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The Potteries Thinkbelt

The Fun Palace helped to establish Cedric Price as one of Britain's brightest and most innovative young architects. Although most of the early Fun Palace publicity largely focused on Joan Littlewood,

this was because at the outset of the project in 1961,

relatively unknown. By the time of the demise of the Fun Palace project, certain members of the press had begun to refer to him as "Mr Cedric Price, known for his work on the planned South London Fun Palace".1 By 1966, through his many meetings and contacts while working on the Fun Palace, Price had become well-known and respected within the British architectural avant-garde, and the powerful elite in both government and society. Price's experience with the Fun Palace project, and especially his collaboration with Littlewood and a small army of consultants, also served to broaden his understanding of the scope of architecture and what it might accomplish on a larger social scale. His earlier designs had utilised some of the principles of interchangeability and indeterminacy that came to characterise the Fun Palace, but

most of these early works, such as the Mostyn Bar or the London Aviary, were relatively modest in both scope and scale. Moreover, none had engaged the larger ethical, social, and political issues he encountered in the Fun Pal ace. Ce rtainly his close friendship with Littlewood had done a great deal to expand his already keen sensitivity to social and political issues. Her lifelong commitment to theatre as social and political catalyst paralleled Price's own growing sense of architecture as a social means rather than a formal, and perhaps even architectural, end in itself. Price had equally come to share Buckminster Fuller's broad vision of the architect as world planner and social engineer. Pulitzer Prize winner, architecture critic Allan Temko, wrote to him: "It always


scale planning of any architect I met in England, and I wonder if someone has given you a crack at some big problems ."2 Ju st as the Fun Palace began to face growing oppo sition in London, Price found his chance to address some of the biggest problems fa cing Britain with his next project, the Potteries Thinkbelt. Price was, of course, not the only architect at the time to be thinking big. However, unlike the improbable and impractical (but intriguing) schemes that Archigram or Nieuwenhuys were proposing for walking cities or cities in the air, Price's large-scale proposals were eminently practicable and well within the range of the possible. Price carefully researched and designed every aspect of the Potteries Thinkbelt, by far his grandest scheme, and it could easily have been built had the political will and courage existed to pursue the project.

Where the Fun Palace was a testing ground for Price's ideas, the Potteries Thinkbelt marked a maturation of his understanding of architecture. Here, he fully mobilised his theories of architectural indeterminacy to address the most critical issues facing Britain at the time. There are clearly similarities between the two projects, especially with regard to their incorporation of cybernetically

he was

to me that you had the soundest ideas conc erning large ­

194 The Architecture of Cedric Price

o o n t r o l l e d interaction and strong social objectives.

oontrolled interaction and strong social objectives. Like the Fun I 111lace, the Potteries Thinkbelt was not an expressive or symbolic

I 111 llding, but an interactive device in which the subj ect could 1 1 ndergo a transformation. In the case of the Fun Palace, this was nn escape from everyday routine into self-discovery and individual l\1lfilment. At the Potteries Thinkbelt, the transformation would l>o more explic itly educational, and aimed at equip ping subj ects with specific and practical knowledge. In the same way that I.he Fun Palace posed alternatives to institutionalised culture In the Welfare State, so the Potteries Thinkbelt challenged I nstitutionalised education in post-war Britain. Rooted in the socialist ideologies of the Welfare State, the 11rchitecture of the Potteries Thinkbelt suggested visionary models for housing, education, industry, and architecture for post-imperial, post-industrial England. The project called for the oonversion of a vast wasteland of Britain's once-thriving industrial heartland into a 174 square kilometre High-Tech think-tank. Price's proposal recuperated derelict industrial sites and railways u.s the basic infrastructure for a new school where unemployed British workers could study and practice science and technology, nubjects largely ignored by the English universities at the time. Both the Fun Palace and Potteries Thinkbelt exhibit Price's npproach of a responsive, anticipatory architecture, adaptable Lo the varying needs and desires of the individual and of society. Price felt that since Britain's future could not be predicted, the lbrms and programmes of the Fun Palace and Potteries Thinkbelt had to be continuously adaptable, acknowledging change and Indeterminacy in a continuously evolving process. The Thinkbelt was not a building or a monument, but an interactive network. l�ike the Fun Palace, its design was rooted in the cybernetic and game theory principles of Norbert Wiener and John van Neumann. I ts constantly changing form was both controlled by and derived from emergent computer and information technologies. This technologically-oriented architecture was Price's alternative to the New Empiricist emphasis on the picturesque and English tradition, �md the Independent Group's preoccupation with the ad hoc Imagery and patterns of everyday culture. The planning of the Potteries Thinkbelt coincided with Britain's disastrous 'Brain Drain' era of the 1960s, when lack of technical oducation and employment opportunities drove thousands of British scientists and engineers to emigrate to Europe and North America. Between 1951 and 1965, the need for semi-skilled and unskilled workers in Britain steadily decreased, while the

demand fo r

schools and colleges failed to provide adequate technical training tor new workers and technologists. Despite the promises of post-war educational reform, higher education in Britain was still largely associated with prestige, high social class, and the classics. Pure science and research were privileged over technical oducation and applied science, even in the more populist 'redbrick'

skilled technicians rose sharply. 3 However, British

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 195

in the more populist 'redbrick' skilled technicians rose sharply. 3 However, British The Potteries Thlnkbelt 195

universities that sprang up in the post-war years. British industry also failed to keep pace with global trends towards automation and computerisation, and were slow to adopt new technologies. While the British government poured millions of pounds into efforts to

revive obsolete industries, Price envisioned a wholesale conversion of England's rusting infrastructure into an industry of technical education and scientific research focusing on practical applications. He coined the term 'Thinkbelt' to describe the regional scale of the project and its educational orientation. Price hoped that the Potteries Thinkbelt would help to break down the traditional wall between pure and applied science and technology, lure scientists and technologists back to Britain, and help to situate the nation at the forefront of advanced technologies.4 During the development of the project, there was no large cadre of experts, consultants, and volunteers, as there had been fo r the Fun Palace. Price designed the Thinkbelt more or less single­ handedly, although his long-time architectural assistant Stephen Mullin helped produce the final drawings. However, Price did refine his ideas for the project by discussion and correspondence with a number of people. By this time, he had become close friends with Littlewood, and while she did not collaborate with him on the Thinkbelt, she did offe r advice. Reyner Banham's docto ral advisor, Nikolaus Pevsner, also made suggestions and comments on the project proposal. Post-war Britain faced crises that encompassed national and global identity, social and class structures, and the future of British industry and its economy. One of the most urgent debates in Britain in the early 1960s concerned how to prepare for the new windfall of leisure time that was expected to affect the working classes. Assuming a continued commitment to full employment (a fair assumption given the original aims of the Welfare State), many experts concluded that increased workplace automation would lead to shorter working hours and more fr ee time fo r workers. 5 But they also realised that automation and new technologies of production would also require new kinds of worker, better educated and more

flexible than their fo rerunners of a century

Ideas ab out how best to use the new fr ee time specific ally fo r the purposes of education had provided the primary inspiration fo r the Fun Palace. Far fr om being a carnival of spe ctacle and mindless diversion, Littlewood and Price had intended the Fun Palace to empower and enhance the lives of those most likely to be disenfranchised and out of work due to the transformations in the po st-war British economy. In the Fun Palac e, the word 'fun' was essentially a trope for new creative and constructive uses of fr ee time, designed to educate and prepare the average person for success in the rapidly changing social, economic, and technological landscapes of Britain. For, although the project emphasised leisure and recreation, its principle function was to provide self-guided educational opportunities suited to the needs and abilities of the individual. As an alternative educational model, the Fun Palace


196 The Architecture of Cedric Price

1 10Hed a significant challenge not only to traditional culture, but ' " 1 the

1 10Hed a significant challenge not only to traditional culture, but '" 1 the highly regimented and elitist British system of education 1.t 1at had existed fo r centurie s. With the Potteries Thinkbelt, I '1•lce presented an even more radical and visionary educational nlternative for the nation. Britain's problems of unemployment and industrial decline In the 1960s were exacerbated by a failure to keep pace with 1m increasingly competitive and technologically sophisticated world market. Having won two world wars, Britain was suffering defeat on the industrial battlefield. The British government had l l'onically developed a conservatively 'anti-enterprise' culture that 1 1ermeated business and education, and resisted technological rnodernisation and industrial transformation.6 Between 1951 and 1964, Britain's economy grew two or three per cent annually-far slower than the rest of the developed world. During the same period, industrial growth occurred three times faster in France than in Britain, four times faster in Ger many, nnd ten times fa ster in Japan, while Britain's share of the world market was reduced by half.7 Between 1951 and 1965, with the decrease in semi-skilled and unskilled workers and the demand fbr skilled technicians rising, British schools and colleges were nevertheless unable to provide the adequate technical education t.o train new workers and technologists. The Labour government of the early post-war years tended to view technical schools with suspicion and regarded traditional grammar schools as the preferred means of rapid social advancement fo r their working class constituent s. Subsequent Conservative governments emphasised working class education as an economic ladder towards the middle class, rather than as a means oftraining a technical class.8 For those who made it to grammar school, scientific education tended to focus on pure, theoretical science, rather than on the industrial applications of science. Such elitist attitudes continued to impede the development of technical education in England throughout the 1950s and 60s. At the same time, higher education was asso ciated with prestige, high social class, and 'useless' cultural education in the classics and literature. Technical education in applied science and engineering on the other hand, remained a far less prestigious and lower class endeavour, and received little attention. These lingering attitudes towards education in Britain privileged 'pure science' over 'technical education'. Conservative education policies of the 1950s and 60s gave little priority to scientific, technical, and managerial education. Although educational authorities acknowledged a correlation between education and national economic development, they remained oddly sc eptical about the relevance of technical and scientific education to industrial progress. A dissonance developed between the mandate of new universities to boost economic development and any realistic impact on the British economy.

