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If crime doesn't pay

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  • 1. The Architects’ Revolutionary Council15Photo:AA‘If Crime Doesn’t Pay’:The Architects’ Revolutionary CouncilBy Edward BottomsIn early 1974 a group of radical architecturalstudents operating under the guise of the‘Architects’ Revolutionary Council’ (ARC)announced their presence to the world, staginga dramatic press conference and publishingan inflammatory manifesto. Calling for thedestruction of the RIBA and the establishment of‘an international movement towards communityarchitecture’, the ARC emerged from the AA’sIntermediate Unit 1, tutored by the charismaticBrian Anson.1Little documentation of thismovement remains within the AA, however aseries of their provocative posters and graphics,key weapons in the ARC armory, are now in theprocess of being preserved and catalogued in theAA Archive, thanks to generous funding from theAA Student Forum. The leading protagonists of ARC appear tohave been Anson, formerly the Deputy PrinciplePlanner for the GLC’s Covent Garden Team,(dismissed in 1971 for taking up cudgels on behalfof the Covent Garden community), and studentsincluding George Mills, Peter Moloney, AndyBurrell, Dave Taylor, Adam Purser, Dag Fasting,Hubert Puig and Brian Fileman. In additionthere was also ‘an international contingent fromSlovenia…Croatia, America, France, Germany, theWest Indies and other sundry souls.’2A photographof an ARC press conference circa 1975 revealsthe group to have been acutely aware of theirown image seated surrounded by banks of TVmonitors, the key members sporting dark glasses,against a backdrop of their own posters. Whethera certain amount of irony was intended is unclear,but in their statement of intent, the group definedthemselves as ‘not composed of self interestedreformists, indulgent radicals or opportuniststudents and academics. The members of ARCare architectural revolutionaries, and whenwords such as destroy, enemy and overthrow areemployed, they are meant.’ Certainly, ARC became seriously involved ina number of important community issues between1974 and 1977, mobilising on behalf of theCovent Garden Residents Association, the EalingAlliance (opponents to Ealing Council’s towncentre plans) and the Pope Street Associationof Bootle, Merseyside. A series of journals, RedHouse, The Wild Duck and The Colne ValleyNews were also published, featuring articles,critiques and reviews. The ARC’s philosophy was based around thebelief that architects should immediately ceaseworking ‘only for a rich powerful minority or thebureaucratic dictatorship of Central and LocalGovernments and offer… [their] skills and servicesfor the local community.’ 3The RIBA was thusregarded as a bitter enemy ‘directly responsiblefor the malaise of architecture and the state ofour cities.’ 4In ARC’s view, the RIBA was totallysubservient to privileged patronage, an opinionforcefully articulated in a poster representing theinstitution as HMV’s ‘Nipper’ held in thrall by thevoices of developers, speculators, industry, banksand multinationals. Indeed, the RIBA wasruthlessly pilloried in the ARC’s graphic output,savagely characterised in another poster as acorpulent, holstered, belted and jackbootedfigure touting a bow-tie and bearing aloft, ona T-square, the words ‘Repressive, Indulgent,Brutal, Arrogant’. Such militaristic and fascisticimagery was continued elsewhere, an eagle andlaurel wreath dominating the RIBA crest in their‘If Crime Doesn’t Pay…’ poster. Such imagery waswell calculated to express ARC’s exhortation to‘Join the Resistance’.By Edward BottomsPrevious page: ARCPoster; ‘If CrimeDoesn’t Pay…’ c1975.AA Archives; Left: ARCPress Conference,c1975
