NATØ: narrative architecture in postmodern london

(Routledge, 2017)

FOREWORD BY RICK POYNOR

Chronicling the last radical architectural group of the twentieth century – NATØ (Narrative Architecture Today) – who emerged from the Architectural Association at the start of the 1980s, this book explores the group’s work which echoed a wider artistic and literary culture that drew on the specific political, social and physical condition of 1980s London. It traces NATØ’s identification with a particular stream of post-punk, postmodern expression: a celebration of the abject, an aesthetic of entropy, and a do-it-yourself provisionality. NATØ has most often been documented in reference to Nigel Coates (the instigator of NATØ), which has led to a one-sided, one-dimensional record of NATØ’s place in architectural history. This book sets out a more detailed, contextual history of NATØ, told through photographs, drawings, and ephemera, restoring a truer polyvocal narrative of the group’s ethos and development. 

Personal archives of original NATØ material – including drawings, photographs, magazines and writings – are exposed for the first time. Combined with personal interviews with NATØ members and other significant individuals, the narrative traces the group’s evolution and development at the AA in Unit 10 and their active period between 1983-1987. The book also examines the key influences of Nigel Coates: exploring his relationship with Bernard Tschumi, the influence of a period spent in New York and his association with diverse artists and filmmakers in London. As such, the research presents the first detailed examination of NATØ and produces original insight into the territory of architectural narrativity.

Framing NATØ’s work through an understanding of the way in which their use of medium evolved alongside their conceptual ideas, the book considers the material in relation to four distinct areas: performance and video, the drawing, the magazine and the exhibition. Chapter 1 on performance and video exposes the influence of both Tschumi and a pivotal year spent in New York on Coates, and the development of his ideas from student to co-tutor at the AA in 1977. Chapter 2 takes the architectural drawing as its subject, showing how Coates evolved the drawing in his unit at the AA in the early 1980s, and how in turn NATØ employed the drawing as an expressive narrative medium. Chapter 3 considers NATØ’s self-published magazine produced between 1983-85, drawing parallels between ‘little magazine’, ‘zines’ and other radical publishing practices in literature, music and architecture. Chapter 4 examines the apotheosis of NATØ’s output: the exhibitions ‘Gamma City’ at the Air Gallery (London, 1985), and ‘Heathrow’ part of ‘The British Edge’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art, (Boston, 1987). Finally, Chapter 5 tells the story of NATØ's ending, and suggests lineage to present-day practice that can be considered the group's legacy.

Spread from NATO 2, 'Dress Apprentice', AA Publications, 1984