Cedric Price’s Fun Palace by Richard Roberts, Jason Bruges Studio
As one of the most visionary architects of the late 20th century, Cedric Price’s thought-provoking and innovative work has had an enduring influence on contemporary architects and artists.
Though never built, I have nominated Fun Palace as my favourite building. Initiated with theatre director Joan Littlewood, the building was designed to have facilities for, amongst other things, dancing, music, drama, cinemas and activity spaces. It has my vote because of the forward-thinking way it imagined the building responding to its inhabitants, reconfiguring itself according to the visitors' needs and activities, and because Price proposed that this should be a fun experience for everyone, rather than simply a functional reconfigurable building.
Price was influenced by the work of Cyberneticians such as Gordon Pask, and proposed working with cutting edge technologies to create an environment that directly interacted and responded to the needs of its users. The marketing material from the time suggested you could: “Choose what you want to do - or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”
Apart from a structural grid of steel lattice columns and beams, the idea was that almost every part of the structure could be moved, taken apart or assembled according to what was required. The rest of the structure was a ‘kit’ of modular units that could be broken down, re-assembled and moved by cranes, depending on need. Price undertook studies to demonstrate that a theatre, for example, could be arranged to accommodate an audience of 10 - or be enlarged to hold an audience of 1,000. He also surveyed friends and colleagues to try and anticipate what kinds of activities might take place in the spaces the building created to ensure it could accommodate them.
I first became aware of the Fun Palace whilst I was studying for my diploma in Architecture at UCL. My thesis centred around several cybernetic principles, and my Masters dissertation was heavily influenced by the work of Gordon Pask who was on the Fun Palace Cybernetics Committee.
I would say that these early notions of a participatory cybernetic architecture deeply influenced what I, and also Jason Bruges Studio, do today. We are now much more able to achieve complex spatial sensing and computation than we were in the 1960s. Recent developments such as the Xbox Kinect or face recognition software for now make it possible for us to create environments and installations that respond directly to the complex movements of our bodies in space, or the emotions we are displaying to the world. Building architectures that detect and respond to these things would have been far more difficult when the Fun Palace was conceived in the 1960s, which is why the complex interactions and astonishing environments that it proposed make it such a visionary piece.
Design Manager, Jason Bruges Studio