Cambridge Hosts Exhibit on Life and Work Cedric Price

CEDRIC PRICE (1934-2003) was one of the most visionary architects of the late 20th century.  He built very little, but during his career he suggested using a geodesic dome for a city entertainment space and putting a giant ferris wheel on the Thames. The Millennium Dome and the London Eye stand as testaments to his influence on contemporary architects and artists, from Rem Koolhaas, to Rachel Whiteread.

In 1955 Price earned his undergraduate degree in architecture from Cambridge University, Today the college is mounting an exhibition explaining Price’s life and work as a radical architect. The exhibition’s curators say the architect should be remembered for his talent for the unusual.  Price’s imaginative designs ranged from an inflatable conference center to a mobile university for 20,000 students utilizing disused railway carriages.

Price designed with the idea of permanent flexibility. He believed that buildings should always serve a need and that they should be transformed or demolished when they had outlived their purpose. His fun palace exemplified this idea by featuring moving walls, no doors and no permanent room. With its infinite flexibility of being dismantled and reconfigured, the design became known as an anti-building. 

“Price was like a grain of sand that irritates the oyster- the oyster in his case being the architectural profession,” commented exhibit curator Mandy Marvin. “He was always provoking thought and response within the profession, including successfully lobbying RIBA to allow architects to recommend not to build.”

As Price stated, “I’m only radical because the architectural profession has got lost. Architects are such a dull lot and they’re so convinced that they matter.”

His groundbreaking designs were largely left unbuilt during his lifetime. However, the exhibition suggests that Price was simply ahead of his time, paving the way for concepts realized decades later.  The fun palace is considered a precursor for the inside-out styling of the Pompidou Centre and the Millennium Dome is a successful example of a Price’s proposal of geodesic domes as auditoriums.  Even the London Eye owes some debt to Price. In 1983 the architect sketched of a ferris wheel with viewing pods as an idea of how to change the way visitors experienced London’s South Bank.

Price passed away in 2003, but through projects, drawings and teaching he overturned the notion of what architecture is by offering radical new suggestions and possibilities. He believed architecture was not about the finished building but about enabling change and helping people think the unimaginable.

The exhibition, titled Anti-building for the future: The world of Cedric Price is currently on view at St. John’s College, University of Cambridge. It showcases a new collection of Cedric Price material archived at St John’s, including early sketches, letters and photographs. Along with examining his influences on design, the exhibit offers a rare glimpse into Price’s personal and family life. It runs through January 15, 2015.

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