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Question master


Cedric Price: Opera Edited by Samantha Hardingham.Wiley-Academy, 2003. 125pp. £29.95

In Opera Samantha Hardingham presents the work of Cedric Price from 1985-2002.

The projects shown have generally not been published before and represent a portfolio of one of architecture's most enduring and engaging characters.

More than 30 projects are included, interspersed with 10 short essays by a variety of Price's friends and colleagues, and the book contains its own review in the form of Robin Middleton's essay 'To the Earth' - a concise and elegant summary of Price's main themes, drawn with reference to the illustrated projects.

Anyone familiar with Price's work may sympathise with Kester Rattenbury's opening observation: 'Thinking about Cedric Price's work is like trying to walk up a mountain (and that with a hangover). It is at the edge of what you think you might possibly be able to do; more than you assume you can imagine.

You are off the marked paths and out of the normal boundaries. You might get stuck, or scared, or make a fool of yourself, or trip over something simple. But if you can cope, even for a while, you'll get views that you have never seen before and you will never forget.'

This is symptomatic of the tangible sense of admiration and affection that all the contributors reveal in writing about Price, his projects and his working process. The most consistent thread throughout the book is his tireless questioning of everything.When asked what architects brought to the table, John Frazer reported his reply as being, 'continually questioning the premise.

Continually questioning as a process'.

This approach is clear in his projects, and also in his views on education. John Lyall, in his essay, concentrates on Price's vision for architectural education; a vision he expressed 37 years ago, but which remains a relevant critique of the current moves toward a more standardised syllabus.

Simon Allford provides a personal description of the Price office at London's Alfred Place, considered as a model for others. Paul Finch's contribution takes the same subject but provides an anecdotal account, which seems heavily reliant on alcohol and dismissive of all modern communication technology. Both are interesting in their own way, and together they seem to demonstrate the validity of Price's view that 'any place is as real as your experience of it'.

The projects themselves range from the vast to the modest, and are consistently presented in the black-and-white sketches and scribbled handwriting, which Rem Koolhaas reportedly described as having their own 'awkward beauty'. The main themes are, unsurprisingly, a constant fascination with adaptability and design in the fourth dimension - almost at the expense of standard representations of design in the other three.

Most of the projects also illustrate another great Price preoccupation: the building user, and the possibility of architecture as a vehicle for change.

Middleton refers to Koolhaas' description of Price as a prince who would be a frog.

Middleton goes on to lament the fact that this prince has yet to be crowned by his public, clients or the profession. Perhaps Price prefers the notion of being the frog before the kiss, with all that potential for change, not to mention an awkward beauty of its own.

Hardingham should be congratulated on compiling a collection of projects by an architect who 'likes books but doesn't like making them'. If there is a tendency towards a standard, prescriptive educational syllabus for all architectural students, perhaps an essential antidote to the resultant conformity would be compulsory exposure to the work of Price. This would not really show what architecture is but would raise the question as to what it could be. As with understanding all Price's projects, it's all in the questioning.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath

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