The Price was right
Re: CP By Cedric Price. Edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Birkhäuser, 2003. 192pp. £27
The cover of what has turned out to be the publishing epitaph for Cedric Price includes the following: 'Best before 1 May 2006 (by this date the author may have changed his mind)'. Alas, Re: CP came out just after Price's death this summer. It serves him well.
The book partly comprises his observations and distinctive drawings, but Birkhäuser did him proud by engaging Hans Ulrich Obrist as the editor. His interview with Price is a model of its kind, as are contributions from Arata Isozaki, the film-maker Patrick Keiller and Rem Koolhaas.
As a primer to the way Price thought, and some of the issues that interested him in his latter years, this publication is excellent. It is the third book on Price this year; the others being Samantha Hardingham's Opera (AJ 7.3.03) and a reprint of the AA publication on Price, Works II (there was no Works I).
From his student days at Cambridge, Price delighted in the meeting of word and image. This volume is full of pertinent and provocative juxtapositions, not least a series of 'price cuts' produced for the AJ, drawing on newspaper headlines and photographs, and other relevant images. A long section called 'Snacks' is a feast of observations - architectural, philosophical and visual.
All are delivered in that inimitable tone of incredulity at the misunderstandings of people who run things about what is really going on. One quotation from Aneurin Bevan, taken from a 1945 Daily Herald, gives the flavour: 'This island is made mostly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.'
As, of course, had happened.
Koolhaas has his usual trenchant observations; on this occasion into how Price both won and lost his battle for an architecture of formlessness. 'It seemed that Price had architecture pinned down, wrestled to the ground. How could he know that its 3,000year-old mythology would be rescued by the laughing gas of the market economy and the fertility drug of Post-Modernism?' Just so;
but reading this book, you sense who may have had the last laugh.