Cedric Price (1934-2003)
Cedric John Price (born 1934 in Stone, Staffordshire) was a rarity in the architectural profession - having had a profound influence on architectural thinking through teaching and projects, rather than completed buildings. His architect father, A G Price (1901-53), was responsible for several Odeon cinemas in the 1930s. His son studied architecture at Cambridge, where he made friends including Jonathan Miller (Price was best man at his wedding), and became president of the Society of Arts. After Cambridge he went to the Architectural Association, where teachers included John Killick and Arthur Korn. Price joined Fry Drew & Partners, taught at the AA and, after a brief partnership with Michael Pearson, later to become AA president, formed Cedric Price Architects in 1960.
In 1961 he was co-designer of the aviary for London Zoo (with Tony Snowdon and Frank Newby), now listed, which caused a sensation in its day as a result of its innovative combination of architecture, engineering and material (aluminium). In the same year he began work on his most influential unbuilt project, the 'Fun Palace', commissioned by Joan Littlewood, for a multi-use arts centre in Stratford, east London. It was designed using a kit-of-parts aesthetic which was to have a profound influence on the work of a generation of architects and buildings, including the Pompidou Centre. Ideas now regarded as routine were prefigured in the Fun Palace, including the use of mobile structures and large-scale screen projection. These ideas were also influential on the work of the Archigram group, 2002 Royal Gold medal for Architecture winner, of which Price was a semi-paternal honorary member; and on Will Alsop, who worked in the Price office during the 1970s. Other members of the Price office included Stephen Mullin, later to become one of the very few architects in the Department of the Environment, John Lyall, John Jenner, Paul Hyett, and Max Neal of Foster and Partners.
Other key Price projects include the Potteries Thinkbelt (1964), which argued for educational development as a response to post-industrial change, including ideas about distance learning which anticipated the Open University; Non-Plan(1969), forerunner of deregulated planning regimes; the Interaction Centre in Camden (1971); Generator (1979), which addressed the world of interactive technology; remodelling the South Bank, a masterplan commissioned by the GLC (including the idea of a wheel); and Magnet (1997), an exhibition for the Architecture Foundation exploring the implications of overload on urban planning, and the making of new city connections through regeneration. With Frank Newby, he proposed the first code of practice for air structures in a report for the DoE (1971).
Price exhibited and lectured internationally, recently in Paris, Madrid, New York and the Far East, and was in constant demand as a speaker at schools of architecture across the world. For nearly 30 years he contributed columns of incisive thought and wit to magazines including The Architects' Journal.A concise summary of his work and thinking was published in 1984, Cedric Price Works II, and this year Cedric Price Opera, edited by Samantha Hardingham, showing projects since 1984.
One of the few architects to sustain a critique of the attitudes and values of his own profession, Price won respect even from those who disagreed with some of his views, in his stress on the importance of anticipatory design, change through time, mobility, delight, and the relationship of architecture to the wider public realm and the people who use (or are affected by) its products.
Life with Cedric, in or out of his office, was always eventful. Alastair McAlpine memorably described his breakfast meetings with CP as a 'form of mental gymnastics'.His range of contacts and interests were compartmentalised.
Who but him, since he was its founder and life president, knew the entire composition of his mysterious 'Hot Stuff Club'? Who but Cedric could manage to be friends with Snowdon, Princess Margaret, Richard Hamilton, McAlpine, Norman Willis (exTUC chief and president of the Poetry Society), Geoffrey Robinson (whose electoral address was written in the Price office's 'White Room' - where Paul Hyett and Will Alsop once crushed Smarties all over the floor to 'brighten the place up'), Joan Littlewood, Clive Jenkins, Studs Terkel, Richard Seifert, Peter Banham and so on? You would never see these people in the same room with him at any one time. You might have seen another group comprising Cedric, his best friends David Allford and Frank Newby, with 'guests' like Alvin Boyarsky and Cedric's architect brother David, who would go on a self-organised annual mystery tour.
The office Christmas party was held in the White Room (also known as East Grinstead, so that the office administrator could deter unwanted telephone callers with the intelligence that 'Mr Price is in East Grinstead today').
In recent years the cast list included Joan Littlewood and her assistant Peter Rankin;
Roy Landau, former head of the AA graduate school; David Price; the architect John Randall; Paul Hyett; Teresa Pritchard (office administrator-turned-barrister); Don Gray;
sometimes Jeremy Melvin; and usually Eleanor Bron, though she was just as likely to leave once the guests had arrived, possibly because she had heard it all before.
The last Christmas drinks were in 2001.
Cedric's last day was spent watching cricket and enjoying a cigar. My last long conversation with him was over lunch (with Simon Allford); we were planning an RIBA evening discussion on housing, to be followed the next day by a retrospective 'super-crit' of his Potteries Thinkbelt project, with guest critics from home and abroad. Perhaps we'll do it anyway.