Just to be clear, I am not reviewing a book about myself. Rather, it’s a visual monograph of another Michael Webb, a founding member of Archigram, who was born in England four months before me, moved to the US four years sooner, and launched a 50-year career teaching at leading Eastern schools. He draws, I write, and we live on opposite coasts. Despite that, almost every architect I meet around the world supposes that I am he, and asks me about Archigram. I recall Arata Isozaki introducing me to some of his protegés in Tokyo in 1980. When he pronounced the magic name, they bowed as deeply as if they had encountered the Emperor. They venerated this legend as a paper architect who retained his integrity by not building. The students of SCI-Arc were less respectful; they departed en masse from a lecture Webb gave—something to do with a “kinky” photograph of a boat race on the Thames.
Archigram was a characteristic product of the 1960s, half pop, half cyberpunk; inspired by comics and utopian fantasies; proposing iconoclastic visions of the future in an implied critique of a staid establishment. It was a decade of rebellion, and the movement (plus its scrappy publication) might easily have been forgotten. Instead it has been resurrected and fetishized in books and exhibitions. Webb was one of six merry pranksters, sketching a drive-in house, Sin Palace (a thesis project that broke every rule), and a portable, inflatable living environment he called a cushicle. Unlike his peers, he went on drawing, revisiting old projects and finding new themes to explore.
The drawings are technically accomplished and display a lively imagination—though they pale beside those of Zaha Hadid and Lebbeus Woods. Four academic essays—by Kenneth Frampton, Michael Sorkin, Mark Wigley, and Woods—labor to invest them with significance, employing the highest grade of arch-speak. The book seems to have been crowd-sourced by around 160 individuals as well as a grant from the Graham Foundation, and—like all of Lars Müller’s publications–it is handsomely designed. Am I the only one who is unimpressed by the content?
Michael Webb Two Journeys. Edited by Ashley Simone (Lars Müller Publishers, $45)
Author: Michael Webb
Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.