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 197

In the early 1960s, the Universities Grants Commission also steered funding away from technical education and towards

traditional liberal arts . When the

Teaching Project opened in 1962, it offered curricula in theoretical

and pure science rather than in applied science, technology, and engineering. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the economic miracle of the Industrial Revolution in Britain had attracted scientists and engineers from less developed countries. By the mid-twentieth century, that trend had reversed. A trickle in the early 19 50s, the Brain Drain grew to a flood in the early 1960s, drawing off the elite of British science and technology. In 1952, roughly six per cent of new PhD scientists, engineers, and technologists emigrated, most to the USA. A decade later, this figure had grown to 17 per cent, and continued to rise over the fo llowing years. In the five years from 1961 to 1966, emigration of scientists, engineers and technologists nearly doubled from 3,000 to more than 6,000 annually, representing a third of annual output of scientists, engineers, and technologists. The Committee appointed to study the problem considered but ultimately rejected calls for a 'Berlin Wall' to control scientific emigration, because it was "pointless to restrict outflow when there is no domestic outlet for skills".9 The gravity of the problem was acknowledged in a 1965 House of Lords debate on education, during which Lord Aberdare criticised the persistent snobbery of British higher education:

Nuffield Foundation Science

I have a feeling that the universities

give greater importance to the arts than to the sciences, and to the academic than to the technologicaJ. There still exists

a kind of intellectuaJ snobbery that pays greater respect to the man who misquotes Horace than the man who can repair his own car. 10

are still inclined to

Price had long shown an interest in education and was directly involved in the Workers' Education movement in the North Staffordshire region. He had grown up in the area, and had followed in the footsteps of his father and his uncle, lecturing at the Workers' Education College at Barlaston Hall in Stoke­ on-Trent. During the 1960 s, Price published no fe wer than five articles on education in Britain, including several on his ambitious and far-reaching plans for the Potteries Thinkbelt.11 Price argued that the British educational system was designed to do little more than preserve the status quo, to maintain traditional class structures and divisions, and to prepare workers for already existing types of jobs. In 1968, he wrote:

Education is today little more than a method of distorting the individuaJ's [mind and behaviour] to enable him to benefit from existing sociaJ and economic patterning. Such

198 The Architecture of Cedric Price

an activity, benevolently controlled and directed by an elite can of structures it already has

an activity, benevolently controlled and directed by an elite


of structures it already has under its control.12

do little more than improve on the range and network

I 11 ·lce pointed out that

"industrial and professional education

l11Ls been aimed at the production of people equipped with skills 1 woviously recognised as necessary by their educators".13 Little p1 ·ovision was made fo r the inevitable soci al or economic changes, 1 1 or had any thought been given to how workers whose jobs had llocome obsolete might be prepared for future skills and industries .vot unforeseen. By the mid-1960s, it had become clear to Price that if Britain wore to remain competitive in an increasingly technological world, a complete rethinking of the British system of higher nducation would be required, and his experiences with the Fun I 'nlace only served to reinforce this view. Price felt that one of the 111 uJor weaknesses of the British university system was:

The lack of awareness ofboth the correct scale and intensity at which such education should occur. Present institutions are both too small and too exclusive. The present context is in danger of lacking, on the one hand, recognisable social relevance, and, on the other, the capacity to initiate progress rather than attempt to catch up with it.14

"Hocial relevance" referred to the changing demography of

lli 'ltain, "progress" to recent scientific and technological advances.

A 196 4 article fr om Th e Tim es Educational Suppl ement,

on titled "Noddyland Atmosphere? ", qu oted Price as saying t.l lo.t British universities were out of touch with current social, ooonomic and scientific conditions.15 In the same article,

I.lie reporter repeated Price's pleas for an increased role for t.oohnology and science in higher education. Dr Robert L Drew, of the University of Strathclyde, later vnlidated Price's clear sense of the technological shortcomings 1 if British higher education. As he worked on the Thinkbelt, I 'Plce corresponded extensively with Drew on the role of science ILlld technology in higher education. In a 1966 article entitled " l tegional Development-With or Without Science?" (which Price 1111refully highlighted and annotated) Drew observed:

The dramatic accumulation ofwealth occurred first in Europe and We stern society generally, most largely because it was a culture favourable to the methods and approach of science and receptive to the technological manifestations

of scientific knowledge

recognition that, even within Britain there are also under­ developed regions-indeed whole areas of our national

life and institutions which have not, so far, crossed this

In spite of this, there is a dawning

science threshold. 16

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 199

Price shared Drew's valuation of the role of science in higher education. Like Drew, he felt strongly that advanced education must

be socially emancipated and classless, but must also be anticipatory

of the uncertain needs of the futur e, not just fo r

and predictable conditions. In a 1966 article on the Potteries Thinkbelt, Price wrote that "further education and re-education must be viewed as a major industrial undertaking and not as a service run by gentlemen for the few".17 Price also criticised current trends in British academic architecture, for similar reasons. In the 1964 article in The Times, Price concluded that universities should put more emphasis on applied science and technology, and worry less ab out phys ical monumentality and the architectural symbolism of academia:

ea sily fo reseeable

It is foolish to use Oxbridge buildings as models for monumental structures devoted to eating and sleeping. Residence ought to be part of the responsibility of local authoritie s. Isolation in halls of residence is not relevant either to teaching or to social considerations since students will mix with their friends, not those they happen to live near. 18

In his 1966 article, "Life Conditioning" (which accompanied the

first publication of his plans for the Potteries Thinkbelt), Price challenged architects to recognise that their true objective should not be the creation of monuments symbolising the "image of a city", but simply the provision of the means of "improvement of the quality

of life".19 Architects, he concluded, are

monuments for some distant and improbable "posterity" than with improving people's lives in the here and now, and perhaps for a while into the future. Price's critiques of education and architecture set the stage for his plans for the Potteries Thinkbelt in North Staffordshire.

Although Price considered the Potteries Thinkbelt a serious project, it was initially the casual result of a wager. Price recounted its peculiar origins, which occurred one day over lunch in 1964:

more concerned with creating

It was the result of a bet. I used to have lunch with the junior minister, Lord Kennet, then known as Wayland Young, [Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government fr om 1966 to 19 70] . We started talking ab out universities. He was responsible politically for new universities. I went on criticising them and complaining ab out new buildings in Cambridge, Brighton, and Lancaster.20

In addition to his complaints about recent academic archite cture, Price also repeated his concerns ab out the entire British higher education system to Lord Kennet. Finally, as Price explained, "Kennet got fed up with these criticisms and said, 'Why don't you tell us what we should do?' That annoyed me so much that I decided to do something."21 It was this challenge from Lord Kennet to come up with an alternative system of higher education that motivated Price

200 The Architecture of Cedric Price

to produce his plan for the Thinkbelt. He immediately thought of the North Staffordshire Potteries as the ideal site for his solution. In addition to providing badly needed advanced technical education, it would also:

take advantage of local unemployment, a stagnant local housing programme, a redundant rail network, vast areas of unused, unstable land, consisting mainly of old coal-working and clay pits, and a national need for scientists and engineers.22

Price chose the North Staffordshire Potteries as the site for his alternative to British higher education for emotional and practical

The devasted landscape of the North Staffordshire Potteries, c 1 963 Gelatin silver print I mage courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal The Potteries Thinkbelt 201

The Potteries Thinkbelt 201

202 The Architecture of Cedric Price Adderly G reen Colli ery in its heyday One
202 The Architecture of Cedric Price Adderly G reen Colli ery in its heyday One

202 The Architecture of Cedric Price


G reen

Colli ery

in its heyday

One of hu ndreds of

coalmines in North

Stafforshire, it was dosed in the 1 960s.

I mage courtesy of

North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce

An early twentieth century postcard showing hundreds of coal -fired bottle kilns In Longton Image courtesy of North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce

reasons. First, Pri ce's boyhood home was in Stone, only four miles to the south

reasons. First, Pri ce's boyhood home was in Stone, only four miles to the south of his proposed Thinkbelt. Second, he was well aware of the dire conditions in North Staffordshire and hoped to give 1mmething back to his homeland:

This area of North Staffordshire-including the Potteries and Newcastle-under-Lyme-is economically less prosperous than the rest of the region. As far as built physical environment goes, it is a disaster area-largely unchanged and uncared for since its industrial expansion throughout the nineteenth century. 2 3

Price found higher unemployment in the Potteries "than in Liverpool or Manchester, which were the two big cities on either side of the Potteries".24 Through his work on the Fun Palace, Price had established enough political contacts to obtain confidential government data showing the real extent of unemployment, population, and industrial productivity in North Staffordshir e. 'rhis data showed a 400 per cent increase in unemployment in the 20 years fr om 1943 to 1963.25 The region had poor soil and was not well suited to agriculture but had rich deposits of both high-quality coal and clay. The easy availability of coal plus the ready supply of clay had made North St affordshire a natural location fo r the production of ceramics. Up to ten tons of coal are re quired to fire each ton of clay. 26 As early as the fifteenth century, North Staffordshire was already renowned for its pottery, fired using the local, high quality 'long-flame' coal. 'I'hus, the area became known as the "Potteries". For more than 250 years, the North Staffordshire Potteries were the centre of the English ceramics industry. It was here that Josiah We dgwood and Enoch Wo od (Pric e's great-great­ grandfather) established their porcelain 'manufactories' in the early eighteenth century. By 1900, Stoke-on-Trent boasted more than 1,000 ceramics manufacturers. These included some of the most famous names in porcelain, such as Crown Staffordshire, Daulton, Minton, Spade, Wedgwood, and Wood & Sons. The Potteries also played an important role in the development of modern transportation technologies. In the eighteenth century, Josiah We dgwo od constructed a network of canals which made the transport of materials to and from the Potteries much easier. In the nineteenth century, the extensive system of canals was supplanted by railroads. By the end of the nineteenth century, the landscape of the Potteries was dotted with hundreds of ceramics factories and foundries using the latest technological innovations of the day, all connected by an intricate matrix of railway lines. Beneath the ground, coal mines extended in every possible direction. For more than two centuries the collieries and potteries of North Staffordshire thrived. A 1938 census showed 2,000 kilns in operation in Stoke-on-Trent alone, 50 per cent of the workforce

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The Potteries Thinkbelt 203

was employed in pottery making, while most of the rest worked in the coal mines. The prosperity of the North Staffordshire Potteries was entirely dependent on two related industries: coal and ceramics, and the link between pits and pots was a strong one. Like many established industries in England, the coal and ceramics industries of North Staffordshire came upon hard times after the Second World War. Britain's industrial infrastructure had become increasingly obsolete and unable to compete with the more modern industries in the United States, Europe, and Asia.27 North Staffordshire was particularly hard hit and the Potteries faced stiff competition from newer and more efficient ceramics factories in Germany and Japan. The easy success of the Potteries also contributed to its own undoing. For centuries, the local coal mines had provided cheap fuel for the kilns, but by the early twentieth century, air pollution had become a major problem. For a while, polluted air was merely tolerated as part of the landscape and even regarded as a sign of prosp erity. One pos tcard fr om the 19 30s of a particularly smoky factory town bears the caption, "The change of air soots me well at

