A place I have always wanted to visit and never have is the Louisiana Museum to the north of Copenhagen. Promoted by my tutors in the early ‘70s as a fine example of open architecture and a salve to the exclusivity of traditional museums, and plagiarised mercilessly in my student projects, it has always been my intention and never my opportunity to visit. Now, some 40 years later into my inbox drops an invitation from one of those tutors to his lecture and the location, the Louisiana.
Peter Cook has always been a joy and an inspiration to listen to. There is a straightforward no-nonsense approach to his design musings, a disarmingly practical form to his description of propositions that appear anything but. It is a language that speaks to the fundamental interests of the English temperament, that is both amusing and mildly cynical, gently prodding the social mores about which we English are bemused and embarrassed in equal measure yet we own completely. As I listen to Peter, I wonder why he is so well received not only in the UK but across the world. His discussion is very local, very English, his stories and influences founded in the English countryside and the home-county suburbs. His megalithic towers are discrete English suburban in(ter)ventions piled to overly ambitious heights. His structures are Victorian in their combination of practicality and floridity. His ever-present vegetation is drawn from English park- and woodland, (sgt.) peppered with references to a 60’s Beatles imagery.
Then how fitting that Peter presents all this in a building that is itself tucked into the Danish country garden landscape, merging the architecture with the foliage, seemingly untroubled by the usual institutional distinction of natural and artificial light and air. Designed by Jørgen Bo and Wilhelm Wohlert, completed in 1958 and expanded at various times since, it too is a building that evolves and absorbs, conceals its true scale and projects from its setting for the tantalizing glimpse. Distinctly Scandinavian in its form and materials it nevertheless comes from a time and conceptual base that parallels the emergence of Peter and his early cohorts at Archigram.
I returned the next day to enjoy Peter’s drawings, a panoply of images carefully and determinedly etched from his multi-coloured pens across 60 years, some well-known from my architectural youth and others that have developed those early ideas into the more recent environmental considerations in which I believe they have been influential.
This is in part an exhibition for the knowledgeable, for what others will make of it all without Peter’s enlivened descriptions is difficult to say, but it’s nicely laid out, consistent in the nature of its message and remarkably relevant to everything we believe should happen to the world now the worst of the pandemic appears to have passed and our belief in a more comfortable, open-minded and socially inclusive future appears to have emerged.
But what was unknown and remarkable to me is that Peter not only talks of this, and continues to develop and draw this, but also lives this absolutely. For the remainder of the lecture weekend is spent in the company of an equally diverse and yet cohesive group, bounding between and binding together Copenhagen and Malmö. The group of Peter and Yael’s friends are both local and drawn from various hues of European design, science and architecture. They are a group who’s guiding interest is interest in others, with an eagerness to intertwine thoughts, food, joy, and stories. And at the end of the weekend, as when reaching the end of Peter’s lecture and his exhibition, one feels both invigorated and just that little bit wiser.