When seeing comes close to believing
David Greene, the Archigrammer, has just been made professor at the University of Westminster.
Coincidentally, a full page of Hello! magazine was devoted to the Millennium Dome, and David wonders whether it would make a suitable resting place for the group's work, 'a graveyard of 60s excesses'. It is certainly true that much of the spirit of the Dome and its contents is an attempt to represent (with the aid of computer-aided design) what the Archigram boys painstakingly did with scalpel and Letratone.
Representation, the most powerful tool in the architect's armoury, is not often viewed in a critical context, admired merely for its dexterity. Steven Groak of Ove Arup & Partners redressed the balance in a stimulating lecture, the first in memory of Ted Happold, at the Royal Society of Arts. Among the many provocative issues he raised was the problem of modernising the construction process when we have such second-rate ways of modelling it. He showed how the French Railways represented, on a graph, destination, distance, time and speed in a manner light years removed from a conventional timetable. The thought immediately arose as to why client cash flows could not be similarly represented.
Groak looked forward to a time when being young, old, ill or disabled would not make buildings unfriendly - simulation of environments could result in 'design as a non-invasive procedure'.
Technology by itself, however, could not produce great design: you needed to be a great violinist to make the most of a Stradivarius. His best response was to the question of whether more sophisticated representational technologies would mean that clients would be less disappointed by finished buildings: 'Perhaps they will simply be less surprised.' Surprise, of course, is what we are hoping for inside that ArchiDome.