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White Gray Black

Cedric Price (British, 1934–2003)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

English architect. The eldest son of the architect A. G. Price (1901–53), he was educated at Cambridge University (1952–5), where he studied under John Penn, and then at the Architectural Association School, London (1955–7), where he studied under Arthur Korn. Price worked in the offices of Erno Goldfinger and Fry, Drew & Partners, before establishing his own practice in 1960. His first two major projects were the aviary (1960) at London Zoo and the Fun Palace (1960–61; unbuilt), both of which were to help set an agenda for his subsequent research.

The aviary, undertaken with Lord Snowdon and Frank Newby (b. 1926), consisted of a wire mesh enclosure, cable-supported around four floating tetrahedral frames, below which was a walkway for observers. The cage was engineered by Newby, who became Price’s principal structural consultant. The theatrical impresario Joan Littlewood proposed the idea of the Fun Palace, which she described as a ‘laboratory of fun’ and a ‘university of the streets’, which was to be developed with Cedric Price. It was to be a recreational and educational facility engaging and stimulating its visitors through providing topical and thus ever-changing spaces, places and opportunities. The Fun Palace was not intended for passive, Disneyland-style entertainment; the Price response was a design consisting of towers, gantry cranes, movable floors, walls and ceilings, suspended auditoria and walkways, vapour barriers and horizontal and vertical blinds. All these components were designed to accept constant change. Price began to investigate new ways of relating temporality and form, asserting that any built environment would become inhibiting, restrictive and ultimately obsolete unless its inhabitants could accommodate the indeterminate and the impermanent. The Fun Palace was the first of many buildings and projects supporting Price’s idea that architecture should not determine human behaviour but rather enable possibility.

Price’s vision of education, educational settings and their potential for rehabilitating a declining area went far beyond the conventional university campus. He conceived of his Potteries Thinkbelt (1963) not as a building but as a network of flexible and flexing facilities linked by, and taking full advantage of, the underused railway system of surplus lines, sidings and derelict land, at a chosen site in the ‘Potteries’ in his native Staffordshire. Price’s use of a railway system was intended to exploit existing resources and to assert the significance of communications but also to polemicize against thoughtless conventionality. The railway system monopolized the attention of critics, some of whom missed the Potteries Thinkbelt’s larger purpose of demonstrating higher education as an enabler, a social generator and an economic revitalizer in a depressed area.

Price subsequently developed his theories in published writings and projects, buildings, teaching and in stimulating lectures. He influenced a generation of architects (Richard Rogers acknowledged the Centre Georges Pompidou’s indebtedness to the Fun Palace) and helped to prepare the way for High Tech. For Price himself, however, the choice between ‘low’ or ‘high’ technology was one that had to be made on the basis of appropriateness. In 1976 Price carried his studies in supportive technology into the realm of artificial intelligence. His Generator project (unbuilt) proposed an intelligent building, a computerized leisure facility, which not only could be formed and reformed but, through its interaction with users, could learn, remember and develop an intelligent awareness of their needs.

Price’s anti-stylistic stance was consistently inventive, playful and informed with a technological and scientific awareness; but underlying all his work was an insistence upon the architect’s obligation to go beyond inventiveness and creativity. It was his view that architecture has to provide purpose, moral support, aesthetic enhancement and delight, even if no building can be expected to do this for very long, given the temporality of architecture.

Royston Landau
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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