Posts tagged with "Superstudio":

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Adolfo Natalini's final vanishing act

The passing of Adolfo Natalini on January 23, 2020, brings to a close an incredibly productive career as an artist, an architect, and an educator. Together with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, the two co-founded Superstudio, a “radical” design collective that attracted a major international following by defying the fundamental principles of post-war modern architecture. Arriving on the scene in December of 1966, Superstudio, together with Archizoom, invented inside the Jolly 2 gallery in Pistoia, Tuscany, a bright, colorful collection of full-scale domestic architecture, designs, furniture, lamps, and radio sets. Over time, Natalini’s career veered towards a full-fledged professional practice, undertaking large scale building projects, including libraries, university campuses, museums, urban housing complexes, and a monumental cemetery. From the start, and well into the late stages of his practice, Adolfo Natalini continued to challenge the modern architecture canon—though his turn towards a vernacular regional style by the late ’80s baffled many fans of the early Superstudio. Given the major impact Natalini Architects had in countries like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, something also should be said about Natalini’s larger opus, but it helps to revisit Superstudio’s early groundbreaking projects first to see how things unfolded. Superstudio was built on its diverse interests. The members brought along with them many layers of expertise. Cristiano Toraldo di Francia was a professional photographer and keenly wired into cybernetic theory and passionate about nature; Gian Piero Frassinelli was a writer, studied anthropology, and was an expert in airbrush; Alessandro Poli (member from 1970 to 1972) shared his longstanding concern for social work and everyday society, and Roberto Magris was a gifted industrial designer. For his part, Natalini spent much of his time thinking about life, repeatedly interrogating the greater transcendent questions on the meaning of art, architecture, design, and their big and small roles in the shaping of society. Natalini wrote, “I became interested more in humanities (literature, philosophy, politics) than in science and technology; I owe more to painters and to poets than to architects.” Significantly, Natalini always had his black sketchbook in hand and was the one who drew out the ideas and composed the group’s many incredibly detailed storyboards. Storyboards for lamp fixtures, houses, for industrial objects, urban spaces, monuments, and city infrastructures. His drawings would also have lots of people, alone and in crowds, historic figures and street characters. It's been suggested Natalini thought through his sketches—and wrote like he was making geometrical patterns with his words. As Natalini noted in his autobiographical publication Four Sketchbooks (2015): “At times, I aligned words at night, on the typewriter, being more attentive to the kabbalistic geometry of the lines on the sheet of paper than to their meaning…  Natalini’s way of sketching-thinking-writing is evident in the first manifestation of Superarchitecture, the movement that launched Superstudio. The poster at the Jolly 2 gallery read: “the architecture of superproduction; superconsumption; superinduction to superconsumption; the supermarket, superman and super gas.” Supermarkets and super-grade gasoline became the iconographic lanterns of Natalini’s pop language. Natalini’s earlier career as a pop painter segued almost seamlessly into pop architect with this one exhibition. It was subsequently picked up by Ettore Sottsass Jr. and he delivered it, lock, stock and barrel to Sergio Cammilli, owner and driving force behind Poltronova, the fabled furniture and design manufacturer. Most of these early bold designs remain in production or have recently been revived. Superstudio continued to profane modernist architecture by putting out ever more stunning critiques, striking against the profession’s socially maladroit, poorly mass-produced, and increasingly environmentally destructive practices. The Continuous Monument (1969-1972), a sort of gigantic re-dimensioning of Superstudio’s earlier investigations into reductive furniture, like the Histograms (1969-70) began the barrage and continued into Twelve Ideal Cities (1971) that prognosed 12 different bleak futures for humankind. Their architecture culminated in Supersurface, presented in New York in 1972 for the MoMA exhibition Italy: the New Domestic Landscape, whose singular premise was to sweep aside architecture altogether replacing it with a universal communications network carpeted across the planet. Supersurface, in turn, provoked among the collective a rethinking of basically everything. Superstudio came to announce Five Fundamental Acts (1972-1973) introducing a “multiple” universe divided into primary categories: Life, Ceremony, Education, Love, and Death. With this last effort, Superstudio hit its tabula rasa, basically rendering themselves obsolete in the process. Superstudio would carry on through 1978, providing a deeply metaphysical reflection on the state of architecture through two projects: The Conscious of Zeno, and The Wife of Lot, commissioned by the curator Lara Vinca Masini for the Venice Bienniale held that same year. The Conscious of Zeno is tied to the painstaking anthropological studies conducted around the Tuscan countryside by students enrolled in Natalini’s university course Plastica Ornamentale, on the subject of ex-urban material culture. This work can be seen as both the progenitor and consequence of the Global Tools Radical school that tied together Radicals from Milan, Turin, Naples, and Florence. Conversely, The Wife of Lot dissolved a canonic architectural lineup of salt molds under a constant dribble of water. Arguably a second final ending. By this time, Natalini had begun working towards his independent architectural practice and his office grew over the next decade with a number of successful projects that made it to completion. In 1994 he began his collaboration with Corinne Schrauwen, a Dutch architect and office. If, in the ’80s projects like Bank of Alzata Brianza in Como, Italy, (with Gian Piero Frassinelli, 1983) suggested a banded modernist interpretation of an articulated but rational building block, a decade later in Holland his housing residences and village agglomerations would discard entirely rational forms, referencing instead much earlier stylistic sources and local city landmarks. In an interview I held with Natalini back in 2002, we discussed his early experiences in London, at Alvin Boyarsky’s International Institute of Design, and later at the AA. Natalini, commenting on Alvin Boyarsky, pointed out that he“[…]was a very open person, whose ideology was to have a great circus in which many different things could happen. He was a prophet of pluralism.” Natalini went on to add:
“In one of these summer sessions (1972) I organized a kind of Italian Festival, bringing in Paolo Deganello from Archizoom and Paolo de Rossi, part of the Strum group from Turin. Paolo Deganello and Paolo de Rossi were heavily involved in politics and they were explaining to the English students things that the students absolutely would not have understood, like the logic behind the extra-parliamentary movements Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio. One of the students who was very interested in this was Bernard Tschumi, and someone said, yes, he is the only Swiss communist around. The AA was a school I liked a lot and I made lots of friends there. I was friends with Rem Koolhaas, with Elia Zenghellis, and Leon Krier. And I also was a friend of Peter Cook.”
Natalini’s growing eclecticism belongs to this kind of pluralist worldview. Hans Ibelings, the Dutch architecture critic, considered Natalini’s architecture in the Netherlands back in 2004 for the Middelburg lecture, stating:
“Natalini does not seem to be searching for an archetypal simplicity but for simplicity as such. In this context the anthropological study Superstudio carried out in the 1970s at the University of Florence into simple implements, self-driven processes of change and extra-urban material cultures are relevant. These studies are an important link with the current architecture of Natalini. After he, along with the other members of Superstudio, had analyzed products and processes that lack a conscious act of designing, Natalini began to apply a comparable logic to his own work.”
History will be the judge, but Adolfo Natalini, with his work on the Uffizi Galleries and on the Museum of the Duomo has already secured his position among the canon of great Florentine architects. But that is not to say that Natalini hasn’t left us a couple of things still to ponder: Natalini, back in 2005, wrote: “My work aspires to a timeless normality. I would like to vanish into my buildings. I would wish that these buildings disappear into their city contexts and become a landscape where it’s possible to live peaceably.” I think Natalini has found his peace at last.
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Adolfo Natalini of Superstudio dies at 78

