M+, Hong Kong, © 1964 Archigram. Photo: M+, Hong Kong
My name is James Law. I'm a Hong Kong born architect and I studied under Peter Cook, who is one of the members of Archigram. I remember at university feeling very optimistic about the whole profession of architecture, because I saw the work of Archigram. It really unleashed the flexibility and the breadth of creativity that could be interpreted as architecture.
As an architect, James sees the world in a very specific way. He told us how Hong Kong is an incredibly sophisticated, modern city of interconnected skyscrapers, underground metros, and even airports floating on islands. And years before all of this became a reality, some people were already envisioning it…
[And] There was a group of architects called Archigram who, in the 1960s, was already thinking about cities as sophisticated and as incredible as Hong Kong. Now, everything that we take for granted today was not built at that time, but Archigram was so brave in their vision. They looked at the city and said that the city could be weaved differently, could be designed differently.
One of Archigram’s most important attempts at designing a city differently was ‘Plug-In City’. James tells us more.
Our cities today are still conventionally built from the ground up, but ‘Plug-In City’ very much is anti-gravity. It’s saying that buildings can be built from top down and that in itself is so amazing because in the world of software and hardware, we really see that our cities today are so antiquated because we can't upgrade them easily, we can't interchange them easily. But ‘Plug-In City’ tells us something, which is inherent to our future. The power of flexibility is really at the heart of creating a new sustainable city.
When we see Hong Kong in the context of having understood Archigram we should ask ourselves really creatively what it can be. And by seeing it as a canvas for what it can be, it can immediately become an optimistic place. It becomes a city of opportunities. And that is very much the Archigram spirit.
‘Plug-in City’ is a conceptual city conceived in 1964 by Peter Cook, one of the members of the architecture group Archigram. He theorised a city that comprises a self-sustaining giant network structure in which architectural modules can be added or removed as needed, and where supplies are delivered through ducts and craneways. The project is represented in the exhibition Things, Spaces, Interactions by related materials, including elevation and axonometric drawings, location plan, videos, models, and architecture magazines.
One of the elevation drawings, the elevation for Plug-in City Max Pressure Area, measures 52.5 centimetres high and 111 centimetres wide. In the drawing, different shapes and colours are used to represent the area’s structures and connecting routes, and the functions of the components. The components and architectural modules fill up the entire drawing from left to right, bottom to top, foreground to background. They are all interconnected with routes and ducts, which appear like a giant machine.
This is a landscape-format rectangular drawing with round corners. It features colours including red, blue, green, red orange, magenta, and yellow, and shapes including strips of different widths, circles of different sizes, cylindrical cells, and irregular polygons.
In the drawing, the ground is blue in colour and has two notches of trapezium shape. Green ducts form a 45-degree grid that extends across the entire drawing. There is a pair of vertical ducts that resemble a giant door frame on each side of the green grid, embedded into the trapezium pits on the ground. On the top of the green grid is a giant pale-grey-coloured device that looks like a mechanical arm which connects the two pairs of vertical ducts. Behind the green grid are groups of blue strips that appear like conveyor belts of different lengths.
On the leftmost of the drawing are 3 yellow buildings that are labelled as ‘APARTMENT’. The apartments are almost as tall as the drawing, and are formed with stacked yellow battery shapes connected by blue components. These components are also linked to the grid of ducts and conveyor.
To the right is a red rod shape that is half the height of the apartments, labelled as ‘CAR SILOS’. Next to it appears to be a system of electric power supply or a pulley transport system that is labelled as ‘A FEEDS’. The ‘A FEEDS’ is attached to the vertical ducts nearby by a set of pulley-like components that are labelled as ‘ROUTE A’.
To the right of the vertical ducts are red-orange horizontal rectangles that are stacked up vertically or like a staircase. They are labelled as ‘OFFICES’ and ‘INFORMATION SILOS’. Below them is the label ‘RAILSTOPS’. Going towards the right are the ‘PLAZA’ represented by a yellow irregular polygon, the ‘THEATRE’ area and the ‘EXHIBITIONS’ area, respectively.
To their right is the other pair of vertical ducts that is labelled as ‘ROUTE B’, next to which is a red car silo. Another red car silo that doubles its height stands nearby, whose upper levels widen like a funnel. The upper levels have capsule-like units that are penetrated by the green grid. Next to it, on the rightmost of the drawing, is the text ‘MUSIC THEATRE’. All structures described earlier are in the foreground. Structures in the background are mainly at the centre of the drawing, represented in pale greyish red, including a funnel-shaped building. There are cranes on four of the structures in the area.
The drawing is yellowed, worn, and punched with holes. Along the right and bottom edges of the drawing are calibrations. Going up from the bottom right corner are the English letters D to H, then J. Going right from the bottom left corner are the numbers ‘X72’ to ‘X92’.