Honour for architects who failed to build anything

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The Independent Online

A group of 1960s architects who never built a building but whose ideas earned them an enduring cult following finally had their place in history recognised yesterday.

Acknowledgement for the pioneering collective Archigram came in the form of the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal for ideas described by the organisers as "mind-blowing" to this day. The six members drew on Pop Art, science fiction, comics and space travel to promote a bold vision of buildings that were all but impossible to construct. Despite never collectively putting their ideas into practice, Archigram's influence spread through Japan, Europe and lately London in the buildings of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Will Alsop.

Riba's president, Paul Hyett, said: "Even today the work of Archigram reflects a freshness, a courage and a creativity. They started in the days of the mini-car, mini-skirt and the dawn of a mini-technology. Their love and passion of architecture and their insatiable desire to posit alternative futures for our society still dazzle and delight today."

Professor Peter Cook formed Archigram with Warren Chalk, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron and Mike Webb and together they published a broadsheet newspaper of the same name to promote "a manifesto for a new architecture". Professor Cook, now the director of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, said the original idea was to "embrace all kinds of new developments in science and technology to break the boundaries of architecture.

"We were interested in widening the view of what could be called architecture. It could be things in shops, that people took camping or on picnics, and we applied these to buildings. It was architecture of a popular school of thought, rather than the effete, élitist model that had taken hold in England. It was rather bewildering for certain circles who thought we were a bit naughty and being rather silly but it went down fantastically well in Italy and Japan."

Archigram creations such as "capsule" apartments and "walking cities" were never built by the group but the ideas influenced generations of architects after them, who compared them to the Beatles.

The Lloyds building in London, new Tube stations on the Jubilee line and the new public library in Peckham all held the Archigram imprint, as did the Pompidou building in Paris, said Professor Cook, now 65. "Much of the hi-tech architecture for which Britain is known stems from Archigram ideas. The officers of the Rogers partnership is populated with former students of myself or Ron Herron. I think there are 25 people there who were taught by one or other of us," he said.

"We have been in a 'prophet in his own country' situation but there is more interest now than there was five or 10 years ago."

With the revival of interest, the four surviving members are building at last. Professor Cook is working on an art museum in Graz, Austria, with Colin Fournier, and a new town of homes on stilts straddling water near Madrid with Salvador Arroyo and Eva Hurtado.

Although he is delighted with yesterday's award and the new respect for Archigram, there is one hangover from the Sixties that Professor Cook would like to lose. "I was never sure about the Beatles comparison; they were very English and we were a bit more international. I prefer Las Six, a group of experimental French art composers in the 1930s."