A Brief Theory of the Architectural B-side

Cluedo Board Game Patent #586817, Plan, Anthony E. Pratt, 1947

An architectural B-side is, clearly, not an architectural hit. While an architectural B-side is surely architectural, its placement within the discipline may not be quite familiar or easily classified.  Such difficulty in categorization puts an architectural B-side on the disciplinary sidelines. It is precisely this peripheral positioning that affords the architectural B-side the ability to re-examine, re-digest, re-think and ultimately re-define the limits of the discipline. Neither entirely within nor outside of the discipline, an architectural B-side may at first glance appear to be a useless work of architecture that is better suited for history’s trash can. However, the discipline of architecture is already overflowing with useless ‘work.’ To inspect works that have not typically been included under the designation of architecture culture, and to consider them under that designation, might be our most disciplinary task.

One such delightful architectural B-side is Anthony Ernest Pratt’s 1947 patent specification drawing for the board game Cluedo. As a black and white diagrammatic floor plan, is Pratt’s patent specification drawing for Cludeo not a variation on the architectural problem of the nine-square grid? Developed during WW II, Pratt’s legible labyrinth deploys architectural concepts of the interior, sequence, narrative, program, and the house to produce a morbid, deductive whodunit game structured around the event of murder.  Within the plan, each programmatic figure is isolated from others by a gridded circulation path. Thus the introverted plan produces a center that is “free” or “open,” with a single staircase that descends to the basement. Yet, from gun room to conservatory, every programmatic figure plugs into the perimeter such that each room is ostensibly connected. This looped corridor at the perimeter of the plan unites all of the programmatic figures into a single, contained space, allowing a murderer to commit a crime in one space and move undetected to another. Rather than a machine for living, Pratt’s plan is a machine for killing.

Like their counterparts in film and music, architectural B-sides may simply be cult classics that exercise a  deliberate obstinacy toward commercial or disciplinary success.  Architectural B-sides may exploit elements of fantasy, violence, sex, and darkness, conveying idiosyncrasies or perversions. Discarded visions, failures, accidents, outtakes, mishaps, glitches, curiosities, oddities, anomalies, and ultimately follies – architectural B-sides are the collective skeletons of architecture’s closet. With respect to Pratt’s Cluedo floor plan, perhaps Bernard Tschumi’s advertisement is true: “To really appreciate architecture you may even need to commit a murder.” And maybe, at this moment, with the hits having been played out, in order to really appreciate architecture we actually need to perversely love architecture.

Andrew Kovacs

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