6. Anthony Crosland, Encounter, October 1960, quoted in Christopher Booker, The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties, London, Collins, 1969, p 153
7. Peter Laslett and Cedric Price, 'Noddyland Atmosphere?', The Times Educational Supplement, 29 May 1964, Potteries Thinkbelt document folio DR1995:0216:400, Cedric Price Archives, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
8. Cedric Price, 'Life Conditioning', Architectural Design, 36 ,October 1966, p 483
9. Cedric Price, 'Potteries Thinkbelt: A Plan for an Advanced Educational Industry in North Staffordshire', Architectural Design, 36, October 1966, p 484 to 497
Cedric Price - From "Brain Drain" to the "Knowledge Economy"... Continued
Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood enlisted a cadre of scientists, sociologists, artists, engineers, and politicians, including Richard Buckminster Fuller, Yehudi Menuhin, Gordon Pask and Tony Benn, to help with realising the Fun Palace. Their ambitious goal was to create an interactive environment, a new kind of architecture, capable of altering its form to accommodate the changing needs of the users.
Using cybernetics and the latest computer technologies, Price hoped to create an improvisational architecture which would be capable of learning, anticipating, and adapting to the constantly evolving program. An array of sensors and inputs would provide real-time feedback on use and occupancy to computers which would allocate and alter spaces and resources according to projected needs.
A site was chosen for the Fun Palace, on the banks of the Lea River in London's East End. However, after years of development and design, construction of the Fun Palace was blocked by mid-level bureaucrats in the Newham planning office. Price and Littlewood struggled to overcome bureaucratic opposition to the Fun Palace until 1975, when Price declared the then ten year old project obsolete.
However, the failure of the Fun Palace was not the end of Price's attempts to realize an interactive and improvisational architecture. In 1976, he built a greatly reduced version of the Fun Palace in Kentish Town. Known as the InterAction Centre, this design incorporated many of the features and innovations of the Fun Palace, though on a smaller scale. The InterAction Centre resembled a "bargain basement" version of Centre Pompidou, and along with the Fun Palace, influenced Richard Roger's designs.
Cedric Price, InterAction Centre, Kentish Town, 1976 (demolished 2003).
A framework with plug-in, readymade Portakabins used for offices, toilet rooms, and utility spaces, Price's InterAction Centre incorporated many of the concepts and features of the ill-fated Fun Palace on a much-reduced scale. InterAction, renamed as InterChange, provided community services and creative outlets for local citizens until its demolition in 2003.
Even before the final demise of the Fun Palace, Price had begun work on an even more vast and far-sighted project. The North Staffordshire "Potteries" were once a focus for the British ceramics industry, and home to such famous names as Wedgewood, Spode, and Minton. By the 1960s the Potteries had fallen into ruin and rust, the victim of rising costs and foreign competition. Price's 1967 Potteries Thinkbelt was a plan to convert a region of Britain's once-thriving industrial heartland into a one hundred square mile think-tank, recuperating derelict industrial sites and railways as the basic infrastructure for a new "educational industry", in part to stem the tide of the "Brain Drain".
Cedric Price, Potteries Thinkbelt, regional site plan, 1966. Cedric Price Archives, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. (Colour keys added by the author for clarity).
Cedric Price hoped that the Potteries Thinkbelt would help reverse the "Brain Drain" and put the nation at the forefront of advanced technologies.
Like many industries in England, the coal and ceramics industries of North Staffordshire had fallen on hard times after the Second World War, and by the 1960s, the Potteries was a ruined industrial landscape. The conditions were repeated in scores of industrial centres throughout Britain, and as early as 1960 the situation had become so alarming that Labour MP Anthony Crosland publicly complained to the House of Commons:
'Our production and export performance is almost the poorest of any advanced industrial country much of our technical education [is] equally backward. We cling to every outmoded scrap of national sovereignty, continue to play the obsolete role of an imperial power, and fail to adjust to the new dynamic Europe.' (6)
Price sought to re-establish the North Staffordshire Potteries as a centre of science and emerging technologies, much as it had been during the Industrial Revolution. He envisioned his Potteries Thinkbelt as a wholesale conversion of England's rusting industrial infrastructure into a new "industry" of technical education and scientific research, focusing on practical applications.
A 1964 article from the influential Times Educational Supplement entitled Noddyland Atmosphere? quoted Price as saying that British universities were out of touch with current social, economic and scientific conditions. (7) He avoided referring to his "Thinkbelt" as a "university" because he disliked the upper-class connotations of the word, and complained that English universities were little more than ' medieval castles with power points, located in gentlemanly seclusion'. (8)
In 1966, Price wrote that ' further education and re-education must be viewed as a major industrial undertaking and not as a service run by gentlemen for the few.' (9)
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