As a founder member of the visionary group Archigram in the early 1960s, Peter Cook helped to project radically new possibilities for architecture. But it was not until 2003, with the opening of the Kunsthaus in Graz, designed with Colin Fournier, that these visions were manifested in large and prominent building. In the meantime he had become the pre-eminent architectural educator in the UK, run the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1969-71), established and directed Art Net from 1972-9, and continued to expand the techniques and redefine the imagery of architectural drawings.
Archigram mixed Pop Art’s fascination with found objects with emerging technical possibilities to imagine an architecture where the necessary guts of a building determined its imagery. The influence on buildings like Piano + Rogers’ Pompidou Centre was obvious, though several Archigram members declared themselves disappointed that it didn’t move. Transience and impermanence were other interests, and although the kunsthaus is a large and permanent structure, it has the possibility of almost endless redefinition through a varied exhibition programme.
With the flamboyance of a showman, Cook turns his fascination with ‘the puzzlement of the strange thing’ into spectacles. As an art-impresario at the ICA and Art Net, he introduced new ideas and people to London audiences, and stimulated discussions about the nature of art and contemporary culture which has a modern counterpart in the RA Forum. His drawings at Archigram and since have captivated people with their depictions of an architecture freed from conventions of style and construction, and students who came under his influence include Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. Discussion and collaboration lie at the heart of his creative practice, and he is an articulate advocate of cross fertilisation between architectural schools and offices. ‘Before it is too late, let’s get the creative architects back into schools.’
As professor of architecture at the Bartlett School, part of UCL since 1990, he brought in staff and attracted students from across the world, turning an academically solid school into a leading centre of creative design. London, he announced, was now a centre for ‘concepts, metaphors, images and design’. Before that he was long associated with the Architectural Association in London, where he had completed his studies after starting at the Bournemouth College of Art. He was also a professor at Frankfurt’s Stadelschule from 1984-2002 and visiting professor at various universities across the world.
For Cook architecture exists as a diverse flow of new ideas. They emanate from different sources, interact, contradict and challenge each other. Emerging and evolving through discussion, they might manifest themselves in drawings, writings, exhibitions or projects by former students, as much as buildings.
DRAWINGS BY SIR PETER COOK ARE IN THE FOLLOWING COLLECTIONS :
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Deutsches Architekturmuseum . Frankfurt
Royal Academy of Arts . London
FRAC Centre, Orleans
Japan Architect Collection, Tokyo
Queensland State Library, Brisbane