John Jervis reflects on Richard Saltoun Gallery London's Peter Cook: Cities as a retrospective exhibition that coincides with the 60-year anniversary of Archigram’s first exhibition Living City.
Cook was one of six core members of the charismatic London-based collective Archigram, formed in 1960 and, for a decade or so, leader of the architectural avant-garde in Britain. Rejecting the rigidity of form and mindset displayed by their modernist contemporaries, Archigram harked back to the radical experiments of modernism’s early years. It mixed consumerism, constructivism, Pop, technology and transience—with generous helpings of provocation and humour—to create alluring futuristic visions that foreshadowed high-tech and postmodernism.
For Cook, this coming-together of diverse elements—organic and inorganic, practical and impractical, expected and unexpected—is liberating. It allows our drab public spaces to be reimagined, and architecture’s vocabulary to be expanded, escaping the mundanity that so often marks out mainstream British practice. And, from his Swiss Cottage Tower of 2010 onwards, there is a more concrete exploration of the potential of vegetation as architecture. Environments are grown not built, with plants engulfing facades and communication networks, leaving only jags of glass and metal structure visible. Recent works also employ a bold colour palette, enlivening Richard Saltoun’s exhibition spaces, in concert with a dramatic exploded drawing installed at the entrance, slightly impenetrable digital and VR offerings, and a likable if unexplained orange-and-black sculpture, Snake, winding across the floor.
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