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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Act React Adapt

Act React Adapt

Architecture is a machine or architecture is perceived as an output of a machine. Both are justified in their respective ways. The entity judging this is the observer who uses or passes by this. The relationship of the observer and the built has a deep influence on the designer who conceives the architecture. Stephen Gage’s in his paper ‘The Wonder of Trivial Machine’ discusses the parameters which talk about its different aspects, where he describes a simple way of making a non-trivial machine which can be a time-based media especially dynamic sculptures and performative art.

The “Fun Palace “by Joan and Cedric Price is one of the most prominent examples of a dynamic architecture which is time based.  The Fun palace was conceived as a ‘Laboratory of Fun’ where people could learn new trade, handle tools or learn facility for dancing and creative arts.  The beauty of the building was that it adapted to all the changes in the function. As the structure of the building was in a transition, it kept reinventing its arrangement of spaces which kept the users and the designers in wonder. A continuous feature of delight in the machine is one of the very crucial aspects of Stephens Gage’s research paper.

The wonder of the Fun Palace lies in the use of industrial material palette with cargo containers as enclosed spaces which can be moved around with a central large crane. A staircase lobby which connects any iteration of the cargo containers, moving slabs and walls. The wonder also lies in coherence, one between the elements of the built form due to its industrial nature fit like a puzzle into each other and one between the function / arrangement of the spaces with the users.  For the user, the building because of its construct, displays itself as manual of an electronic appliance, which makes it simpler for the user to perceive, relate and connect with the building. Due to regular changes in the function of the building the spaces are conceived as an outcome of mutual conversations between the building/ designer and the user

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(Cedric Price, Interior perspective and section of Fun Palace, ca. 1960—1964 (Fonds Cedric Price Collection Center Canadian d’Architecture/Canadian Center for Architecture, Montréal)

The building comes across as a dynamic performance of architecture elements, a creation of unpredictable multiple patterns with engrossed engagement of users / human beings. The case paper aptly answers the two-question raised by Stephens Gage’s in this research about the source of delight and combining the attributes of a trivial and non-trivial machine.

Dating back to the time when fun palace was conceived, the post war phase in Britain, where factories were closing and automation was taking over. This lead to people having more leisure time which emerged as a big concern for Britain at that point. Cedric Price and Littlewood conceived a machine which would channelize the free time of the working-class people to learn creative skills and be more productive. Deciphering the section(Diagram1.0), It visually depicts the same framework of a car engine when you look in through the bonnet. A very mechanical approach of being restructured, regularly fueled and maintained delivering good performance. An efficient mechanical machine with the novelty of a having people involved in it. Due to which the output of this machine (fun palace) is never constant and is always changing falling on the lines of Heinz Von Foerster’s idea of Non Trivial machine.  Which is also achieving continual factor of wonder & delight as the fun palace scheme is time a based performance.

(Diagram 1.0, Showing the machinic interpretation of the Fun Palace, compared to the engine of a car)(Diagram 1.0, Showing the machinic interpretation of the Fun Palace, compared to the engine of a car)



[. Beesley, P. and Khan, O. 2009] Situated Technologies Pamphlets 4: Responsive Architecture / Performing Instruments

. Stephen Gage, ‘The Wonder of Trivial Machines‘, Systems Research and Behavioural Science, vol.23 (London: Wiley, 2006) pp.771-8

. Ruairi Glynn, ‘Fun Palace-Cedric Price’ Research paper,,2014

. The Fun Palace: Cedric Price’s experiment in architecture and technology Stanley Mathews Hobart and William Smith Colleges. 76(figure3),74-78. Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research Volume 3 Number 2.© Intellect Ltd 2005.Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/tear.3.2.73/10

. Diagram reference:  Cedric Price, Fun Palace, axonometric section, c. 1964. Cedric Price Archives, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. Cedric Price and structural engineer Frank Newby designed a structural matrix with overhead cranes to allow assembly of prefabricated modules.

. The V12 quad-cam racing engine in Jaguar XJ13 with its Lucas mechanical fuel injection. Photo: Jaguar Cars]



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