How Great Architecture Was in 1966
by Adolfo Natalini
Look beyond the metaphors; resist the treatment of everything
Superstudio, New-New York Auguri 1969, November 20-22, 1969 Photo by Giovanni Savi
In 1965, Le Corbusier drowned swimming in the sea. His architectural oeuvre continued to swell as successive volumes of his complete works were issued. Louis Kahn had exploded classic antiquity. Aldo Rossi had published The Architecture of the City. Mies and Aalto continued producing their models (the former all seriousness, the latter with a smile). For minds more acute or scientific, there was methodology, prefabrication and industrial design. For appetites whetted by the avant-garde, the Japanese Metabolists and Yona Friedman continued to turn out mega structures (Tange docet), while the Archigram boys burst onto the scene with their ironic technologies as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones strummed away in the background. In Austria, Pichler, Abraham and Hollein were doing incomprehensible things and in Milan, Ettore Sottsass and Ugo La Pietra worked away in solitude (the former with a smile, the latter with the height of earnestness); but very few were aware of all these goings-on. Those were the days!
My earlier work is largely contained in my current work, even if it can be difficult to trace. My work is still anti- utopian, if the only utopia left to us is globalisation. Superstudio’s work was necessary for the 1960s; my work in Holland was necessary for the 1990s and for the beginning of the new millennium. At the time, we needed a revolution, to break away from established culture. Today, with our failed ideologies, we need to work against extreme liberalism and consumerism, against the too-fast pace of fashion and aesthetics devoid of content, against the cult of personality and useless experimentation.
On November 4, 1966, the Arno invaded Florence: it was the most disastrous flood of the century, with water that reached nearly six metres in the Santacroce area. The same
day, Superstudio was born. Unaware of the water advancing through the streets, I spent nearly the whole day designing the first Superstudio manifesto. Then, at 5 o’clock, the water reached my studio. This extraordinary coincidence has been noted with subtle Eastern intuition by Arata Isozaki in his article, “Superstudio, and the traces of the flood,” published in the September 1971 issue of Toshi Jutaku.
With the full weight of insecurity and skepticism (a vague unease, feelings of alienation, and so on…) on our shoulders, and with a dose of cynicism, we decided to become Super. The early works between 1967 and 1969 were responses to two imperatives: to get rid of all remnants of, and infatuations with, the architectural through a massive ingestion of projects/images, and to begin the demolition of the discipline through guerrilla incursions (this was Archizoom’s theory of the ‘Trojan Horse’). In this way, operating fitfully between architecture and design, ‘Vantidesign’ was born, goading and harrying Milan designers with its vulgarity (though the breath of fresh air it brought appealed to the industry).
Superstudio’s involvement was manifestly didactic: to analyse and annihilate the discipline of architecture by using “popular means of illustration and consumer literature” (Gregotti was to speak of “religious terrorism”). Naturally, there were those who could not see beyond the metaphors and treated everything as yet another utopian proposition (some crammed No-Stop City into the same pigeonhole). Too bad for them.
Originally published in Spazio-Arte, no. 10 – 11, 1977. Translation by David Radzinowicz-Howell.
Superstudio, Atene/Eretteion. Restauro della Loggia delle Cariatidi, July 20, 1969 Photo by Giovanni Savi