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Abundant opportunities to build in the sixties, despite faltering convictions, perhaps helped to deflect purely theoretical studies toward social criticism cast as architectural jokes. We live overwhelmed by machines, therefore why not walking machine-cities on mechanical legs, of science-fiction comic-strip provenance, as in the entertaining drawings of the English group Archigram? And existential nausea ought to have its architectural mode, so why not the surreal perspectives of utility grids covering the earth, as in the Antonioniesque productions of the Italian group Superstudio? Deliberately ambiguous, these and similar studies especially those accompanied by left-wing political expectations, owe much of their charm to uncertainty.
Since they cannot be serious they must be jokes, unless they are meant to be warnings. Alienation is often held to be the condition natural to our time, but it has never been clear why architects should make the condition more pervasive, except as a tactic of subversion for political ends. For that purpose, such projects might best be evaluated for their chances, if built, of provoking revolution. Insofar as the spirit of subversion pervades some built works, the result would seem to be that they postpone revolution by increasing the tolerance for alienation.
Of course, during the last 20 years, there have been important projects and commissioned buildings that have remained only projects, that do not have social criticism as their primary justification. Some are of interest because they push a technology slightly beyond its normal application; others are of interest because they explore ideas that are only just beginning to find clients. For the sixties, it is the projects of the twenties that best explain architectural intentions.
In the seventies, perhaps the most significant projects deal with the incorporation of historical forms, and the rapid acceptance of such ideas by corporate as well as private clients renders them less instructive as projects than as-built work. In any case, the public is left with what has been built, actual buildings for which theory or the promise of revolution is not always an adequate consolation.
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