Stoke-on-Trent: sooty skies ! ".28 However, in the post-war years, air pollution was beginning to be recognised as a serious risk to public health both within the Potteries and throughout England. For four days in December of 1952, a thick smog settled over

the city of London. This single deadly 'pea-soup' fo g

(a mixture

of fog and sulphur dioxide fr om thousands of coal fires) was responsible for an estimated 4, 000 deaths.29 The ensuing public outcry prompted the 1956 Clean Air Act, which called fo r drastic reductions in the use of coal in favour of cleaner fuels, such as natural gas from the newly discovered offshore deposits in Britain's North Sea. While the Clean Air Act helped to alleviate air pollution in British cities, it also dealt a deathblow to the North Staffordshire coal mining industry, which in turn had a devastating effe ct on the ceramics industries of the Potteri es. As the nation began to switch from coal to gas and electricity, the North Staffordshire potteries were forced to find alt ernatives to coal. In the 1960s, ten of the region's major coal mines ceased operations and left thousands of miners unemployed. The mine closures continued throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the last North Staffordshire coal mine at Silverdale shutting down in late 1998. As a result of the Clean Air Act, only a few hundred coal-fired kilns were still permitted to operate within the Potteries. Although some factories had switched to more expensive gas and electric kilns, most were fo rced to close due to rising fu el costs and foreign competition. Pottery workers were laid off by the thousands and joined the coal miners in the ranks of the unemployed. The rise and fall of the North Staffordshire Potteries recapitulates the trajectory of Britain's industrial fortunes. When it was all over, centuries of intensive manufacturing had turned the once-rustic landscape of the Potteries into a blighted

204 The Architecture of Cedric Price

An early twentieth century postcard depicting factories, potteries and collieries at Hartshill Image courtesy of North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce

Advertisement for natural gas for the ceramics industry, 1 955 Although gas was cleaner, it also proved more expensive than coal and impractical for the Potteries. Image courtesy of North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce

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The Potteries Thlnkbelt 205

industrial wasteland of ruined factories, rusting machinery, and aging rail lines. Mining had also despoiled the landscape with pit-heads and slag heaps, while miles of underground excavation had begun to produce a serious subsidence problem, in which ab andoned mine shafts would collapse, causing the ground suddenly to sink several inches. In the most extreme instances, 'sink holes' swallowed unsuspecting people and animals. Photographs ofthe area, taken by Price in the early 1960s, present a stark and depres sing wasteland of decaying fa ctories and rubbish-strewn lots. These images could easily be mistaken for the worst depredations caused by German bombs and rockets. The Labour government finally took note of the plight of the Potteries and in 1965 commissioned the West Midlands Regional Study to try to come up with a solution. The final report did little more than confu>m that the region did indeed have serious economic, industrial, and educational problems . The study was widely dismissed as useless-its data incomplete, its findings superficial and its recommendations too little, too late.30 By the mid-1960s, the great 'machine' of the Potteries-its fac tories, work fo rce, rail lines, its patterns and norms of production-could not adapt to change , and had fallen into ruin; what remained was a decrepit landscape of a failed utopian dream of science, reason, and industrial capital . The fa ctories, furnaces, and coal mines lay in shambles, but two things remained: the population of thousands of unemployed industrial workers, and a network of rail lines stretching between now vacant nodes on an industrial map whose fe atures had been erased. Ye t Price fe lt that the region still had two important resources. There remained

a vast network of roads, rail lines and factories, all of which were

under-utilised and ripe for renewal . The important resource, however, was the region's people. Price strongly believed that obsolete industries in the Potteries could not be revived, and that therefore unemployed workers needed to learn entirely new skills

fo r new job s-many of them generated by emerging post-industrial

technologies. However, he also noted the scarcity of opportunities

fo r such retraining. Within Britain, the technical colleges,

"particularly Hatfield which wasn't very big, and Manchester, which was enormous, were all bursting at the seams".31 What little advanced education there was available in the North Staffordshire area, such as the small technical college at Keele and the Worker's Education Association, was insufficient for the huge numbers of unemployed workers. Price noted as well that the Keele technical college remained aloof from the real needs of the Potteries:

The first post-war New University at Keele has shown the slowest growth of all universities (present student population approximately 1 ,000) has little contact with the area and few faculties related to the industrial content of the area.32

206 The Architecture of Cedric Price

with the area and few faculties related to the industrial content of the area.32 206 The

Price underscored the misplaced priorities of the new University of Keele, noting that:

In a letter to The Guardian, 282 students at Keele very relevantly protested at the £100,000 chapel erected at the university when in Stoke-on-Trent 'about 24,000 people are living in sub-standard housing'. It wasn't as if there was nowhere for the religious-:rrllnded to go. Yet now a university's building needs are looked on as something quite separate from the needs of the community that surrounds it.33

To Price, advanced education needed to be knitted into the social and economic fabric of the community and the region, not to remain aloof and cloistered fr om it. The Potteries Thinkbelt was not the only major plan in the works for educational reform in Britain at the time. In 1965, Prime Minister Harold Wilson made good on his election promise to establish a nationally organised correspondence school, an University of the Air, aimed primarily at technological training. In March of that year, he appointed Jennie Lee as head of the

Site Plan of the Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 965 Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

PTS= Potteries Thinkbelt To Liverpool. M1nchest•r.fM6} - PTB service roads � ITTS HILL JRANSFER AREA
PTS= Potteries Thinkbelt
To Liverpool.
PTB service roads
= other roads
- PTB service railways
other r1ilwl'(1
atations -
PTB Iii public UH
PTB uoe only
with small siding
c:::::::::J housing areH
capsule housing
housing expansion area
- lecultyare1
faculty/ industry shared 1rea
filHII transfer areas
0 Moles
To Bitmingliam lon.don (M6)
To Srafford, 81rn1ingh3m

The Potteries Thinkbelt 207

Department of Education and Science. Her intention was to turn the idea of the University of the Air into the Open University, an achievement which many people compared to the success of her late husband Aneurin Bevan's National Health Service plan. The Potteries Thinkbelt and Open University were essentially competing schemes, appealing to very similar constituencies and resources. From the outset, this greatly reduced any chance Price might have had to realise his project. Price was well aware of the plans for the Open University, and even sought the counsel of sociologist and social historian Peter Laslett, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was appointed to the Advisory Committee for the Open University in 1965. While the Fun Palace always seemed to have defied definition (a problem which contributed to its eventual demise), the programme and scope of the Potteries Thinkbelt was much more clearly defined (although the client was not). Price envisioned the project as a "higher education facility", providing scientific and technical education fo r 22, 000 student s. He coined the term "Thinkbelt" to describe the regional scale of the project as well as its educational orientation. He refused to refer to the Thinkbelt as a university because he disliked the upper class connotations of the word, complaining that universities were little more than "medieval castles with power points [electrical outlets], located in gentlemanly seclusion".34 In opposition to the traditional practice of segregation of universities, Price proposed a thorough integration of the Thinkbelt with local industries (the few that remained functional) as well as with the community at large . He also sought to break down the distinctions between practical and theoretical education and working and living. As he explained: "The PTb [Price's acronym for the Potteries Thinkbelt] is planned to break down the isolation and peculiarity associated with further education."35 Price reasoned that the student population would come fr om all over the UK because there was a national shortage of technical universities. He explained that "its size, 20,000 students, is such that its effect will be national rather than regional".36 Price's goal was to erase the traditional distinction between classical and technical education, between pure and applied science, and he was adamant that the Potteries Thinkbelt would have a deliberate "bias towards pure and applied science and engineering''.37 Computers were extremely rare in colleges and universities at the time, but Price insisted that the Potteries Thinkbelt would "make full use of technological resources (like computers) now reserved largely for activities outside the universities".38 The Potteries Thinkbelt was to be more than just a response to the critical need fo r advanced technical education in Britain at the time. Price also sought to establish the North Staffordshire Potteries as a centre of science and new technologies in the English Midlands, much as it had been during the first Industrial Revolution. He envisioned the Thinkbelt as "on a vast scale,

208 The Architecture of Cedric Price

and oriented towards science and technology: a kind of cross between Berkeley in California and a CAT [College of Advanced Technology] ".39 Again his goal was national, to help to propel England to the fo refront of technology. Recognising the rapid changes in science and technology, and the unpredictability of future architectural and educational needs, Price refined the concept ofvariable and indeterminate architecture that he had developed at the Fun Palace for the Thinkbelt. Given that post-war Britain was the site of rapidly

"changing educational, philosophical, sociological and political

ideas, as well as

flexibility to be essential to the success of the project:

economic crises",40 he considered mobility and

The proposed development is planned to enable advanced education to be undertaken in conditions taking full advantage of present day national and individual mobility. However, it is so designed to prevent its form and organisation from being restrictive in the future. A far greater mobility of students between aJl educational establishments is envisaged. This necessitates calculated 'slack' in the educational spatial capacity so planned.41

As evidence of the need for indeterminacy and flexibility, Price cited a letter to Th e Tim es written by the principal of Loughborough Training College, who concluded that since, "education is in such a state of flux-it always is-and it is so subject to the effects of changing educational, philosophical, sociological and political ideas, as well as to economic crises that it is only sensible fo r the buildings to be adaptable ".42 The Thinkbelt, Price promised, would:

replace the existing rigid age and time structuring of university occupancy with a more elastic system enabling full participation by part-time and re-education factions . The pure and applied science and engineering bias of the PTb involves an emphasis on the large flexible organisation of faculties with easy links to national networks.43

Price based this laboratory of indeterminate architecture on the cybernetic models of Norbert Wiener and the still nascent computer programs of John von Neumann, refining ideas that he had first developed fo r the Fun Palac e. The programme and physical configuration of the Thinkbelt were to be entirely fluid and capable of endless rearrangement and adaptation to future needs and conditions. Christopher Alexander, who met with Price in April 1966, was impressed by Price's design process, and particularly by his application of cybernetic analysis to break down and organise activities. In order to ensure maximum flexibility and mobility, Price utilised the derelict railway network of the vast Potteries district

