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Peter Cook launches attack on ‘biscuit boys’ of British architecture


Archigram founder Peter Cook used a speech at the AJ100 Awards to criticise the current state of architecture in the UK

Guests at Wednesday night’s AJ100 Awards were left with a mixed reaction after the keynote speaker slated British architecture, seemingly in a bid to shake up the industry.

The legendary architect, who is a professor at The Bartlett and a co-founder of CRAB Studio, was addressing the country’s largest architecture practices at the annual event.

Standing on stage – in a patterned shirt and cream jacket – he began by recounting his long relationship with the Architects’ Journal. He described how it published a page on Archigram’s first broadsheet.

Cook then began to dicuss the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Recalling how his friends in Venice had asked, ‘Why was your British pavilion so weird, so boring, so archaic?’ He responded: ‘I didn’t do the bloody thing! I happen to be British, but sorry guys, no connection to the firm next door.’

Cook added: ‘There is a camp, probably represented in this tent, that enjoys what I call the grim, biscuit-coloured world.’

He then went on to praise Bjarke Ingels and his Serpentine Pavilion, before warning that Ingels would surpass everyone at future AJ100 awards.

Serpentine Pavilion

Serpentine Pavilion

Source: Jim Stephenson

Bjarke Ingels’ Serpentine Pavilion

In a comment greeted with nervous laughter from the audience, he said: ‘Watch it guys he’s going to be in this – he probably won’t come along – but he’ll be bigger than any of you in two years, three years.’

Cook also spoke out against critics of AJ100 Contribution to the Profession winner, Zaha Hadid.

He said: ‘Of course the one that they love to hate – the ‘biscuit boys’ love to hate – and be bitchy even after she was dead. Zaha, who some of us miss enormously. I think the cultural situation of British architecture will miss more than they really expect.’

While reserving some praise for the ‘highly creative’ and ‘extraordinary Bloomsbury powerhouse’ the AA as well as the Bartlett, Cook also had strong words of criticism for the Cambridge school of architecture. He said it ‘does terrible architecture’ but is ‘very good dinner parties, very good for networking’.

In addition, Cook criticised the time spent in meetings at British practices.

He said: ‘There’s more bullshit time spent in British architecture in stupid meetings where everybody’s trying to cover their backside and everybody’s scared to do something that’s an interesting piece of design.’

Towards the end of his speech, Cook talked about the London skyline. He argued that old American skyscrapers were a ‘good idea’ because they ‘put style on the top, a bit of architecture on the bottom where you could see it and walk into it, and the rest is stuff’.

But of the British towers he said: ‘Most of the things that go up have neither style, dubious architecture and don’t like to admit that the stuff is stuff.’


Readers' comments (8)

  • There's nothing like a good shake-up, but whether it will have much effect is another matter.

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  • Francis Terry splits with dad and says he might turn his hand to something modern. That should stir things up a bit ....

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  • azhar

    "... in a patterned shirt and cream jacket ..."
    Good to see that we have got video proof

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  • So what has Mr Cook given the world of architecture then, apart from some unbuildable concepts in the 1960's with Archigram and a couple of bulbous, very unattractive buildings abroad? He is hardly the modicum of cutting edge architectural taste and design in my opinion.

    At least the Cambridge School creates buildable and elegant solutions and is also rooted in the very English essence of craft and continuity of tradition.

    His commentary does not speak of the wider profession, is self serving and also alienates architects further from the realm of the general public and clients.

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  • Chris Roche

    The AJ should be commended for making this and other similar material available for those who are either not in the AJ100 or not interested in being there. Peter Cook's comments on the state of British Architecture are always controversial, and in my opinion always welcome. Whilst you may not agree with his opinion, you can always appreciate the frankness of his discourse. We need more critical debate, not less.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04

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  • Well an 80 year old Cook should know about a biscuit boy bake off as he hobknobs with them at meetings, says my old mate Gary Baldy RIBA.

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  • Mr Cook is fairly full of himself, his own world view, and "perfectly formed architecture, arguing here for an understanding of architectural aesthetics as visual and spatial phenomenon, and a dominantly curvy colourful one at that. In this respect everything he says regarding his favoured and despised choice of architect's and schools is true to himself.

    As a student at Cambridge, he hit close to home :o - though as a post grad I will take it as glancing - again though, he has talked about a preference for pushing boundaries in form, aesthetic, colour etc... to which he is correct, Cambridge is not the best at that, not helped by - contrary to his strong world view - a very limited budget, given the wealth sits with the colleges.

    Cambridge's project, I would suggest, is a rather different one, at least from my experience of the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design. Supporting a deep understanding of the built environment's latent potential for influencing our world socially, politically, environmentally and so on. The current focus of architectural limelight on Alejandro Aravena is a strong indicator of the increasing recognition on this perspective and its potential for the profession.

    There is clearly a lot of room for debate between these differing views on the focus on what matters in architectural practice and education, and they are also by no means opposing. Mr Cook does not strike me as a man who is open to discussion however, though he may just enjoy being controversial and polemic in his arguments. He also presents the view that he lives in a very apt 'bubble' of starchitecture. Some of his points are interesting, and there is clearly a political project to his work, but it doesn't impress me much when he lectures in a manner ignorant to any wider perspective. He clearly has a bit of a chip - or rather biscuit - on his shoulder...

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  • Mr. Blob attacking biscuit boys?!

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