Reviewed February 2015
Carissa Kowalski Dougherty, Head of Knowledge Management
The Morton Arboretum
First launched in 2010, the Archigram Archival Project (AAP) remains an invaluable collaborative effort between the University of Westchester’s Research Centre for Experimental Practice (EXP) and surviving members (or heirs) of the iconic, radical architecture collective, Archigram. The AAP realized its goal of "[making] the work of the seminal architectural group…available free online for public viewing and academic study," by assembling nearly 10,000 digitized artifacts drawn from many disparate special collections and archives, including those of the Archigram Archive and the Ron Herron Archives. While the resource itself is nearly five years old, it continues to provide visitors with the opportunity to explore the creative output of one of the most important avant-garde architecture groups of the twentieth century.
The AAP is a one-of-a-kind resource; nothing like it exists for Archigram nor for its contemporaries like Superstudio, Archizoom, or Ant Farm. Its intuitive interface offers unparalleled access to ephemeral and incredibly rare works such as the Archigram Magazine and any number of the group’s speculative design proposals, competition submissions, or exhibitions. One of the key strengths of the AAP is that it allows the combined collections to speak for themselves, driving the user experience through an exploration of relationships between projects, people, dates, and texts. From any given page, one may navigate to related works for a seamless browsing experience that reveals the depth and volume of Archigram’s creative output.
The homepage presents a mosaic of small reproductions which, when clicked, lead to a project page featuring related text, videos, artwork, publications, and/or photographs. The top navigational tabs offer other points of entry. The Magazines section presents a visual tour of the nine and a half issues of Archigram’s seminal publication including video interviews with Archigram member Dennis Crompton, images of each issue spread, and transcriptions of both the videoed interviews and the magazine pages. The Projects section allows the viewer to navigate Archigram’s work chronologically with a somewhat buggy timeline slider tool. The Shows section is the least consistent; it seems to function as a catchall category for “backup” slide images, event and exhibition photographs, and the ‘Archigram Opera,’ a multi-screen audiovisual presentation that has been adapted for viewing online. The People tab directs users to entries for each of the six Archigram members and many of their collaborators. Here, the relational linking within the AAP is at its best; Peter Cook’s entry, for example, includes biographical information but also dozens of photographs of him and a subsection for his Projects and Ephemera—all of which are then crosslinked to other members’ works. Finally, the About section gives an overview of Archigram and the project’s conception and development along with supplementary readings, a comprehensive Archigram bibliography, and a project FAQ.
The site seems most relevant to a scholarly, design-minded audience such as architectural historians and theorists, architects, and graphic designers. Researchers might be disappointed to find that the images cannot be zoomed or displayed higher than 480 x 640 pixels; this limitation was a deliberate restriction so as to comply with copyright held by Archigram members and their heirs. That said, the site remains useful for revealing connections and context, and scholars can contact the University of Westchester to arrange for on-site viewing of high resolution images.
The weakest part of the site is its search functionality, which seems to be a standard keyword search but does not incoporate all content in the project. A search for “video,” for example, will return any number of records or pages with occurrences of that term but none of the actual videos that are part of the project, such as the interviews. Moreover, the text in transcripts, descriptions, and captions are not covered with any consistency. Given that the project was launched over five years ago, with no indication of plans for future development, users will confront its aged technical infrastructure evidenced in a lack of responsive design for viewing on phones/tablets, ways in which to cutomize or personalize the resource, share pages, incoporate social media functionality, an so on. Overall, however, the Archigram Archival Project is an important contribution to architectural scholarship, a solid demonstration of database interface design, and an excellent example of an organization’s commitment to scholarship and public access.