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RIBA should buy the FAT archive

Rory Olcayto
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There must be a cupboard somewhere full of FAT’s drawings, models, and photographs and the RIBA should get its hands on it, says Rory Olcayto

OK. That’s it. England’s most interesting architects have finally left the building. In other words: FAT is dead. It’s been a long drawn-out and very public death: the directors - Sean Griffiths, Charles Holland and Sam Jacob - announced their plans to quit in December 2013, although the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale - designed and curated by FAT – followed in June 2014, and then in May this year, its House for Essex opened its doors. And then, of course, FAT edited AJ, which we can fairly say is FAT’s last ever project. So: FAT is dead. Long live…the archive?

Yes. The AJ is calling for the RIBA to buy FAT’s archive. I’ll be honest – I don’t even know if FAT has an archive. But surely there is a cupboard somewhere full of drawings, models, photographs, architect instructions, French curves, and plasticine models that if carefully arranged, could be seen to say something about FAT, its work and its influence upon a generation or two of architects?

History, unlike the construction industry, is going to be kind to FAT. Its ideas, its colourful, expressive drawings, and its directors’ ability to speak convincingly about art, architecture, pop culture, life, the universe and everything, are easily a match for their most obvious predecessors, Archigram (which history has been very kind to). FAT’s achievement however, is perhaps even greater: it built its profile at a time when the role of the architect as construction project leader was already on the slide. That may have meant less opportunities to build, yet unlike Archigram, FAT managed to build a fair bit. Housing in Manchester. A Library in South London. A Community Centre in Holland. And more besides.

FAT was able to point toward new forms of practice

Furthermore, the circumstances were such that FAT was able to point towards new forms of practice, outlining the future shape of what architecture - and the architect - can be. Without FAT, there would be no Assemble, no Studio Weave, and no AOC, collectives – businesses of some kind – that ‘do’ architecture as well as other stuff too.

Anyway, it’s been a great pleasure and privilege for me, and my colleagues at AJ, to work with FAT on its final project. So come on RIBA, make an offer and scoop up FAT’s archive and put it on display (including this week’s print edition of AJ).  Unless of course, the V&A is interested. Or maybe the Design Museum. How about the Royal Academy?

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