With his plans for the Fun Palace, architect Cedric Price reimagined recreation for 1960s Londoners, merging state-of-the-art technology and a desire for rapid architectural adaptability to accommodate and even anticipate visitors’ interests.
In the October issue of Art in America, one of the nation’s premier art and architecture magazines, Associate Professor of Art and Architecture Stan Mathews explores Price’s vision for the Fun Palace, “one of the most ambitious and original manifestations of many of the ideas that defined postwar architecture, and that continue to inform the cultural institutions of the digital age,” Mathews writes.
His article is in conversation with an article that appeared in Art in America 50 years ago, when the Fun Palace was first proposed. Price’s interdisciplinary project involved what Mathews describes as a “task force” of “volunteers from…architecture, theater, art, philosophy, sociology, psychology, politics, cybernetics, engineering and information technology” with a goal to “foster a more democratic culture.” Presaging the Internet in a number of ways, the Fun Palace encouraged “users to collectively define the space” and was to be used as much for education as for recreation, with an electronic informational database that would store previous inquiries, track patterns of use and prompt users to explore beyond their initial queries.
Prior to the mid-20th century, “the metaphor for modern architecture was the machine —the house is a machine for living, for example. Price turned that idea into something very different,” Mathews explains. “Price saw architecture as a virtual machine that has many purposes, more like a laptop than a typewriter. The Fun Palace could become lots of things, and Price one of the first architects to think in those terms.”
Although the Fun Palace wasn’t ultimately built — local building officials, ironically, couldn’t decide how to classify the structure —the distinct qualities of Price’s work inspired an entire generation of architects. Those concepts feature in Mathews’ courses as well, particularly “when I’m talking about design and stressing the importance of adaptability,” he says.
Mathews, who joined the HWS faculty in 2000, is one of the world’s preeminent scholars on Price and the author of the leading monograph on the Fun Palace and Thinkbelt schemes, “From Agitprop To Free Space: the architecture of Cedric Price” (Black Dog, 2007). He received his B.A. from Beloit College, his M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his Master of Architecture from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He also attended the School of Architecture at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.