Michael Webb. Furniture Manufacturers Association Headquarters, project, High Wycombe, England, Side elevation. 1957-58

Michael Webb Furniture Manufacturers Association Headquarters, project, High Wycombe, England, Side elevation 1957-58

  • Not on view

Michael Webb was one of the founding members of Archigram, the radical architecture group that dominated the British design scene during the 1960s and early 1970s. The group has proven prescient: the fluid, mobile cities plugged into worldwide communications networks that they imagined in the 1960s were in many respects realized before the end of the century.

This drawing predates the group's founding, in 1960—Webb produced it while he was still a student at London's Regent Street Polytechnic. Other drawings for the project were featured in the Museum's Visionary Architecture exhibition of 1960, which examined a group of extraordinary futuristic designs, ranging from studies well into the developmental phase to outright fantasies and imaginings. The technical aspects of the Furniture Manufacturers Association Headquarters, and specifically the use of precast concrete, were central to the building's design, which was motivated by Webb's interest in the work of the Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. The lower floors were to hold the association's offices and an auditorium, at left, poised and cantilevered by a ramp; the spaces on the upper floors were to be leased out to various companies. Wherever feasible, the offices were to be precast-concrete cells, to be hoisted by crane and inserted into a skeleton frame. The careful articulation of the tubular passageways and elevator shafts and the bulbous auditorium provides a contrast to the orthogonal forms of the offices and showrooms and clearly anticipates Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers's Centre Pompidou, Paris, designed over a decade later.

Publication excerpt from Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 118.
Additional text

Michael Webb, who became a founding member of Archigram, the radical British architectural collaborative, designed the Furniture Manufacturers Association Headquarters as a fourth-year studio project at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture in London. He was influenced by the organic forms of Frederick Kiesler and John Johansen, and by the atmosphere of nonconformity prevalent among his fellow students. The unrealized biomorphic structure is divided horizontally into three different programmatic zones: the lower, a furniture showroom; the middle, administrative offices; and the top, rental office space. The bulbous form visible to the left in the side elevation was to be a freestanding lecture theater. The eminent architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the project for a BBC radio audience as, "A lot of stomachs sitting together on a plate, connected by bits of gristle."

Publication excerpt from an essay by Bevin Cline and Tina di Carlo, in Terence Riley, ed., The Changing of the Avant-Garde: Visionary Architectural Drawings from the Howard Gilman Collection, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 38.
Medium
Graphite and ink on tracing paper mounted on board
Dimensions
23 1/2 x 32" (59.7 x 81.3 cm)
Credit
Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation
Object number
1316.2000
Copyright
© 2022 Michael Webb
Department
Architecture and Design
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