Make that M+1

The Archigram archives are headed to M+ in Hong Kong

Walking City on the Ocean, project (Exterior perspective) (Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art)

The archives of English architecture collective Archigram are headed to Hong Kong. After Archigram sold its archives to the not-quite-open-yet visual culture museum M+ for $2.37 million in March of last year, the archive was packed into shipping containers—where they sat for nearly a year while the museum waited for permission to export the collection.

That’s all changed, as U.K. Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has approved an export permit.

At the time of the sale, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, under UK’s Arts Council, blocked the export of the archive. After hearing testimony from museum officials, the committee placed a temporary block on the archive’s export in the hopes that a U.K.-based buyer could be found instead. In the last review of the archives, the Reviewing Committee ruled that Archigram’s archives, while a precedent-setting work for contemporary architects, met the body’s three “Waverly criteria” standards. Those criteria are used to determine whether an object has enough national importance for the body to block its export.

The archive spans over 10,000 images, half of which have being digitized and made available to the public for free by the University of Westminster in 2010.

Drawing of a canopy supported by balloons

A rendering of the “Instant City”, a “Speculative research project exploring possibilities of injecting metropolitan dynamic into other areas through temporary events, structures, mobile facilities, and information technology.” (Courtesy the Archigram archive)

Ultimately, Secretary Wright made the decision to release the archives to M+, noting the difficulty in finding a buyer who would keep the collection together.

M+’s purchase came at the direction of the museum’s curator-at-large Aric Chen. It’s expected that the collection of renderings, technical drawings, collages, drawings, models, ephemera will be accessible to the public, rather than shunted into a research archive.

“We’d been working on this acquisition for a long time,” said Chen, “only to have this export issue throw us for a loop. On the bright side, I was happy for Archigram to see their importance reaffirmed in the U.K.—but I’m of course even happier the archive is coming to M+, where it will be equally appreciated, and where we’ll work to shed new light on Archigram, from their interactions with the Metabolists of 1960s Japan to their resonance with Hong Kong’s urban landscape and the work of many leading Chinese architects working today.”

AN has reached out to Archigram members Michael Webb and Peter Cook for comment and will update this story as needed.

Although the M+ purchase is a heady one, the museum’s physical headquarters in the West Kowloon Cultural District is still under construction. The 700,000-square-foot, Herzog & de Meuron–designed arts center is expected to open next year.

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