From April to June 1973 the exhibition entitled “How to Play the Environment Game” hung on the walls of London’s South Bank Hayward Gallery, marking one of the first attempts to put on display for a general public the major urban issue of the day: London’s redevelopment after reconstruction. This talk will explore not only how this didactic exhibition was a critique of postwar planning but also how its curator challenged the traditional role of the architect by interrelating message and medium to reach a broader public audience. It will argue that “How to Play the Environment Game” is a progenitor of the kinds of socially and politically engaged architecture and design exhibitions we expect today.
Conceived, designed, and organized by the South African-born architect and designer Theo Crosby for the Arts Council of Great Britain, the exhibition presented the multiple determinants defining the physical aspects of London. Crosby attempted to distill the complex processes that led to the elimination of neighborhoods, the deconstruction of monuments, and the relocation of communities as part of the city’s redevelopment. Using the idea of a game, Crosby showcased historical and contemporary case studies to shed light on the mutual and conflictual interests of the players involved—including property developers, contractors, politicians, architects, and citizens—arguing that each win in proportion to their involvement. Square-formatted panels of black-and-white aerial photographs, montages, drawings, and diagrams were placed on polychromatic walls, interspersed with textual interventions from contemporary luminaries such as Andrea Branzi, Peter Cook, Jane Jacobs, among others. Crosby also initiated the experimental installation of immersive projections and an accompanying multimedia propaganda van to reach an audience outside the gallery. In a further attempt to extend the exhibition beyond its limited lifespan in the gallery, Crosby released a Penguin paperback featuring the exhibition’s content and designed a condensed version of the exhibition that traveled throughout the United Kingdom.
But in London, for three months, Crosby reconstituted the Hayward Gallery as a space for discursive display on the built environment. This talk will analyze how “How to Play the Environment Game” brought to the forefront what was at stake in London’s redevelopment under evolving political circumstances, commercial interests, and market realities, and how it was also paradigmatic of Crosby’s half-century career of merging message and medium.