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Fun Palace, proposed site of
Lea Valley, Stratford, London
associated engineer
Frank Newby
date  1961 - 1965
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ380850
Joan Littlewood (1914-2002) was a visionary theatre director working in Stratford, East London. She held pasionate views on the role of theatre as a positive influence and promoted a revolutionary concept of community theatre. Architect Cedric Price and engineer Frank Newby gave her ideas physical form in the shape of the Fun Palace, alas never realised.
Cedric Price and Frank Newby were both lecturers at the Architectural Assiciation in London in the 1960s. Price famously claimed that time was the fourth dimension of architectural design and advocated buildings that could expand, retract, reconfigure and adapt to changing demands.
He used this idea for the Fun Palace proposal. Its layout, form and identity was to be generated by the mass of people using it, not imposed by any preconceived ideas of traditional theatre. It was only intended to last for 20 years and might never have appeared in the same configuration twice. Its purpose was to stage events.
However, the proposed structure did have dimensions — 260m long by 114m wide, and an area of 29,640 sq m. It was enormous, and resembled a shipyard or container terminal, with giant gantry cranes for locating or accessing various plug-in modules. Service towers were at fixed locations.
Engineer Frank Newby was sympathetic to Price's views. He devised a structural grid of lattice beams and columns as a skeleton onto which floors, walls, bridge links, roofs, ductwork and services could be attached. These would all have been looked after by the gantry cranes, which could reach every part of the building.
Even the escalators — the main means of access to the theatres and workshops — were to be capable of moving. The roof was to be retractable and only used when and where required. The most unusual features were the total absence of a fixed floor and the fact that the entire assemblage was to be suspended above landscaped parkland.
The project's design concept influenced a number of architects and engineers. The Pompidou Centre in Paris (1972-1977) by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, with engineers Ove Arup & Partners, most closely resembles it. Some Fun Palace influences can also be seen in the design of the Lloyds building in London (Richard Rogers Partnership, Ove Arup & Partners). Here, rooftop cranes hint at the potential for adaptation that Price's project advocated.
Architect: Cedric Price
"The Square Book" by Cedric Price, Wiley-Academy, Chichester, 2003
"Megastructure, Urban Futures of the Recent Past" by Reyner Banham
Thames and Hudson, London, 1976
"Design by Choice" by Reyner Banham, Academy Editions, London, 1981
"Fantasy Architecture 1500-2036"
by Neil Bingham, Clare Carolin, Peter Cook and Rob Wilson
Hayward Gallery Publishing, London, 2004
research: ND

Fun Palace, proposed site of