since then, their thinking, built from the era of the Beatles, space exploration, science fiction, Telstar, new materials, Buckminster Fuller and Pop Art has been widespread and influential for generations of key architects. An exhibition on their work has toured the world and may move to the RIBA towards the end of this year.

RIBA president and chair of the RGM judges Paul Hyett said he was 'thrilled' at the choice, which he thought would be deeply popular with the profession. 'Even today, the work of Archigram reflects a freshness, a courage and a creativity that is simply mind-blowing, ' he said. 'Those guys started in the days of the Mini car, mini-skirt and the dawn of a mini-technology; they were tremendously exciting times.

Their love and passion for architecture and their insatiable desire to posit alternative futures for our society, such as Ron Herron's tantalising images of Walking City, still dazzle and delight today.'

The Walking City (see pages 6-7) was perhaps the most famous of Archigram's work - often expressed using colourful pop imagery - along with the Plug-in City, Living Pod and the Instant City, while the group's gurus were Buckminster Fuller and Ornette Coleman. Rock's citation said the Archigram Effect 'has been to instill a mood of optimism, so that, however it turns out, a piece of work will not worry too much about justification.'

Rock said the phenomenon of Archigram - the name comes from ARCHItecture and teleGRAM and exemplifies their belief that architecture is a form of communication - was a fitting and unanimous choice for the beginning of the 21st century. This was because of the group's 'mixture of enthusiasm, optimism, debunking, imagination, harnessing awareness of the boundary-breaking realities of the sciences and arts outside, or on the edge of, architecture.While part of history, Archigram's messages can be interpreted for the future.'

Many of the group's ideas have percolated into today's world. Archigram's 'bugged' walls, implanted with electronic controls, have become today's 'smart glass', programmed to respond to temperature and light. The 'robotics' in its designs looked to the increase in electronic automation, while its 'information centres' predated the Internet.

The jury this year was:

Sir Terry Farrell, Piers Gough, Eva Jiricna, Rick Mather, Mohsen Mostafavi and Lord Rogers of Riverside - whose Pompidou Centre owes a debt to the work of Archigram and Cedric Price.

The institute will present the surviving members of Archigram - Cook, Crompton, Greene and Webb - with the medal at a special ceremony on 3 December. Fittingly, this will take place alongside the RIBA's Presidents'Medals for education and the biennial Annie Spink prize for 'outstanding contribution to architectural education' - for which Peter Cook was a frontrunner in 2000 and may be again this year.

It is the fifth time the institute has given the medal to a group - the others being Powell and Moya (1974), the office of Charles and Ray Eames (1979), Michael and Patti Hopkins (1994) and the City of Barcelona (1999).

The Queen personally approves the recipient's name every year - RIBA council was expected to endorse the Archigram choice at its meeting yesterday.

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