Open Choice

The second type of open work brought up by Eco, relating to authored choices, was an important topic of discussion born among architects in the mid to late 20th century, probably as an opposition to the rigid, machine-like, fordist views of the era. Works by architects such as Cedric Price, the British group Archigram, Kiyonori Kikutake and Kiyoshi Awazu were conceived in order to achieve the flexibility demanded by society that was not being met by the modernist ideals of that time.
    In the early 60’s the theatre director Joan Littlewood and the architect Cedric Price, got together in order to create a “laboratory of fun” and “a university of the streets” in London. With flexibility and user autonomy in mind, the concept of the Fun Palace was born, a steel structure that would house a variety of different programs relating to arts and making. This structure would be combined with a set of gantry cranes that would arrange and rearrange the kit-of-parts provided by the architect, composed of walls, platforms, stairs, escalators and other space defining elements. The project never got out of paper, but clearly influenced the work of architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, and Renzo Piano. Even if mainly formally, it is possible to observe the impact of Price’s design on the Centre Pompidou (1977), for example, with the celebration of technological advances and a sort of incomplete aesthetic. In the drawings, it is possible to understand the architect’s intentions with the Fun Palace, from circulation to programmatic spaces, all parts of the project are meant to evoke a sense of duty from the user, being able to make choices that will actually impact the building. Phrases like “No need to look for an entrance — just walk in anywhere” and “Look around — take a lift, a ramp, an escalator to whatever or wherever looks interesting” were used by Price in order to describe the clear lack of hierarchy in circulation and the lack of control over the user. In relation to the program, the open structure housed spaces such as cinemas, restaurants, workshops that could be reconfigured according to the user’s needs and wills, creating different interactions that would not happen in a stiff, highly striated building. “Active fun” was the motto and generator of this project.

    Control and Choice was designed by architect Ron Herron “as an exhibit for the Paris Biennale des Jeunesses proposing a ‘tuneable’ system allowing individual control of mechanized environments”. The design, like Price’s, was heavily focused on exploring the new technologies and how they can impact people’s lifestyles, and also expressing this technological prowess on the form of the building. There was, from the beginning, an intention of providing more agency to the users, allowing the space to be shaped by their necessities: “The determination of your environment need no longer be left in the hands of the designer of the building: it can be turned over to you yourself. You turn the switches and choose the conditions to sustain you at that point in time. The ‘building’ is reduced to the role of carcass – or less”. This was achieved through a combination of hard, such as the main structure, kitchen, bathroom and other service spaces that would be required to remain static; and soft elements, the pieces that could be moved, come and go, allowing for this flexibility. These soft elements could be arranged on a one meter square grid or a one meter equilateral triangle grid – this juxtaposition of different configurations allowed for more options for the interactor. The concept of metamorphosis appeared throughout the Archigram drawings, stating that physical change was not only possible, but incentivized, with the spaces and form of the building changing over time. In a slightly different direction than the Fun House, Control and Choice didn’t just offer a set of pragmatic choices for the user, but allowed for some sort of self expression, even if minimal.