Architecture, media and archives: the fun palace of Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price as a cultural project
Bonet Miro, Ana
This research represents a new kind of critical investigation of the renowned Fun Palace as a complex cultural project, one that exceeds its remarkable architectural significance. The Fun Palace maps an extensive network of practices and agencies involved in the project’s complex constitution and constant regeneration. Initiated in London 1961 as an interdisciplinary collaboration between radical theatre entrepreneur Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price, it engaged main personalities throughout its development up until 1975, such as cyberneticist Gordon Pask, engineer Frank Newby, journalist Tom Driberg and trustee Buckminster Fuller, amongst other. It aimed to construct situations in which self-directed, pleasure-led and open exchange could transform mass-audiences into active citizens. By 1964 the Fun Palace had gained momentum, and a giant cybernetic infrastructure featured within the Civic Trust’s plans for Lea Valley. By the end of the decade, and under the leadership of Littlewood, the idea was reconstituted into local activism to engage Stratford youth amidst violent redevelopment in the area neighbouring Theatre Royal, where Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop was based. Over and above, the struggle for a site in the institutional map of London prompted the realization of the Fun Palace as a media event. Broadsheets, films, journals, grids and press cuttings, all these media actively produced and disseminated the Fun Palace’s distinctive cultural agenda of emancipation through pleasure in Britain in the 1960s and early 70s. Meanwhile, an excited architectural scholarship celebrated the challenge that the Fun Palace issued to the determinism of modern architecture and planning. Paying close attention to the role of Joan Littlewood in the project, this research analyses the conditions of production, circulation, storage and reception of these media as a way to unpack the complexity embedded in the Fun Palace’s cultural agenda. On one hand, the radical plurality, ephemerality and dynamism of the project reflects transformations in British society from the immediate postwar period across the 1960s and 1970s and the pressures that these exerted upon interrelated areas of cultural production – architecture, theatre, education, leisure, (mass) media, and information and communication technologies. On the other hand, the analysis of the distinctive periodization and the modalities of the Fun Palace reception during its fifty-year long history and up until today, questions the agency of the uneven Fun Palace archive. Ultimately, through the interrogation of all this situated activity and agency, I argue for the central role that media plays in the constitution of the Fun Palace’s complex cultural agenda.