The Fun Palace was not a building in any conventional sense, but was instead a socially interactive machine, highly adaptable to the shifting cultural and social conditions of its time and place. It was a constantly shifting cultural landscape. It represented a new kind of improvisational, interactive, performative architecture, adaptable to the varying needs and desires of the individual. An architecture of constant activity, in a continuous process of construction, dismantling, and reassembly. It would be a vast framework where the working-class population could assemble their own learning and leisure environments, where people might escape from everyday routine and serial existence and embark on a journey of creativity and personal development.
It was not a museum, nor a school, theatre, or funfair, and yet it could be all of these things simultaneously or at different times.
Extract from Cedric’s notes on Fun Palace:
“Flexibility within the complex is not confirmed to the variation of the form and disposition of the enclosures and areas provided, but also by the ability to vary the public movement patterns through adjustment of mechanical movement aids (escalators, travelators etc.). Environmental control is achieved not only by movement of screens, ‘walls’, roofing panels, but also by warm air screens, ultra-violet lights, optical barriers, station wapour zones etc. The whole structure can if required be roofed and ‘walled’ in”.
Cedric thought of the Fun Palace in terms of process, as events in time rather than objects in space, and embraced indeterminacy as a core design principle.
Newby and Price devised a structural system consisting of 14 parallel rows of service towers, 60 – feet apart, forming two 60 – foot side ‘aisles’ flanking a 120 – foot wide central bay. The resulting plan was a pattern of interlocking squares of different sizes, which Newby referred to as the ‘tartan grid’, providing both stability and programmatic flexibility. Stairs, elevators, electrical cables, and mechanical ducts were located in the square towers, leaving the wide bays free of obstructions. The structural frame would be 780 – feet long and 360 – feet wide. There would be two overhead gantry cranes spanning the full 240-foot width of the central bays, which could travel the entire length of the structure to move modular elements into place. (Frank Newby, interview by author, tape recording, London, January 22, 1999)
Pivoting escalators and moving walkways would provide internal circulation. A membrane roof suspended from a cable grid covered most of the central space, with operable ‘skyblinds’ over the central ‘rally area’. Between the roof and the ground level in the central 120 – foot bays, floors, walls, and modules could be lifted into place by the overhead cranes that ran the length of the building. The users could improvise and change their own spaces, using the cranes to assemble prefabricated walls, platforms, floors, stairs, and ceiling modules. The internal structures and elements consisted of plastic and aluminum inflatable and standardized modular units which could be positioned and relocated anywhere within the overall structure. There would also be a complex system of environmental controls, generating ‘charged static-vapour zones, optical barriers, warm-air curtains, and fog dispersal’. (Cedric Price, notes, January 28, 1964, Fun Palace document folio DR1995:0188:526, Cedric Price Archives)
Virtually every part of the structure was to be variable, with the overall structural frame being the fixed element. Its behaviour would be unstable, indeterminate, and unknowable in advance, even without a specific programme or objective. An unspecified programme and indeterminate form are antithetical to normative architectural practice, which requires specificity of programme and physical configuration. It was really only ‘a kit of parts, not a building.
According to Gordon Pask : “A ‘virtual architecture’ like the Fun Palace, has no singular programme, but may be reprogrammed to perform an endless variety of functions.
The ‘programme’ of the Fun Palace was therefore not the conventional sort of diagram of architectural spaces, but much closer to what we understand as the computer programme: an array of algorithmic functions and logical gateways that control temporal processes in a virtual device. The three-dimensional structure of the Fun Palace was the operative space-time matrix of a virtual architecture.
That the Fun Palace would essentially be a vast social control system was made clear in the diagram produced by Pask’s Cybernetics Subcommittee, which reduced Fun Palace activities to a systematic flowchart in which human beings were treated as data. The diagram produced by the committee described the Fun Palace as a systematic flowchart.
The Cybernetics Subcommittee outlined plans to use an array of sensors and inputs that would provide real-time feedback on use and occupancy to computers, which would allocate spaces and resources according to projected needs. Space allotted for a popular event would grow, then shrink once interest had waned. Thus, the Fun Palace would be a sentient entity, a virtual architecture, which could learn, anticipate, and adapt.
The organization of the Fun Palace was a divided into six organizational zones. Zone 1 was dedicated to the various types of teaching machines that Pask and his Systems Research team had already developed. In Zone 2, users could participate in new forms of expression, including but not limited to theatre, music, and dance. The cinemas and studios in Zone 3 gave young directors a chance to make their own films, while in the Zone 4 laboratories, users could conduct their own scientific experiments. Zones 5 and 6 provided studio space for painting and sculpture. This was just a preliminary list as it felt that the variety of activities could never be precisely forecast.
Questionnaire from 1964 had revealed a list of potential activities that Fun Palace might have housed:
Eating, Ski practice, Drinking, Bowling, Go-karting, Dancing, Music concerts, Resting, Country dancing, Drama and operatics, Archery, Sound and Light, Swimming, Photography, Restoration of vintage cars, Voice patterns, Finger painting, Mutual admiration (requires pocket mirrors and the ultimate activity)-(sex?)
Fun Palace Ideas Group chair, psychologist John Clark submitted his own ‘List of 70 Projects for a Fun-Palace’, which describes various virtual realities, which might be created within the Fun Palace. Below are some of those provoking suggestions:
The inhabited universe
Why not try a trip around the moon in our realistic space-capsule Simulator?
Captain Nemo’s cabin: An underwater restaurant
The grotto of kaleidoscopes
The Camera Lucida
The maze of silence
The cybernetic cinema
The fantasy generator
Climb the tree of evolution
The calligraphic cavern
The committee also suggested methods of identity-shifting and role- playing. Artist and cybernetic theorist Roy Ascott proposed an ‘identity bar’ which would dispense paper clothing, enabling people to try on different and unfamiliar social personae or even gender roles. Ascott cited the need for providing, ‘physical and emotional thrills for satisfying the individual’s desire to exhibit himself and to extend his sense of power and feel the sensation of sinking into a group’. Another innovative part would have been a ‘Pillar of Information’ – a kind of electronic kiosk which could display information of all sorts, based on the model of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Looking at my factory as a Factory of Events. What events will it house? I don’t know yet, its too early to say I suppose. I felt like I had to examine extensively Cedric’s Fun Palace in order to get a good overview about the project. I am currently working on the idea of the structure/framework/base where different sorts of events could be fitted in. Below is a drawing in progress of the possible arrangements of spaces. I have got ideas for other drawings to show the concept better and am working on them for tomorrow’s tute.
The main target for me is to get a clear understanding of which direction my project is going to before we break up for Christmas holiday, actually I don’t like calling it holiday, its not a holiday, it is extra time to improve what has been done and work on new stuff!
Will post updates later on the go, probably late-late tonight.
See you soon!