The Potteries Thinkbelt 209

as the basic infrastructure for the new technical 'school'. Mobile classroom, laboratory, and residential modules would be placed on the revived railway lines and shunted around the region, to be grouped and assembled as required by current needs, and then moved and regrouped as those needs changed. Modular housing and administrative units would be assembled at various fixed points along the rail lines. Several other fe atures established the Potteries Thinkb elt as a revolutionary idea, especially for its time. It marked an alternative to the conc eption of architecture as the con struction of fr ee standing buildings to the structuring of society and the economy at large . While its sheer scale was unpr ecedented, it avoided conventional architectural gestures of monumentality. It was not a 'building', nor even truly a 'campus', but a comprehensive architectural, educational, industrial, and economic plan covering an area of more than 174 square kilometres (108 square miles). It was intended to transform not just the space of the Potteries, but every aspect of the lives lived there as well. One of the most radical aspects of Price's Thinkbelt was his concept of education as an industry, not just of industrial education. In his brief for the project, he wrote, "because advanced education is not regarded as a major national industry, it is in danger of failing to achieve both a recognisable social relevance and a capacity to initiate progress rather than an attempt to catch up with it".44 While the British government poured millions of pounds into trying to revive obsolete industries of a bygone industrial age, Price planned instead the wholesale reclamation of the rusting infrastructure of England's industrial heartland, and its conversion into a new 'industry' of education, research, and information. He believed that the entire structure and rationale of British higher education needed to be reconsidered as a new kind of industry fo r the post­ industrial epoch. If Britain was to suc ceed in this new eco nomy, it must take education seriously as a primary economic activity rather than as a secondary endeavour, subordinate to industrial production. Price argued that Britain's economic future would increasingly depend on intellectual production, technical research, and continued learning, and that students should be considered as a new type of worker. As part of his reconception of education as an industry, Price suggested that students should be properly funded and that "grants must become salaries".45 Price did not, however, believe that the 'industrialisation' of education meant that education should be standardised. There would still be enough flexibility to accommodate the varying needs of individuals. Price insisted that since "the major concern is to increase the capacity of the individual to learn throughout life, then an entirely different attitude to the conditions (and buildings) under which such learning can best take place is needed ".46 The task, he argued, would be particularly arduous in a nation like Britain, with well-established and deeply entrenched educational traditions. However, Price concluded that there was no alternative: "Learning

210 The Architecture of Cedl"ic Price

will soon become the major industry of every developing country, and those countries with established

will soon become the major industry of every developing country, and those countries with established educational systems will have to restructure most drastically their existing facilities."47 He stated that "j ust as industrial and commer cial automation is rendering various skills and operations obsolete, new methods of information storage, retrieval, comparison and computation enable the content of traditional education to be pruned".48 In his introductory remarks for a 1966 article on the Potteries Thinkbelt, which appeared in Architectural Design, Robin Middleton underscored Price's idea of education as industry:

The Potteries Thinkbelt is a seriously considered project for revitalising that area in North Staffordshire which has for generations depended for its livelihood and all sense of community on the manufacture of pottery. This industry has now become stagnant; the area a wasteland. Cedric Price's revolutionary proposal is that advanced education­ and in particular advanced technical education-should become the new prime industry.49

Price also sincerely hoped that the Thinkbelt would induce commercial development and would act as an economic catalyst. In addition to retraining workers and providing education for younger students just entering university, he hoped that his Thinkbelt would help revive the regional economy and alleviate the rising unemployment rates. Aside fr om teachers, the project would employ thousands of workers in the service and support industries and would anticipate "hitherto uncharted" areas in education, technology, and employment. The vast triangular site defined by the Potteries Thinkbelt encompassed several factory towns, the largest of these being Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent. It also included dozens of ceramics factories, or 'potteries', in addition to the

University of Keele, where he planned new laboratories for applied physics and chemistry. He envisioned a close working relation between learning and manufacturing. Mobile rail-mounted teaching and research facilities could be shunted to both new and existing manufacturing plants which were involved in work relevant to the research at hand. Students would benefit from observing and analysing traditional modes of manufacture in existing factories, while

new fa ctories could be built in technology:

to implement the

re sulting advances

Though the effect of the PTb in providing new forms of employment directly related to the complex will be of short-term benefit to the community heavily dependent on two basic, and contracting industries [coal and ceramics], the long-term value of the PTb will rest on the capacity of its research facilities to attract new industries to the area

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 211

and to reorientate and revitalise existing industries such as ceramic manufacture.50

Price repeatedly emphasised that in the Thinkbelt:

Interaction between faculties and existing industry will

be, at once, a short-term benefit to both. The links will be of

a temporary, flexible nature

with both local and national industry will demand a capacity on the part of the PTb to build and sustain experimental plants of the ty pe now confined to very large industries and state institutions.51

Long-term operational links

Here again, Price is in agreement with Dr Drew's proposal for regional centres for scientific study:

Not least, these regional science units must have , as a deliberate aim, the presentation of the results of their research, freely and openly, to the people of the region, and constantly involve them in the discussions, evaluations and choices ab out the applications of scientific knowledge and the alternative technologies and techniques by means of which their natural resources might be harnessed and developed. 52

Besides provicling a radically new 'industrial' alternative to higher education, the Thinkbelt also proposed new modes of living. Price envi sioned a new form of community, which reje cted traditional notions of central public gathering. As Robin Middleton explained in the introduction to an .Arnhi teaturaJ Design article:

Students would live all over the areas. Their dispersal would mean that they would not live within a self-conscious and artificial 'student-community' . They would be members of a whole community, living and working together. Living units, like teaching units, would be moved whenever necessary; they would be expandable and, of course, expendable. No one would be straight-jacketed into a fixed community. 53

Price saw the Thinkbelt as an opportunity for 'hot-house' research into new living patterns and typ es of housing. He felt that since students were particu larly hard on housing stock, caring little fo r maintenance and upkeep, they would make excellent subjects with which to test new construction techniques, bulleting types, and housing designs:

are very

antisocial compared with the householder, because they keep fUIUl.y hours and they don't appear to do any work. They


Students couldn't care a damn ab out maintenance

excessive production of noise at the wrong times, no

interest in dustmen or window cleaners or maintaining

their roof

These students could be the guinea pigs for

212 The Architecture of Cedric Price

prototypes for a new sort of housing because they required good sound insulation.54 Price also

prototypes for a new sort of housing because they required good sound insulation.54

Price also believed that the three to five year period of student occupancy closely approximated the probable living patterns of 1m increasingly mobile society of the future. Far from being cloistered and static, the vast and dispersed 'Phinkbelt region would be constantly in motion. Students and teaching activities would continually interact, erasing conventional boundaries between working and living. Price hoped that the olose integration of the project with the community at large would further break down the distinction between learning and living, allowing education to become a normal part of the daily life of the community:

The system by which the public is self-consciously invited to participate, on sufferance, in certain activities in existing universities will not obtain in the PTb, since the flexibility of learning equipment and methods will allow national participation by students in fields at present rigidly defined as secondary or adult education.BB

Price concluded that the Thinkbelt must be "large enough to involve the whole community and thus to make people realise that further education is not merely desirable but essential".58 His goal was to benefit the citizenry at large, not just the student population:

the subsidiary activities of the student population will enable the community as a whole to benefit from a new and specialised plant for leisure and recreation. Similarly, the information and learning facilities provided by the PTb are to be used by the whole population. 57

by the PTb are to be used by the whole population. 57 A mobile 'portal' crane

A mobile 'portal' crane used for handling large shipping containers This is the type of crane that Price planned to use in the Potteries Thinkbelt Transfer Areas to move and assemble the mobile rail modules. Image courtesy of Fruehauf

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 213

Price added that the project's mobile libraries and information centres would be: "For all the population, so you could actually improve the grain of the social infrastructure through the students being used as the excuse financially and operationally, to actually build these things, and also to test them."58 Besides the existing roads, rail lines, and the few remaining factories, the only semi-permanent elements of the Thin.kbelt were to be the three large 'Transfer Areas'. At these Transfer Areas, modular and mobile housing and teaching units could be assembled and connected by giant overhead cranes typically used in the container-based shipping industries. With these exceptions, all other elements of the Thin.kbelt were modular and mobile, capable of deployment to any given location, and then easily relocated to a new site, as required by the continually evolving programme and curriculum. Individual modular units could be combined in whatever configuration was required and then shunted off on rails to the proper site. The most northern point of the triangular site of the Thin.kbelt was at Pitts Hill, a crossroads just north of Tunstall. The second point was 13 kilometres (eight miles) to the southwest at the town of Madeley, not far fr om the University of Keele, and the third point of the triangle was at Meir, 19 kilometres (12 miles) fr om Madeley and 16 kilometres (ten miles) from Pitts Hill. These three towns not only defined the limits of the Thinkbelt, but also served as the principal Transfer Areas. The rail lines connecting the three areas

- � " / , ·� I , ./ '
" /

214 The Architecture of Cedric Price

opposite Photomontage of the M adeley Transfer Area, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 Ink on gelatin silver print Note the combination of medium load boom crane and heavy lift gantry crane, designed to provide maximum fl exibil ity in moving and assembling mobile living and teaching modules. To the left are the vast workshop sheds with office and short-term residential towers rising above. Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre


d 'Architecture/

Canad i an

Centre for

Architecture, Montreal

S ketched plan and section of a typical Transfer Area, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 964 Graphite, black and red ink, adhesive dots on wove paper 38 x 50.7 cm

I mage courtesy of

Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, M ontreal

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Diagrammatic plan and section of Madeley Transfer Area, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 965 Black ink on wove paper 35 x 88.4 cm Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Axonometric of the Madeley Transfer Area for Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 965 Diazotype on wove paper 59.5 x 84.4 cm Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