  • 2. AArchitecture – Issue 5 News from the Architectural Association16Indeed, class war was at the heart of ARC andAnson’s philosophy, and they were violentlyopposed to the imposition by architects andplanners of ‘middle-class values on a [workingclass] culture entirely different and worlds apartfrom their own’.5‘We wish to create a situationwhereby every time a student passes a buildingsuch as Centre Point he vows that he will neverwork in a practice that is involved in suchobscenities. Whenever a student walks through agentrified area where massive improvement grantshave enabled landlords to evict long standingtenants and raise the value of their property ahundredfold, he will vow never to work in firmsthat indulge in such activities.’ 6 The arrival of ARC on the architectural scenewas reported rather snootily by the Architects’Journal of 28 May 1975, which noted that ‘in along, prolix and rather ungrammatical explanatorynote, the ARC explains that “the new system ofarchitecture will need to be based on a massmovement” but the revolutionary council does notThis page: ARC RecruitmentPoster, vilifying the RIBA,c1975. AA ArchivesOpposite: ARC Manifesto,as reproduced in AAProspectus 1974/5
  • 3. AArchitecture – Issue 5 News from the Architectural Association18 AArchitecture – Issue 419regard itself as the embryo of the movement. ARCis, as it were, the midwife which will help to bringthe movement into being, after which it will adoptthe role of stern tutor to ensure that the movementdoes not become a bureaucracy intent onpreserving itself to the detriment of society.’Further media attention was drawn to the aimsof the movement, when The Times reported, inJuly 1976, ARC’s disruption of the RIBA’s annualconference at Hull, where two activists interruptedEric Lyons’ Presidential Address, deriding theconference for ‘being a ‘ridiculous jamboree’ and a‘sham’ and accused architects of failing withplanning in such places as Liverpool and Glasgow,and of ignoring housing needs.’ 7 In addition to such guerilla activities, an ARCconference was arranged in Harrogate which borefruit in the formation of yet another body, the‘New Architecture Movement’. Anson retained hiscombative approach into the late 1970s, an articlein the 1977 Aa Prospectus declaring his oppositionto both ‘the new breed of conceptualist architects’,whom he considered ‘blind to the fact that inBritain thousands are still forced to live in uglyand poverty-stricken environments’ and to thearchitects of ‘Authoritarian Left’, who acted ‘asthough such people ‘live by bread alone’ and haveno capacity for dreaming of beautiful things.’Later that academic year he was to hijack PeterCook’s launch of ‘An indiscrete architecture of thebourgeoisie’ by distributing through the audience astatement entitled ‘An immediate response to PeterCook’s Arcadian thing’. The AA Events List of thefollowing week reported that it ‘commented, in his[Anson’s] way, on contradictions and outwardrhetorical devices he felt existed in the scheme andchallenged Peter Cook to a public debate of hisarchitecture.’8This challenge was accepted byCook and a date set for 31 May of that year – anevent which must have been entertaining in theleast. However, by late 1978 ARC seems to havefinally lost momentum and, with the closure ofAnson’s Diploma Unit in the summer of that year,the movement appears to have petered out. BrianAnson remained connected to the AA for a furtheryear, working part time as the Diploma SchoolAdvisor to Extension Studies and maintaining anopen atelier in the basement of No. 11 Percy Street. If any members have ephemera or publicationsrelating to the Architects’ Revolutionary Counciland would consider donating them to the AAArchive, they would be most gratefully received.Edward Bottoms is theAA archivist/web/serials librarian NOTES1 Brian Anson started Unit 1 in 1971 but was teaching Diploma 8 by 1977/82 Email from Peter Moloney to Edward Bottoms, dated 8 September 20073 AA Prospectus, 1974/5, p3. ARC Manifesto, draft version.4 Ibid, p35 Ibid, p36 AA Events List, Week 21 (18–21 March), 19747 The Times, July 16 1976, p78 AA Events List, week 6 (29 May–2 June), 1978Above: ARC RecruitmentPosters (detail), c1975. AAArchivesOpposite page:Top Left and Right: ARCRecruitment Posters,c1975. AA ArchivesBottom Left: ARC Posterpromoting their periodical,Red House, c1975. AAArchives; Bottom Right:Poster advertisinglecture by Brian Anson, 20November 1974. CourtesyAA Archives

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