The accolade recognisesd a multi-faceted, unorthodox fifty+-year career that started with aspirations to be an architect from the age of eight. The ambition never wavered. Professor Cook left his native Southend to study architecture at Bournemouth College of Art from 1953–58, then at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London where he graduated in 1960.
It was during his first job at James Cubitt & Partners that Professor Cook co-founded Archigram with five other architectural young bloods. Initially a magazine discussing revolutionary ways of thinking about architecture, the group soon developed experimental projects that were exhibited worldwide and proved seminal. Within the group he was ‘the talkative one’ who enjoyed conveying concepts through cartoons rather than academic-style essays.
Professor Cook revelled in drawing analogies between people’s quirks and the unexpected possibilities of their environment. Archigram’s many iconic projects explored pop culture and emerging technologies and were predicated on the rationale of fun and pleasure as ends in themselves. Among the best known are Walking City, a self-contained pod of urban elements; Suitaloon, a garment that converts into a dwelling; and Blow-out Village, an entire temporary city inflated by a hovercraft.
In 1970 Professor Cook became director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the venue for Archigram’s début exhibition ‘Living City’ seven years earlier. He held the position for two years, then moved on to direct the independent gallery Art Net until 1980.
From his earliest career Professor Cook has been an enthusiastic, self-confessed ‘maverick’ communicator of innovative approaches to architecture, placing an equal emphasis on the teaching and practice of architecture. At the age of 27 he returned to the Architectural Association to teach and went on to become an internationally renowned academic. He was made Life Professor of the Frankfurt Staedelschule (Art Academy) in 1984 in recognition of the way in which he raised its architectural profile, an achievement that he repeated on joining the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture in 1990.
“I think on my feet,” explains Professor Cook. “The trick is to go in knowing your business and ask the punters – the students – what they think. I spent weeks gathering opinions and I had a lot of support from the planners. Then I just kept moving – the hardest thing is to keep your momentum, but I’m glad to say that the standard of work is still tremendously high and widely regarded.”
Professor Cook has won several international competitions for social housing, an entertainment centre, solar-energised housing, an information museum, a museum of antiquities and the Kunsthaus – a modern art museum in Graz, Austria. The latter project won him a shortlisting with Colin Fournier for the Stirling Prize in 2004, two years after Archigram received the Royal Gold Medal for architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architecture.
“It’s important that you can be recognised for doing valuable work without having to build lots of big buildings, rather for being a maverick creative academic.”
A visionary who describes his style as “lyrical, technical, mechanical, even slightly gothic”, Professor Cook is driven on by a belief that “there’s room for improvement and the application of ideas in almost every situation.” The future of architecture can only move forward if the young are enthused, he says, and unsurprisingly he cites the achievements of former students as his greatest source of satisfaction
Archigram mixed Pop Art’s fascination with found objects with emerging technical possibilities to imagine an architecture where the necessary guts of a building determined its imagery. The influence on buildings like Piano + Rogers’ Pompidou Centre was obvious, though several Archigram members declared themselves disappointed that it didn’t move. Transience and impermanence were other interests, and although the Kunsthaus is a large and permanent structure, it has the possibility of almost endless redefinition through a varied exhibition programme.
With the flamboyance of a showman, Cook turns his fascination with “the puzzlement of the strange thing” into spectacles. As an art-impresario at the ICA and Art Net, he introduced new ideas and people to London audiences, and stimulated discussions about the nature of art and contemporary culture which has a modern counterpart in the RA Forum. His drawings at Archigram and since have captivated people with their depictions of an architecture freed from conventions of style and construction, and students who came under his influence include Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas. Discussion and collaboration lie at the heart of his creative practice, and he is an articulate advocate of cross fertilisation between architectural schools and offices. “Before it is too late, let’s get the creative architects back into schools.”
As professor of architecture at the Bartlett School, part of UCL since 1990, he brought in staff and attracted students from across the world, turning an academically solid school into a leading centre of creative design. London, he announced, was now a centre for “concepts, metaphors, images and design”. Before that he was long associated with the Architectural Association in London, where he had completed his studies after starting at the Bournemouth College of Art. He was also a professor at Frankfurt’s Stadelschule from 1984-2002 and visiting professor at various universities across the world.
Further information related to Peter Cook:
Link to timelapse video of construction of CRAB Studio's - Drawing Studio at Arts University Bournemouth