The Potteries Thinkbelt 215

were laid out radially, converging near the centre of the Thinkbelt at the rail junction at Stoke-on-Trent. The three Transfer Areas were also connected by roads, which roughly fo llow the three sides of the Thinkbelt triangle. While all Transfer Areas permitted movement and assembly of modular elements within the Thinkbelt rail and road systems, they also provided specialised connections outward to national highway, rail, and air networks. Madeley was the largest of the Transfer Areas. Price designed the area to permit easy linkage between the internal Thinkbelt rail and road systems and the national M6 motorway, and to provide "facilities for handling, assembly and construction of large scale goods and equipment". 59 There were to be two enormous enclosed workshops where the various types of mobile teaching and living modules used in the Thinkbelt could be built and maintained. Next to these huge service bays would be a series of modular offices and workspaces, similar to those Price would later design for his 1977 Inter-Action Centre in London. The Madeley Transfer Area comprised nearly 1,360,000 cubic metres of flexible space, reserving 46,450 square metres for static functions, such as storage and mechanical systems. Rising ab ove the Madeley Transfer Area would be several towers containing more than 9,290 square metres of 'hotel' type accommodation for "short and medium term visiting staff' .50 The PTb rail system extended a mile beyond Madeley into an area reserved for future housing expansion. Price envisioned the Transfer Area at Pitts Hill as a connection between the PTb and the national British Railways system. Pitts Hill provided facilities for "rapid and continuous bulk goods and personnel exchange". These would contain some 877,822 cubic metres of flexible space, with just less than 27,870 square metres of dedicated space fo r fixed equip ment. Pitts Hill was also to be equipped with a single portal crane as well as two 'travelator' conveyor belt systems fo r moving fr eight and people. There were to be no living accommodations at Pitts Hill, because of noise from the main line rail connection. The Meir Transfer Area linked the Thinkbelt network to an airfield, "providing fa cilities fo r rapid exchange of pers onnel or lightweight goods fr om PTb to national or international netwo rks".61 A third smaller than Pitts Hill, Meir included approximately 566,337 cubic metres of variable, flexible space and 33,445 square metres for fixed and dedicated uses. Goods and mobile teaching would be handled by three types of cranes: portal, monorail, and mobile (road-based) cranes, as well as by forklifts . These cranes also serviced the 1,115 square metres of single-floor living accommodations for students and staff, providing easy access across movable bridges and gantries to mobile rail-based laboratory units and other portable enclosures. In addition to the Transfer Areas, there were to be four 'Faculty Areas' or teaching nodes within the Thinkbelt, located alongside the rail lines at Silverdale, Hanley, Tunstall/Pitts Hill, and Fenton/ Longton. At these Faculty Areas, mobile rail-mounted teaching

216 The Architecture of Cedric Price

Diagrammatic plan and sections of Pitts Hill Transfer Area, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 964 Coloured inks on wove paper

25.5 x 19 cm

Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

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The Potteries Thlnkbelt




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218 The Architecture of Cedric


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units could be parked in rail sidings. The number, corrfl.guration, size, and length of time

units could be parked in rail sidings. The number, corrfl.guration, size, and length of time that units might be at any of the fo ur locations would depend on the need for them at any given time. The Fenton/ Longton Faculty Area was the largest, covering more than 7, 432 square metres, followed by Tunstall/Pitts Hill with 6,225 square metres. The smallest (though still quite substantial) was the 4,924 square metre Faculty Area at Silverdale. Price also proposed secondary teaching areas, which he called 'Faculty Sidings ', at Hanley and Silverdale . At these sites, mobile units could be temporarily stationed adja cent to factories and other industrial facilities. These areas permitted the all-important coordination between industry and the Thinkbelt research and educational activities. In addition, there were seven small 'mini­ siding' areas at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hanley, Cobridge, Burslem, Tunstall and Normacott, where mobile self-teaching units and computerised information storage units could be parked as needed. Price designed six types of mobile, rail-based units to roam the rail lines of the Thinkbelt:

1. 'Rail.bus' coaches designed to shuttle students to and

fr om various points within the Thinkbelt.

Diagrammatic plan and sections of Pitts Hiii Transfer Area, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 964 Black, blue and red ink on wove paper

25 x

19 cm

I mage courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, M ontreal

2. Seminar units, used either in conjunction with normal

Rail.bus services, or in separate services with long stops

of scheduled duration at PTb stations, or parked at small

Faculty Sidings, providing random discussion opportunities

or scheduled televised lectures to student areas.

3. Self-teach carrel units used in conjunction with closed

or open circuit TV transmission or linked information

and program storage units.

4. Information, computerised data and equipment

storage units.

5. Fold-out, inflatable units. Once in place, the sides would

flip down, extending the unit to a width of 24 feet,

over which a large dome would inflate. Hydraulic levelling

jacks would then be deployed to level and stabilise the

entire unit. These units provided either two orthodox 30

person lecture areas or one demonstration or television

studio area, linked by cable and wireless transmission to

information and equipment stores.

6. Fold-out decking units. Up to three of these units could be

parked side-by-side on parallel tracks, and connected

into a single 24 foot wide deck or platform. Like the fold-out

inflatable units, these also used hydraulic levelling devices

for stability. They could be used either for 'access to other

units, or as support for specialised or fine-control [controlled

envi ronment] rigid enclosures positioned on units by

mobile crane ' . 62

Some of these units, such as the railbuses, were self-propelled, with scheduled service of class length between stops so that students

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 219

could literally learn 'on the move'. Classroom and laboratory trains could be linked to form larger units. The largest lecture­ demonstration units spanned three parallel rail lines and came equipped with fo ld-out floor decks and inflatable wall s. Pric e's highly detailed drawings for each mobile unit type even indicate the size and location of cloakrooms. Price clearly identified mobility as both mechanism and metaphor for the changing nature of education within post-industrial society. While to day' s networked technologies do not require such physical mobility, the PTb transport system would have provided important links to factories and other fixed sites in the region. Price outlined 19 different housing areas in the Thinkbelt, utilising four basic types: capsule, sprawl, crate, and battery. In all, there were to be 32, 000 living units, although this number could be increased in the 'housing expansion areas' reserved for future growth. Like the mobile teaching units in the Thinkbelt, the housing units could be moved around and rearranged by cranes and rail as the programme changed over time. For each of the housing types, Price designed kitchen and bathroom modules which were carefully detailed in large-scale drawings. He delineated the mechanical requirements for all

Diagrams of typical Faculty Sidings, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 Black ink, adhesive screentone sheet on wove paper

3 2.9 x 86.2 cm

I mage courtesy of

Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Diagrammatic plans of rail based units, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 Black ink, graphite on wove paper

32.4 x 87 cm

I mage courtesy of

Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre


Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

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220 The Architecture of Cedric Price

types of bodily needs, from full immersion baths to showers and toilet types. He went

types of bodily needs, from full immersion baths to showers and toilet types. He went so far as to determine the mechanical requirements for each unit, as well as the pipe diameters and required rates of water flow and pressure for entire housing areas. During the planning of the project, Price met regularly with engineer Frank Newby to develop the structural systems required fo r each of the housing areas, as well as for the faculty and transfer areas. His meticulous drawings indicate details and methods of assembly, which even today could readily be used to construct the housing units. The 'capsule' housing type was comprised of small units stacked in staggered linear layers along steeply sloping sites, allowing good views. These units could be utilised in sites too steep for conventional housing. For each unit in this housing type, Price designed a rectilinear framework into which various types of panels could be installed. Occupants could choose from various panel options, depending on their needs for privacy, light, View, ventilation, or access. For example, they had a choice of five types of doors, ranging from solid, to glazed and ventilated. They could also create residences of various sizes, since capsule units could be used singly as small, single-bedroom

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Typical housing units, Potteries Thlnkbelt, 1 965 Black ink on wove paper 32 x 44.lcm Each unit consists of four zones:

I. A 'dry' area for living and working (requiring no mechanical services)

2. A 'wet' area for

bathrooms and

kitchens (requiring

mechanical services)

3. Sleeping areas,

requiring sound insulation 4. An exterior envelope permitting various degrees of privacy, acoustic insulation, views, ventilation and passage Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Capsule housing, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 Black ink on wove paper 32.4 x 44 cm Located on sloping sites, Capsule housing units take advantage of the topography and views while permitting privacy for their users. Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Archltecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

The Potteries Thinkbelt 221

units, or combined to form larger family apartments for married students. Price designated Capsule housing for four locations:

Silverdale, Tunstall, Normacott, and Meir. 'Sprawl' housing consisted of clusters of small units equipped with hydraulically controlled adjustable legs to permit their use on any grolllld condition. Price designed two configurations for the Sprawl llllits: large circular layouts with the focal point towards the interior of the circle and large 'Y' shaped layouts which could fit around existing buildings or topograph y. The Sprawl units were intended for use in areas with uneven ground and unpleasant external views. Price thought this type would be appropriate for nine locations: Silverdale, Etruria, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Longton, and Normacott. 'Crate' housing somewhat predated a hybrid of Le Corbusier's 1953 Unite d'Habitation and Moshie Safdie's 1967 Montreal Habitat. These consisted of modular units plugged into a large, high-rise framework raised on pilotis. The individual housing units were arranged in staggered layers, permitting excellent views and were to be used at the perimeter of the Thinkbelt to help define the edges of the region. Each unit was supplied with its own plumbing and electrical service. Heating and cooling however were provided within the overall frame enclosing the units, eliminating the need for such systems within the individual living units. The size and weight of Crate housing made them impractical for use on lllleven or lUlStable grolllld, but Price folUld suitable locations at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Burslem, Cobridge, Stoke, Longton, Normacott, and Meir. 'Battery' housing was similar to Crate housing, but was low­ rise and designed for use in the most problematic areas with uneven grolUld or where the ground was prone to subsidence and might suddenly sink several inches. Like the Sprawl units, Battery housing units were equipped with hydraulically controlled adjustable legs to permit their use on any ground condition. Battery housing was horizontally expansive, incorporating large, open-air promenades, and the possibility of rooftop parking in some variants. Price planned to use Battery housing in nine locations at Newcastle-lUlder-Lyme, Burslem, Cobridge, Hanley, Stoke, Longton, and Normacott. Price was quite serious about the practicalities of actually building the Thinkbelt. He met repeatedly with British Rail officials to discuss weight and size limitations in order to determine the maximum sizes of the Thinkbelt's rail-based mobile units. Price also sought the advice of engineer Frank Newby, as well as mechanical and electrical engineers, quantity surveyors to estimate construction and equipment costs, and even catering consultants to determine how to feed the population.63 Price estimated that work could begin within nine months and that the Thinkbelt could be operational within two years, although final completion would take five years. He calculated that the

222 The Architecture of Cedric Price

Thinkbelt would cost an estimated 80 to 90 million pounds. Price also compiled the detailed environmental data on the Potteries which was needed to make the Thinkbelt a practical reality. In March 1965, Price wrote to the National Coal Board requesting data on ground subsidence rates in the Potteries. With this data in hand, Price was able to work with Newby to design structures which could withstand sudden changes in ground level. Price also produced charts of the short-term and long-term use and life cycles for each of the Thinkbelt elements. These diagrams indicated the probable duration that any given unit would be used in a specific location, while also projecting the useful life of the unit before it would be dismantled and recycled. Although Price had carefully considered every possible aspect of the project, the Thinkbelt was still uncharted territory, filled with unknowns and uncertainties.














