Did Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind have a precursor?
Correctly identifying the first High-Tech building is still an unsolved puzzle, so there is probably not much chance of correctly identifying the first ever Zaha Hadid or Daniel Libeskind-style spiky project, but here goes.
The benchmark in this contest must be Hadid's victory in the Hong Kong Peak competition of 1982, not because it was her first project, but because it was the first to almost completely abandon rectangular elements and transcend the previously unchallenged geometrical lexicon of modernism, functionalism and constructivism.
Born in 1950, Hadid was 32 at the time of her competition win.
Libeskind, then 36, was somewhat behind, still designing inclined rectangular Berlin apartment houses with representational steam locomotives leaping out of the ground. He was soon to catch up, but was theirs an authentic revolutionary breakthrough? To answer this question it is necessary to put forward a contender. Was there an individual designer, or a school of 'expressionist', 'irrational'designers before Hadid?
Without delving into ancient history there was certainly one predecessor who did found a short-lived school. His name was Biltin Toker, a Turkish architectural student born in 1937, who arrived at the Oxford School of Architecture (later to become the department of architecture at Oxford Brooks University), in the autumn of 1958. Toker's approach to designing buildings produced very similar results to Hadid's and Libeskind's, but it was born into a much less permissive world. Within a year of his arrival at Oxford, Toker had reached a stand-off position with the staff of the school.As a first-year student, he was expected to solve design problems like 'a garden workshop' or 'a branch library for Kidlington', with unadventurous pitched roofed designs, using cavity walls and exposed aggregate panels - not dazzling displays of planes shooting from a point, inclined floors and whole walls of glass. Furthermore, highly educated and read in modern European philosophy, their designer was well able to defend himself at his packed juries.
During his second year, Biltin Toker attracted a small group of followers and founded a 'Progressive Architecture Movement' which produced a daring manifesto and aroused interest beyond the school, by organising a leaflet attack on the famous engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. At the end of his second year Toker and four of his followers were expelled from the school 'for jejune theorising', but by then his work had been the subject of a one-man show at Lincoln College, and a long article illustrating three of his projects had appeared in the magazine Oxford Opinion.In 1960, under the auspices of the Oxford University Art Club, he gave an illustrated lecture at the Ashmolean Museum that ended in uproar. Toker's last initiative before leaving Oxford for the US was to put on a play, with the action set in the basement of the RIBA building.
Toker never completed his studies in architecture.His stay at Berkeley was short, and he returned to Turkey to pursue a career in the media. He died in 1996. Of his handful of followers, two enrolled at the AA and one produced 'progressive' schemes there, including a project for an office building on the old Saint George's Hospital site, illustrated in Archigram 5 published in 1962. Thereafter the trail of 'Progressive Architecture' goes cold until it is picked up by Hadid and Libeskind 20 years later.
Readers might be interested in comparing Toker's 1960 design for a 'Youth hostel on Skye'with Hadid's Hong Kong Peak competition-winning scheme (AJ 21.9.83, page 31).