05.10.16 Peter Wilson …………introduced the exhibition…. at AIT -Architecture Salon Köln
Introduction to Peter Cook’s Köln exhibition
It is first necessary (in German) to inform a German audience on correct English forms of address. Sir Peter is tonight’s theme, not under any circumstances is he to be addressed as Sir Cook, although his wife Yael standing here to my right is officially Lady Cook. If by chance Richard Rogers or Norman Foster were to appear tonight, they are correctly addressed as Lord Foster and Lord Rogers (a higher plateau). You may be speculating on the bizarre rituals involved if Sir Peter were to converse with Sir David Chipperfield – this does not happen – Peter tells me that they do not to speak to each other (the reasons for this I hope will be obvious from this introduction).
The next thing (in English) one needs to know is that ice cream is Peter’s favourite food, many of the melting drawings here evidence this.
The worst thing one can be for an Englishman like Peter is ‘boring’. He is a lifelong critic of what he regards as boring architecture; the neo-rationalist tradition of repetitive windows puts him to sleep. He is known to fall asleep at dinners or at student presentations, but also to spring awake to launch an erudite and absolutely appropriate comment.
The work of Sir Peter Cook and the office of Crab is to be placed in the English Empirical tradition, what he calls ‘making it up as you go along’. Chains of logical causality (Aufbau), rule systems and judgemental cannons are foreign to him.
I would like at this point to give Peter a little red book, fragments of my own writings published in Madrid by Editions Asymmetrical. Hopefully not only the unsymmetrical title is to Peter’s taste but also the introduction by Yael.
Peter has been the trigger for a number of these writings from:
– my first ever exhibition at his 1970’s London Gallery Art Net – Peter has always been an enabler, vigorously promoting the next generation of young architects.
Art Net was the then hotbed of the English scene – a site of pre-digital global networking. One of my red book texts chronicles my first-hand reading of this venue, a correction to a recent and less than accurate publication of theoretical and historical criticism on the subject and significance of Artnet.
– Another of my texts originated as a lecture at a Vienna Kunsthalle Conference on the subject of Utopia accompanying yet another Archigram retrospective exhibition. If Archigram were Peter’s only contribution to architecture it would certainly place him in all histories of the twentieth century. Archigram was the last positive Utopia followed by the critical and ironical Utopias of Superstudio, Archizoom or even Elia and Rem’s ‘Prisoners of Architecture’. We are all familiar with Downside Utopias like Bladerunner, the Retrospective Utopia of re-constructing a Nineteenth Century ‘City of Blocks’ or the Green Utopia of Ecology hinged as it is on the paradigm of nature as a self-organizing, self regulating system.
And I must confess Archigram was the reason for my personal life’s trajectory from Australia (where I witnessed Denis and Ron performing the Archigram Opera) to London’s AA where I later and for a number of years ran a Diploma Unit as did Peter (the Unit system had at that time just been introduced by Alvin Boyarski), on my arrival Peter had been Fifth Year Master (i.e. top dog at the AA – a post previously held by Peter Smithson).
Teaching has always been one of the hats Peter has worn – all over the world – at the AA, at the Städel in Frankfurt (where he branched into building with an openable roof that I am told still opens), at the Salzburg Summer Academy or his great achievement in turning the University College London, the Bartlett, into a profound and profoundly experimental school. I can, from first hand experience as an external examiner there, say that it as a school and through Peter’s leadership usurped the role of the 1970’s and 1980’s AA.
But we are not yet finished with Archigram, it is said that when Peter first visited Japan all the Metabolists (Kikutake etc) lined up to meet him and bowed the deepest possible bow, a mark of respect usually reserved for the Emperor.
The faith in technology that underpinned Plug-in City or Walking City was also the geneses of the English High-Tec orthodoxy, without Peter there would have been no Lloyds Bank.
To conclude two personal stories. First I am eternally grateful that Peter’s Art Net some thirty years ago also gave a platform to young German Architects (a troupe from Karlsruhe including my now BOLLES+WILSON partner, Julia Bolles). Myself and an AA chum scanned the exhibition opening for the most beautiful young ladies and moved over to engage Julia in conversation. He to my horror opened in his Cockney accent with ” who won the war then”. Pushing him aside and to appease this outrage I countered in as gentlemanly a manner as an Australian could muster and thus made the acquaintance of my future wife. Thank you Peter also for this episode.
A criticism often made of the theoretical experiments of the AA from the 1960’s to the 1980’s was that it had little to do with building – it was unashamedly Paper Architecture. At some point Peter, Zaha and myself found ourselves as Keynote speakers at a conference in Adelaide. The Australian hosts, as if to neutralize our speculative affronts, hired a comedian to conclude the conference by lampooning the three of us – I do not recall what insult he found for Peter, but Zaha was Zaza and myself Peter ‘Will-soon’. I sincerely hope, considering what all three of us have since built, that that wag is now rotating in his grave.
Peter has surprised his early critics with a late, but not too late, series of built works:
The Graz Kunsthalle (with Colin Fornier) a blob to remember, educational buildings in Brisbane and Vienna and on the evidence of the quirky models in this exhibition a whole further genealogy is currently in incubation. Not bad for an architect nearing 80, he gets younger and younger.
I am aware that Peter is allergic to pretentious theory, but something Nietzsche wrote in Amoral Truth and Untruth (apologies to the German audience for the rough English summary) seems to locate him:
Rational Man and Intuitive Man
Rational man is afraid of intuition, he is un-artistic and faces formal and pressing needs through prudence and routine.
Intuitive man has only scorn for typological abstraction. He is a supremely playful hero and does not see the needs of rational man, only life transformed by fiction in the guise of beauty.
Rational man is guided by concepts and abstraction which cannot succeed in warding off unhappiness…. and wherever possible activates abstraction to free himself from suffering.
Intuitive man, brought up in the middle of civilization, uses his intuition as a defence against badness – an illumination. When he suffers, he suffers more violently and more often, because he does not know how to learn from experience and falls over again and again.
Peter, please keep on falling over.
Peter Wilson – October 2016