Cut-away axonometric view of crate housing,

Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966

-.-·-- Black ink on wove paper

- i : _- .:
i : _-

32.4 x 87.4 cm

Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Archltecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal









1W ,

b 4173

Diagrammatic elevations and plans of battery housing, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 Black ink on wove paper

34.2 x 44.S cm

Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 223

In the Fun PaJace he had proposed using two enormous travelling gantry cranes to move modular building elements around the overaJl structure. Almost a decade later at the Inter­ Action Centre, Price would utilise ready-made modular containers to create plug-in spaces for offices and restroom facilities. For the Thinkbelt, he proposed large portaJ cranes to transfer prefabricated dwelling and teaching units from tractor trailers to rail-based flat cars. He had become interested in the technologies involved in handling modular materials, especiaJly the use of gigantic cranes to move large prefabricated shipping containers to and from trucks, trains, and ocean-going ships. In February 1965, he met with engineers and technicians fr om the Fruehauf Crane and Container Co mp any, to discuss the fe asibility of using such materiaJ-handling technologies in the Thinkbelt. Clearly, Price wanted to do more than just think about the Thinkbelt: he wanted to build it. In 1967, Reyner Banham praised Price's application of these new modular-shipping technologies in the Potteries Thinkbelt as an example of the 'container revolution'. In an article entitled

Chart of life span and use cycle, Potteries Thinkbelt, 1 966 D iazotype with graphite inscriptions on wove paper 60 x 84.5 cm Image courtesy of Cedric Price Fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Archi tecture, M ontreal

I . f I - j I , I I I I ' I '

224 The Architecture of Cedric Price

"Flatscape with Containers" in New Society Banham considered the implications of the new technologies of 'containerised' shipping. 64 Banham observed that materials were now shipped in sealed, weather-tight containers, and that warehouses were no longer required to shelter the goods in transit. Banham believed that this had important implications for architecture , and eliminated the need for permanent 'buildings' in favour of flexible and movable modular construction. He enthusiastically described buildings at the new container shipping ports:

roofed volumes with side enclosures


seem to

grow naturally as light shells unencumbered by massive masonry or cultural pretensions. In a portscape where corrugated asbestos and ribbed aluminium sheet are not cheap substitutes but the very stuff of building, a brick looks as pompous as rusticated masonry does elsewhere (the passenger hall at Tilbury [one of the largest container shipping ports], with its coats of arms and barrel vaults, would look pompous anywhere, and attains a positively nightmarish quality there) . And these shed shells, stiff tents almost, can be perfectly adequately designed by engineers without any interference from architects, and usually are. 6 5

Despite his enthusiasm for the architectural potential presented by the modular units and cranes of the new shipping methods, Banham doubted that architects, even the renegades of Archigram, could effectively utilise these new technologies. However, he mentioned one exception: "The only architect who might, in fact, is Cedric Price, who applied container technology near enough to university teaching in his Thinkbelt project."66 Price was adamant that the Thinkbelt could and would be realised, if he could just garner enough support for it. He was determined not to make the same mistakes as had been made with the ill-fated Fun Palac e, for, by this time (e arly 1966), Price was coming to grips with the fact that the Fun Palace project was doomed. When the opportunity to develop the Potteries Thinkbelt came along in 1964, Price's spirits lifted considerably, since he was confident that the Thinkbelt would not encounter the kind

of bureaucratic and political resistance

It was perhaps understandable that the British government might dismiss a leisure 'palace' devoted to 'fun' and frivolity, but surely, given the dire conditions of Briti sh te chnical education and industry, the Thinkbelt would be a welcome solution to the crisis. Through the Fun Palace experience, Price had become much more media-savvy, and began to publicise his Potteries Thinkbelt proposal, even before its completion in early 1966. In late 1965, he had already written to JM Richards, editor of The Architectural Review, ab out the project. Richards was interested, but would not be ab le to publish it until August 1966. Price fe lt that time was of the essence (because of the competing Open University) , and that to

that the Fun Palace had.

The Potteries Thinkbelt 225

delay publication more than six months would greatly reduce the effectiveness of his Thinkbelt proposal. In January 1966, he wrote to Richards to decline publication in The Archi tec tural Review. Price completed the Potteries Thinkbelt proposal in February 1966. The newspapers began to take notice almost immediately. On 10 April 1966, Th e Sun day Ti mes published "A Sidings Think­ belt for 20,000 Students", praising Price's Thinkbelt as "the latest, and surely the most original, response to the country' s need for more higher education".67 The article called it an "academic nirvana, planned to the last piece of railway rolling-stock", and went on to say that:

Laboratories for the mere simulation of scientific truth would be out. Real factories, producing real contributions to the white-hot technological revolution, would be in The Belt would take seven years to construct, and cost

about 80 million the motto.66

Mobility and impermanence would be

The following day, Th e Daily Mail published an article on the Thinkbelt entitled "Seats of Learning in Rail Coaches":

The report is the result of two years' research in the Stoke­ on-Trent area by a 31 -year-old architect with a contempt for traditional and new universities. Mr Cedric Price, known for his work on the planned South London Fun Palace said yesterday at his London office: 'Universities today are like something out of Noddyland. They are Greek monasteries with a tired country club atmosphere . I started the research as a technical exercise and because I thought such a scheme was necessary.' Students would use existing and modified facilitie s in railway sidings . There would be mobile lecture rooms in specially designed railway coaches, which could be shunted to factories for practical study of day-to-day methods. The scheme would cost ab out 80 million, and take seven years to become fully operational. 'New universities are basically the same medieval piles', said Mr Price. 'It is time we tried something else.'69

Price compiled a distribution list for the final Thinkbelt proposal which included Lord Kennet who, after Labour won the 1964 elections, was appointed junior minister at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He also sent copies to Christopher Alexander, Stanford Anderson, Reyner Banham, Alvin Boyarski, Buckminster Fuller, Royston Landau, Peter Laslett, Joan Littlewood, Frank Newby, Nicholas Pevsner,

Th e Evening Standard, New Society, and to Robin Middleton at Architectural Design.

In June 1966, Price met with Middleton, who was on the editorial staff of Architectural Design, to discuss publication of

116 The Architecture of Cedric Price

the Potteries Thinkbelt. In retrospect, Price doubted that the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Monica Pidgeon, would have been interested in publishing the project, since she might have

considered it a flight of fancy. However, Pidgeon was away, and fortunately Middleton was in charge . He was enthusiastic, and agreed to run "PTb: Life Conditioning" in the October issue of the magazine. Probably due to Banham's influence, New Society also carried Price's Potteries Thinkbelt proposal in their 2 June 1966 issue, although the drawings and text were simplified for the predominately non-architectural readership of the magazine. Price also published a greatly condensed version of the text of the


friend Ellis Hillman, a Labour member of the GLC.70 From MIT, Stanford Anderson wrote to Price, requesting a copy

of the Thinkbelt proposal. Price reported that Kenneth Frampton

al so obtained a copy for the Avery Library at Columbia Unive rsity.

Price wrote to the Stoke-on-Trent City library to ask if they might be interested in purchasing a copy of the proposal.When the head

librarian wrote back to say that there were not enough funds to

buy the plans, Price sent them a copy anyway, at no cost. Requests

fo r plans also came in fr om the Polytechnic College of Archit ecture

and Advanc ed Building Technology, and the North Staffordshire Workers' Educational Association. In addition, Price received a letter from an administrator at the University of Keele, asking for

a copy of the Thinkbelt proposal:

propo sal in Essays in Local Government, edited by his

I read with interest in Th e Sunday

for a 'Think-belt'. Ifyou have fuller details I would be grateful

for a sight of a copy. The press report makes no mention of any connection between the scheme and Keele, and I hope this is not because you think that Keele is 'too attached to medieval origins'! 71

Ti.m es ab out your scheme

The publication of Pric e's Thinkbelt plans began to attract the attention of architects as well. Architect Richard Sheppard wrote to Price to say:

I have read an account of your proposals for scrapping British

Railways and turning them into universities instead. I found it fascinating, practical, salutary and funny-the self importance

of the academic mind would never rec over fr om this blow. 72

Critics began to discuss the Thinkbelt, and the reviews were mixed. The project's challenge to the role of symbolic and fixed buildings in architecture was one area of contention. A year after the initial publication of the Potteries Thinkbelt plans, Reyner Banham argued in "Flatscape with Containers" that the spectacularly enormous dimensions of the new shipping containers entirely redefined "monumentality" to mean something other than simply

The Potteries Thinkbelt 227

large architectural symbols. 73 In the article, he noted that Price had achieved a new "anti-monumentality" in the Think.belt, but what exactly did Banham mean by anti -monumentality? Although the Potteries Think.belt was enormous, its constituent elements were relatively small and constantly shifting from place to place. Even the large Transfer Areas and Crate housing would become insignificant specks in the vastness of the landscape of the Potteries. In all likelihood, the visitor to the Think.b elt might be disappointed upon arrival, or perhaps unsure if he or she had actually arrived. There were no grand gestures, no legitimising symbols of government power or monumental cultural institutions . There were only modest industrial buildings and a few 'mobile un its' trundling along the rails. For all its size, the Think.belt was adamantly anti-monumental, and this-in addition to its unsentimental application of modern technologies-was precisely what Reyner Banham appreciated ab out it. It defined a new kind of architectural scale, not of large buildings , but of a vast field of objects and events . Banham felt that Price's Think.belt had demonstrated that vastness of architectural scale and need not entail symbolism, monumental presence, or the pretensions of traditional public institutions. To Price, the conventional role of architecture to provide symbols of identity, place and activity in post-war Britain was irrelevant and counterproductive (although his reclamation of the industrial wasteland was arguably emblematic of the British post­ industrial condition). However, in a 1967 article called "'La Dimension Amoureuse' in Architecture", architectural theorist and early proponent of semiology and structuralism George Baird took the Potteries Think.belt to task for the same reasons for which Banham credited it, that is, for its anti-monumentality. Baird argued for a 'communicable', symbolic architectural code

of 'goals ', 'values', and 'ideals' from a Structuralist point of view.74 At that time, semiotics was becoming fashionable in London's

intellectual circle s,

semiotic notions of meaning to architecture. He claimed that the failure of architects, such as Price, to adopt this symbolic, "values­

laden'', dimension amoureuse, "poses

traditional concepts of so ciety".75 He wrote, for example:

and Baird was especially interested in applying

a dramatic threat to our

The Thinkbelt

communicativeness whatsoever. The fantastic effort in this case has been devoted to establishing a maximally anonymous servicing mechanism, rather than building in the traditional sense at all. And the anonymity of that servicing function is intended to be so complete as to avoid the buildings' standing for any particular 'values' at all. Indeed, the designer's rejection of 'values' is such that he has attempted to expunge them not only from his building, but also from the education

it houses. 76

is designed in such a fashion a s t o eschew

228 The Architecture of Cedric Price

Baird even suggested that the "value-free" lack of symbolism of the Thinkbelt would turn students

