Tags

,

In 1983, Andrew Saint argued that the New Architecture Movement (NAM): (1)

has consistently been the only pressure group within architectural politics in Britain to grasp issues beyond the scope of self-interest, and to combine its suggestions for reform with some deeper understanding of the relation between architects, the construction industry and the general public.

The organisation had been founded in November 1975 at its Harrogate National Congress; its goals: (2)

to channel effectively the collective action of architectural and allied workers in order to bring about radical changes in the practice of architecture. NAM seeks to restore control over their environment to ordinary people, and social responsibility and accountability to the work of architects. In particular, it seeks to fundamentally change the existing system of patronage, the power structure in architecture dominated by architects who are principles, both in private and public practice, and powerful corporate and bureaucratic clients. NAM seeks not only to challenge the existing relationship of architect to client and user, but also the existing relations between employer and worker, to restore a voice both to those who provide the labour for architecture and those who use its products.

A cartoon featured in Issue 1 of Slate, March 1977

This month, a unique collection of documents from this significant activist movement that challenged the established order of architectural practice both in the private and public sectors goes online. In the mid-1970s NAM gave a voice to progressive and inclusive initiatives that encouraged people to promote social change and greater equality through their work in the built environment. The launch of NAM’s archive provides both a new resource for historical research and also a challenge to present and future generations in the field to reinterpret and apply NAM’s radical ideas to current issues.

NAM brought together young idealistic architects, engineers and planners from across the UK seeking ways to reform working practices and the planning and development process. In an intensely productive period from 1975-80 the movement ran workshops, campaigns and seminars on a range of issues – professional education and governance, workplace structures, feminism, public sector design, worker unionisation – to create an alternative vision that put the priorities of people and communities ahead of developers, corporations and officials.

Slate cover, July/August 1978

Generously funded by a Paul Mellon Centre Digital Project Grant, the archive brings together previously unavailable historical documents held by former members that give a comprehensive picture of NAM’s aims, actions and achievements. It also provides an insight into the workings of activist groups in the 1970s, a period when many young people came together to advance the idealism of the 1960s and find practical and effective ways to promote social change. Key items include the NAM Handbook, which captures the essence of the movement’s objectives, structure and activities, and a complete set of the movement’s lively magazine SLATE. With its provocative alternative graphics, SLATE encapsulates the collective energy of 1970s grassroots activism.

A graphic from Slate, issue 13 (not dated)

In 1980 the New Architecture Movement members moved on to develop their ideas, both in groups such as Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative and the Public Design Service, and also in the professional practice of individual former members. Between 1979 – 1985, Haringey Council Architects Department implemented a number of pioneering features from the NAM Public Design Service proposals, many of which went on to become adopted more widely. More recently there has been a renewed interest in the causes and issues that NAM championed in discourse, exhibitions and articles, and it is hoped the archive’s launch will further stimulate debate and fresh ideas to meet the critical challenges in the built environment today. (3)

NAM’s digital archive is available at http://newarchitecturemovement.org. The website is managed by MayDay Rooms, which also houses the physical archive which is freely accessible at the MayDay Rooms’ offices. (4)

The archive will be launched at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London on Saturday 26th November 2022. The NAM archive steering group and former members will gather to mark the occasion. Contact email: namdigitalarchive@gmail.com.

Notes

(1) Andrew Saint, The Image of the Architect, Yale University Press

(2) Introduction, NAM Handbook, 1978/1979

(3) See, for example, How we live now: reimagining spaces with Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative and People’s Plan for the Royal Docks exhibit, part of the Jessie Brennan’s Making Space project.

(4) The MayDay Rooms has a growing collection that includes materials documenting social struggles, resistance campaigns and the expression of marginalised and oppressed groups and houses the physical archive and manages the online version. They are located at 88 Fleet Street, London and are open 11-6pm Wednesday to Friday.

Advertisement