Architect Sir Peter Cook: I’m a creative cynic

Legendary architect Sir Peter Cook recently put up 34 of his drawings from the last four decades of the 20th century at New Delhi’s Gallery Espace.

Gallery Espace and Architecture Discipline recently brought legendary architect Sir Peter Cook, known as the Picasso of architecture, to India. The exhibition features 34 drawings from the four last decades of the 20th century, including works from his avant-garde group Archigram. Architectural drawings of great buildings of the past and the future provide inspiration and motivation for architects to design for the future. Sir Peter Cook spoke to The Goodwill Project.


Sir Peter Cook, architect & artist

Sir Peter Cook, architect & artist

What brings you to India?

Sir Peter Cook: I was in Delhi for the India Art Fair in January, where I met Renu Modi, my gallerist and Akshat Bhatt of Architecture Discipline. Their energies were in sync with mine and we decided to exhibit my drawings at Gallery Espace. I have not travelled much in India, only twice for a few days to Delhi and a one-night stop in Chennai. I was here to give lectures at the National Architects meet and some colleges of architecture.


How often do you sketch? Has this increased or decreased over the years?

I love sketching. I don’t sketch in a sketchbook, but grab stray pieces of paper and doodle down ideas and stuff them later in my artwork. So, I have these crazy little pieces of paper all over the place with different things on them. Sketching has decreased over the years; now, I mostly sketch in the morning when I get fresh ideas.


What came first, the drawings or the love for architecture?

I was just eight when I wanted to be an architect. My love for architecture was born then and is endless. I saw many interesting buildings as a child and was fascinated by the ideas involved. There is only one principle that drives me and it is—fascination with the possibilities of any situation.


LR-Peter Cook22What is the process of creating these sketches? Are they fun or do they make a serious statement?

It is rare for me to sit in front of the drawing board, computer or sketchbook with a blank mind. It may be a function of something, a subconscious recourse to something that I’ve wanted to do of late or it could be rhetorical, a kind of “drawn statement”.

I do not relish straight, minimalist architecture. I find it predictable and boring. I enjoy a sense of “theatre” in architecture. Creating something new and different without copying others is actually my cup of tea. I enjoy the sinuous, the mysterious and historical styles.


What are the materials you work with, for your artwork? Has this changed over the years?

I prefer using watercolors, airbrush, colour pencils. Worldwide, there has been a tremendous march of technology, gradually lifting buildings out of the wet-craft period, with the potential of computer-controlled milling and buildings “grown” via nano-technology being a wonderful future for architecture.


How did you choose the artwork for the current show at Gallery Espace? Any of your own favourites in there?


Thirty-four sketches, drawn during ‘60s to 2000 are on display. These drawings can perform as inspiration and motivation for architects to design for the future, from the phase of Archigram as well as the drawings from current Studio CRAB. My personal favorite is the “Montreal Tower”, rendered in the year 1963.



LR-Peter Cook20Who are your favourite artists? Any Indian artists that you’re aware of?

Thom Mayne is my favourite. His design philosophy arising from an interest in producing work with a meaning that can be understood by absorbing the culture is congenial. In India, I am fond of the works of Gurjit Singh Matharoo, who is slightly towards the Indian Modern.


What is Archigram and what are its founding principles? It is said to stand for “architecture without architecture”.

Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s, based at the Architectural Association, London. It was neo-futuristic, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects. Archigram agitated to prevent modernism from becoming a sterile and safe orthodoxy by its adherents. Its visions did, in fact, succeed in inspiring a new generation of architects and architecture. Most obviously, their radical suggestion to reveal infrastructural elements and reverse traditional building hierarchies inspired the famous Pompidou Center by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, and their drawings and visions continue to be invoked in urban thinking today.

Many iconic projects explored pop culture and emerging technologies and were predicated on the rationale of fun and pleasure as ends in themselves. Among the best known are Walking City, a self-contained pod of urban elements; Suitaloon, a garment that converts into a dwelling; and Blow-out Village, an entire temporary city inflated by a hovercraft.


Any buildings or structures in India, modern or historical, which have impressed you?

So far, it is the PLACE that is both excitingly and disturbingly different from anywhere else, including other Asian places. The old architecture set up by those with power, money and influence is striking in its inventiveness. The new stuff is not very interesting, so far. But I’m hoping…


Are you a city person or would you like to be out there in a village?

I am a “townie”, I keep away from the rural, if at all possible! Anyhow, it is in the habit of things that the most lively and exploratory people will gravitate to the cities for some years, if not for the rest of their lives, leaving the timid, the underprivileged or the lazy in the villages. As townies, we are well rid of the last category, can pity the first category and should use our advantages and our energy to improve the lot of the middle category—the underprivileged.

Even though this can have the effect of enabling them to become townies as well. That could leave the villages with just the timid and the lazy. Something wrong there, I guess, but I’m no politician, and more a creative cynic!


LR-Peter Cook13Are you aware of Indian architects and artists?

In India, Gurjit Singh Matharoo. In the world, Thom Mayne (of ‘Morphosis’). In the UK, Zaha Hadid.


Among your own works, which are the ones that have stayed with you? Could you tell us about your most challenging project?

Of ours—the Graz Kunsthaus in Austria and the Abedian Architecture School at Bond University in Australia. Of others’ works—ClorindoTesta’s bank building in Buenos Aires of the early 1960s.


LR-Peter Cook18Overall, what are architects of this generation doing right and where are they going wrong?

Architects of today go wrong when they just read books or surf the internet, and design. They should look around, absorb what is happening around them, and use what they see and feel creatively. That is the most important constituent of a project. Each and every project of mine seems to have a core intention or core message or core theme. What I observe, I keep in my back pocket and then use the experience appropriately.

The old architecture set up by those with power, money and influence is striking in its inventiveness. The new stuff is not very interesting. Also, effort should go into buying a bit of time from the really good architects to spend with young students.


In architect Akshat Bhatt’s words: Peter Cook is a prolific academic. He’s probably inspired, influenced and groomed more architects than anyone else I can think of. And I feel the system of design education is really struggling in India and this is a pertinent event where Peter Cook’s drawings will expose, engage and lend towards parallel thinking for architecture and design students.


In galleriest Renu Modi’s words: Sir Peter Cook’s meticulously rendered drawings reflect pure forms and colours. Like any other artist, Peter’s work has also undergone evolution, which is majorly visible in his works rendered in the span of 40 years ranging from 1960’s – 2000’s. I discovered this while reviewing Peter’s work during my visit to London. The entire exhibition was conceived with Peter’s help. It would be nice to travel with this exhibition to a museum overseas or to a ‘biennale’ that has an architecture section. My personal favorite is the “Montreal Tower”, rendered in the year 1963.



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