Baird even suggested that the "value-free" lack of symbolism of the Thinkbelt would turn students into mere objects:

If education became a service, and made no claims on its students' values, then it would also be true that the student could make no claims on that education's value s. The student would himself become merely an unconscious part of the servicing mechanism.77

Baird must have concluded that this argument made no sense, because he omitted it from the version of the essay published in Meaning in Architecture, which he

and Charles Jencks coauthored

however, that the Thinkbelt did possess a strange sort of anti-symbolism:

in 1969 .78 Baird claimed,

Insofar as that architecture [the Thinkbelt] did penetrate [the students'] awareness-and that would surely occur to some extent, in spite of the designer's intention, since the alternative would constitute sensory deprivation­ then that architecture would present him with the most concrete symbol we have yet seen of bureaucracy's academic equivalent, the 'education-factory' .79

So, Baird manage d to find symbolism (however perversely) in the Thinkbelt after all. He continued his diatribe against the Thinkbelt, concluding with an odd perceptual­ phenomenological twist to his 'structuralist' argument:

At the Thinkbelt

with the building having an inevitable perceptual impact

of some intensity, which results in a contemptuousness as distasteful as the paternalism it was intended to supplant.80

there is a failure to come to terms

In the later version of '"La Dimension Amoureuse' in Architecture", Baird substantially toned down his caustic criticism of the Thinkbelt and eliminated the last passage. Baird may have come to realise that his dismissal of the Thinkbelt might come to be seen as regressive and reactionary. In general, Baird faulted the Thinkb elt for failing to signify anything in particular, or at least, anyth ing noble and culturally sig:ni.ficant. Baird may have been correct in saying that such architecture does pose a threat to "our traditional concepts of society" .81 However, what he does not mention is that "traditional concepts of society" in post-war Britain had already been substantially dismantled. What he failed to appreciate is that Price intended the project's meaning to be open, and that part of the project's intended meaning was in fact that conventional mes sage s ab out education and public institutions were not worth signifying.

conventional mes sage s ab out education and public institutions were not worth signifying. The Potteries

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 229

In defence of Price, Banharn responded to Baird's article, retorting that the architect:

has recently been attacked, not by some doddering old architectural knight, but by one of the profession's most esteemed younger intellectuals, George Baird, arch-priest of the cult of 'values' (rather than human service) in architecture. According to Baird, the Thinkbelt's avoidance of showy monumentality (for which 'structuralism' is the current flip synonym) will lead to practically every fashionable evil in the book, fr om contemptuousness to bureaucracy (read all ab out it, if you can stomach the prose 'style ', in the June issue of the

Jo UI'naJ

of the Architec tUI'aJ Association) .82

Apart fr om Baird, the Thinkbelt was rec eived politely, if not sceptically. Price would later admit that the Thinkbelt "wasn't a roaring success".83 Neither the government nor most of Price's contemporaries appreciated his sharp insights and the implicit critique of the British higher educational system, nor did the project receive the critical attention of the Fun Palace. Although Lord Kennet had issued the initial challenge to Price to come up with the Potteries Thinkbelt, neither he, nor the Ministry of Housing and local government, nor any other government office expressed any interest in the plan. His initial charge to Price had been in the form of an informal wager by a private citizen, rather than a contractual brief on behalf of the Ministry. Kennet reported that by the time Price had :finished the Thinkbelt in 1966, his duties at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government left him no time to study the proposal, and he does not recall ever having seen it. Herein lies one of the persistent problems with both the Potteries Thinkbelt and the Fun Palace. While Price spent a great deal of time planning and fiddling with designs, he failed to establish a viable client or any other institutional base fo r the projects. He had clearly not kept Lord Kennet apprised of the progress of the Thinkbelt, nor had he consulted him after that first meeting. Price seems to have preferred to work in tranquil isolation. As 'practicable' as his ideas might have been, this approach doomed them to remain on paper, while works of more determined (if less visionary) architects have been realised. The fa ct that the Thinkbelt coincided with the launching of the Open University did not improve Price's chances. He first made public his plans fo r the Potteries Thinkbelt in June 1966, three months after Jennie Lee had published the Open University manifesto:

We shall establish the University of the Air by using TV and radio and comparable facilities, high grade correspondence courses and new teaching facilities. This open university will obviously extend the best teaching facilities and give everyone the opportunity of study for a full degree. It will mean genuine equality of opportunity of study for millions of people for the first time .84

230 The Architecture of Cedric Price

M a.ny of the people whom Price might have interested in his novel 1 1

M a.ny of the people whom Price might have interested in his novel 1 1 < t ucational ideas were now otherwise preoccupied with the Open r l11 iversity, wh ich overshadowed the Thinkb elt considerably and 1 1.ppeared to be a more practical solution to similar issues and 1 :oncerns for British education. The ab sence of fixed buildings in the Thinkbelt may have been

111 ·Ice s response to the lack of genuine cultural consensus and

hesion (as Wells Coates defined it), but the public at large

1) p

rticularly those in positions of authority, had little interest


In Price's critique of the paucity ofvalues worth signifying in

1 :ontemporary British society. Moreover, the advanced technical

1 : o rnplexity of the PTb may have seemed too far-fetched to a public 111 1familiar with computers. Although information technology was still in its infancy at Lite time, Price's paradigm for the Potteries Thinkbelt was the c : omputer, capable of being reprogrammed and becoming an

c 1nt,Lrely different instrument at different times and situations, c lopeniling on changing requirements. What he failed to anticipate

I 11 his insistence on mobility is that the .fluidity and transformability

c 1 1' computer technology itself would permit flexibility even in Lite most conventional of structures. Long before the advent of

oumputers, eould not Mies' empty boxes have been considered J ust as programmatically '.flexible' as Price's moving machines? ' l'h Open University, on the other hand, circumvented the need le l' buildings or even for a campus. Like his preoccupation with r ybernetics in the Fun Palace the obsession with mobility and ox pendability that Price shared with Banham may have been the wr•ong technological road to follow, and may have been closer to I.I) archaic mechanical paradigm of the Futurists than to that of

archaic mechanical paradigm of the Futurists than to that of I.Ito virtual 'machine' suggested by cybernetics

I.Ito virtual 'machine' suggested by cybernetics and computers.

'I'he fluid, non-fixed layout of the Thinkbelt may have ensured 1 1. 11 igh degree of adaptability to the rapidly changing needs of 1 11 I ucation. But, do .fluid minds necessitate a physically fluid

11. 1 ch itecture ? Or, was Price ultimately using mobility as a trope Lo oxpress the intellectual condition of post-industrial society?

'I'll · Open University's approach to mass-education was in many

1'< 11::1 pects a more practical and prescient application of electronic

t.1 1<Jl nology. For all its computerised control systems

the Thinkbelt

1 1 1.1 11 relied on mechanical mobility, on railways and cranes. The

( lpen University was equally mobile, yet its mobility was virtual,

1 t it. literal and mechanical, and it did not rely on tracks, machines,

1.11d cranes. Unlike the Thinkbelt, it was not tied to any specific

graphical location where people must congregate. Although the ' itmpus' of the Thinkbelt was vast, the 'virtual campus' of the Open l / 11lversity was infinite. A simple television would instant]y convert 11 ny space, anywhere, any time, into a part of the Open University

could reach many more people at their own convenience. l�rom a formal perspective, the decentralised architecture of

t.tio 'l'hinkbelt anticipated the trend in art towards the large site 1 1 111 Lf1llations of artists such as James Turrell and Robert Smiths on.

11 1HI

In her 1985 essay, "S culpture in the Expanded Field", Rosalind

Krauss described the dispersal

within the negative ontology of Postmodern sculpture.85 She outlined how Minimalist sculptors challenged traditional notions of art by reje cting the centrali sed obje ct in favour of a new and anti-monumental sp atiality, created in the tension between discrete and dispersed elements . The Potteries Think.belt might similarly be thought of as a dispersed architectural field that dissolved traditional notions of the object-building as the sin e qua non of architecture. Yet, the Think.belt was more than a formal challenge to traditional architecture. It also confronted normative

so cial and educational patterns. Ultimately,

understanding of art as a hermetic and apolitical discourse fails to account for the deeply social and political dimensions of such architecture. Yet, in establishing a precedent for architecture as a field of elements rather than as a singular, monumental object-building, Price's work opened the way for other architects, such as Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi. Their 1986 designs for the Pare

of the post-Renaissance 'monument'

Kraus s' fo rmalist

Rem Koolha:u Pare de I. Vlllette competition entry, 1 986 hn;igo courtesy of OMA

Rem Koolha:u Pare de I. Vlllette competition entry, 1 986 hn;igo courtesy of OMA 232 The
Rem Koolha:u Pare de I. Vlllette competition entry, 1 986 hn;igo courtesy of OMA 232 The

232 The Architecture of Cedric Price

de la Villette competition were founded on notions pioneered by the Potteries Thinkb elt, and

de la Villette competition were founded on notions pioneered by the Potteries Thinkb elt, and much of their concept derived from Price's ideas . For example, Koolhaas' rationale fo r his design emphasised change and indeterminacy as key factors:

During the life of the

constant change and adjustment. The more the park works, the more it will be in a perpetual state of revision. Its 'design' should therefore be the proposal of a method that combines architectural specificity with programmatic indeterminacy. In other words, we see this scheme not simply as a design but mostly as a tactical proposal to derive maximum benefit from the implantation on the site of a number of activities The underlying principle of programmatic indeterminacy as a basis of the formal concept allows any shift, modification, replacement, or substitution to occur without damaging the initial hypothesis.86

park, the programme will undergo

the initial hypothesis.86 park, the programme will undergo Rem Koolhaas Pai-c de la Villette competition entry,

Rem Koolhaas Pai-c de la Villette competition entry, I 986 Koolhaas' scheme echoes the programmatic palimpsest of overlapping and simulataneous activities that characterised both the Fun Palace and Potteries Thinkbelt. Image co ur-tesy of OMA

The Potteries Thlnkbelt 233

The passage might aJmost have been written by Price ab out the Potteries Thinkbelt . Tschumi's description of his Pare de la Villette design could likewise apply to the Thinkbelt, but aJso bears striking res emblance to Koolhaas' statement ab ove : "La Vill ette is a term in constant production, in continuous change; its meaning is never fixed but is aJways deferred, differed, rendered irresolute by the multiplicity of meanings it inscribes."87 Tschumi's concept of architecturaJ 'disjunction' is similarly applicable to the Thinkbelt:

The concept of disjunction is incompatible with a static, autonomous, structural view of architecture. But it is not anti-autonomy or anti-structure; it simply implies constant, mechanical operations that systematically produce disso ciation in space and time, where an architectural element only functions by colliding with a programmatic element.BB

Berna rd Tschuml Pare de la Villette competition entry, 1 986 Image courtesy of Tschumi architects

I I I I I I I I I • I I I I I

234 The Architecture of Cedric Price

of Tschumi architects I I I I I I I I I • I I I

Conversely, the constant, mechanical operations, to which Tschumi refers, seem better to describe the Thinkbelt rail cars, endlessly shifting in response to the changing programme, than the static 'folies' at La Villette. Of course, unlike the Thinkbelt, the Pare de la Villette was not a so cially motivated rethinking of industry, and

its 'industrial artifacts' are mere 'folies' in an entertainment park. The vastness of the Potteries Thinkbelt also anticipated Koolhaas' concept of 'Bigness', an architectural condition where beyond

a certain size, the whole "can no longer be controlled by a single

architectural gesture, or even by any combination of architectural

gestures".89 The indeterminate nature of the Thinkbelt likewise foreshadowed a similar characteristic of Bigness: "A paradox of Bigness

is that in spite of the calculation that goes into its planning-in fact,

through its very rigidities-it is the one architecture that engineers

the unpredictable."9° Koolhaas' recent thoughts on the problem of the "slowness" of architecture-specifically that the rapid pace of

change requires a provisional, indefinite and incomplete

architecture-also bears the imprint of Price's concept of improvisational design.91 The affinities between Pric e's architectural ideas and the subsequent thinking of Koolhaas and Tschumi are hardly coincidental, since Price taught at the Architectural Association during the 1970s, when Koolhaas was a student there, and while Tschumi was an AA unit master. The scale of reuse and reclamation in the Thinkbelt also invites comparison to the vast waterfront renovation projects in Boston and Baltimore of the 19 70s and 80s. Whlle the malls and condominiums in those redevelopments created excellent opportunities for private investment, the Thinkbelt could offer little in the way of straightforward dividends. Clearly, the Potteries Thinkbelt would have required state finance and control, and the returns on capital investment would have been realised gradually as social and economic benefits on a regional and national scale, not as short-term investor profits. Moreover, the Thinkbelt was not

a commercial shopping centre or converted loft, but actually touched


on productive aspects of industry in a changed economy. Price's radical proposal to transform obsolete industries into sites of post­ industrial activity is something that none of these projects would ever achieve . Whlle the mobile and technical aspects of the Thinkbelt have had little effect on subsequent architecture, the project's most

innovative feature was its novel redeployment ofthe industrial landscape into an entirely new kind of industry. Nonetheless, it is much easier to win support for less radical commercial development than for a non-profit centre of education and entertainment. The Potteries Thinkbelt is perhaps closest in spirit to the recent Ruhr Valley reclamation project. Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley, which stretches 225 kilometres through North Rhine-Westphalia, suffered the same decline as the North Staffordshire Potteries. Once the heart of German coal and steel production, in the 1970s it became a landscape of disused smokestacks, coke ovens, and rusting rail lines. In 1989, the Westphalian government began an initiative called

The Potteries Thinkbelt 235

and rusting rail lines. In 1989, the Westphalian government began an initiative called The Potteries Thinkbelt

IBA (similar to that already in place in Berlin) intended to reclaim and redeem the ruined landscape through innovative architectural projects. Landscape architect Peter Latz won the design competition for the first phase-the conversion of an old steel mill outside the city of Duisberg. Latz created a 568 acre post-industrial landscape, in which the old slag heaps and ruined blast furnaces remained as the matrix of a new park-like setting. Like the monumental ruins of the old Roman Baths of Caracalla, old factories have been turned into open air concert halls, rail lines are now bicycle paths, and the canals and gasometres are used by a local scuba club . Nature continues to reclaim the derelict structures, creating a post-industrial fu sion of ecology and the aesthetic of technological decay. There are differences, of course: Latz's project is ab out entertainment and leisure, while the PTb focused on learning and technology. Yet both projects seeked to redeploy the symbols of a dead industry in order to enhance the post-industrial economy. The old landscape of the industrial revolution had been reclaimed by entropy and decay, be coming a new 'nature', which served as the foundation for Price's interventions. In building atop the ruins of Britain's industrial past, Price did not propose to renew, reclaim, revitalise, or reforest, nor did he intend to rehabilitate the wasteland into the romantic ruins of a nostalgic age of steam and smoke.


236 The Architecture of Cedric Price

Peter Latz + Partner Plan of Landscape Park Duisburg Nord, Ruhr Valley, Germany, 1 9 90 Image courtesy of Peter Latz + Partner

His design was a supplement to the lands cape, an intervention creating a discourse of the ruined and the new. Once a centre of the industrial heartland of Britain, now devoid of meaningful social or economic activity-the ruined landmarks of the Potteries stood as the empty signifiers of a lost industrial age, whose carpet of significance has slipp ed out from under them, leaving them both drained of immediacy and filled with ab sent po tential. Price's redeployment of the ruined industrial landscape of the Potteries was a realisation and a metaphor of the post-war transformation of Britain. The Potteries Thinkbelt was a microcosm of Price's much larger vision for architecture and for England, not limited to symbolically 'utopian' monuments and megastructures, but instead an integrated system of economic, educational and social relations and factors deploye d within an interactive architectural matrix. The shifting landscape of the Thinkbelt was also a metaphor for a changing ideal of a restless utopian vision of Britain's new post-imperial and post-industrial role in the world. For all its size, there were no grand gestures, no legitimising symbols of government power or monumental cultural institutions. The 'centre' of the Potteries Thinkbelt was ab sent, dispersed and deferred. It was an architectural critique of hegemony and of the historical metanarratives of British hierarchy, privilege, and monuments.

Peter Latz +

Partn er,

Landscape Park, Duisburg

Nord, Ruhr Valley,

Germany, 1 990

Image courtesy of

Peter Latz + Partner

Photograph by

Christa Panick

The Potteries Thinkbelt 237

The Potteries Thinkbelt proposed a new, informational model of architecture, a landscape/network whose algorithmic and fluid, self-regulating behaviour mirrored the character of post-industrial information technologies . The mobile units were like information quanta, the switches and transfer stations like the logical gateways of a vast computer circuit. The mobile landscape of the Thinkbelt described a new architectural polemic of individual agency and fr eedom as an alternative to the institutionalised collectivity of grids and curtain walls characteristic of the architecture of the Modern Movement. Unlike the depleted utopias of the post-war era, the Potteries Thinkb elt was not a sublimation into fo rmalism, nor the deferred future of some distant visionary ideal, but a palpable and potential reality made possible through a recasting of obsolete systems of production. The Thinkbelt bears strong similarity to the utopian scope of some of Fuller's projects, as well as the contemporary megastructural schemes of Archigram, Nieuwenhuys and GEAM. Price's project, however, was not simply an architectural novelty, but an all-encompassing proposal of utopian dimensions fo r wholesale social and economic reconstruction. Price was sceptical ab out the ability of architecture alone to be an effe ctive agent for such a broad transformation of the national topos. He recognised that in addition to architecture, such a comprehensive plan would also require the implementation of equally progressive economic and pedagogical models. Therefore, his proposal included radically new educational curricula, as well as new industrial structures and methods. The utopian appeal to scientific and technical education in the Thinkbelt also suggests striking similarities between Price's Potteries Thinkbelt and Francis Bacon's 1626 utopian novel, New Atlantis .92 Bacon's utopia diffe red from Sir Thomas More's utopia of a century earlier. More was concerned largely with social reform through laws, religion, customs, and morals, while Bacon sought to improve society through science. He proposed a new epistemological model in his Templum Seculorum, which amounted to a technical college, "instituted for the interpreting of nature and producing of great and marvellous works for the benefit of men". Price would have agreed with Bacon's opinion on contemporary education: "In the customs and institutions of schools, academies, colleges, and similar bodies destined for the abode of learned men and the cultivation of learning, everything is found adverse to the progress of science."93 In their respective projects, both Bacon and Price proposed new modes of knowledge and enquiry which favoured science while reje cting established systems of education and thought. This comparison is not to suggest that Price was somehow following Bacon's example, nor that he was se eking to recreate Bacon's utopia. What is significant is the fact that both Bacon and Price confronted a crisis of knowledge at the time of paradigm shift . In Bacon's day, this was the trans ition fr om a Medieval world

238 The Architecture of Cedric Price

view of the sanctity of received knowledge and ancient authority, to an era of modern methods of scientific inquiry. Bacon challenged the pervading sense of 'Cosmic Decline', the idea that while the ancients had enjoyed the vigour and keen wit of humanity in its youth, contemporary society had entered its miserable old age, its faculties and intellect declining.94 For Price, the crisis was the paradigm shllt from the structures and traditions of industrial and imperial E:qgland to the post-industrial, post-imperial era of the early information age in Britain.

and unique ab out Pric e's Potteries

Thinkbelt is his recycling and reuse of the obsolete industrial detritus of a bygone epoch as the basic infrastructure for a post­ industrial age . More than architectural form, it is this idea that remains most intriguing.

What remains provocative

The Potteries Thinkbelt 239