Adolfo Natalini, one of two founding members of the Italian avant-garde architecture firm Superstudio, died today at the age of 78 in Florence, Italy. Born in Pistoia, a picturesque town one hour northwest of Florence, Natalini graduated from the University of Florence in 1966 with an initial interest in painting. Shortly after graduating, however, his formative interactions with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia led to the two co-founding Superstudio and were later joined by Gian Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Poli, and brothers Roberto and Alessandro Magris.
Skeptical of the conventions in the fields of architecture and design that had become widely accepted by the 1960s—corporate modernism, suburbia, and the rampant consumption of natural resources—Superstudio first made a name for itself by exhibiting subversive illustrations of alternate modes of planetary inhabitation. The firm’s renderings of impossibly-scaled mirrored pyramids and continuous gridded landscapes, devoid of the conveniences of modern-day life, were later referred to as “anti-architecture,” or what today might be described as an architecture of degrowth. Superstudio teamed up with other like-minded groups, including the Florence-based firm Archizoom Associati, to present their criticisms as far and as wide as possible for a firm practicing on the fringes of the field. After Superstudio dissolved in 1978 following a 12-year run, Natalini entered private practice the following year to apply his singular vision to built projects throughout Italy’s historic centers. His designs for the Edificio Per Office ad Alzate Brianza in Como (1978) and the Teatro della Compagnia in Florence (1987), for instance, exemplify the architect's ability to reframe pre-modern sites with bold postmodern design (often using grid designs first employed while as a member of Superstudio). He then became a full professor at his alma mater and established Natalini Architetti with Fabrizio Natalini in 1991, one of the last projects of which was the partial renovation of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence (2009).
The news of Natalini's death comes five months after news of Cristiano Toraldo di Francia's death in August 2019.
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Re-imagining the Avant-Garde re-examines the state of the field

“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/electronic age,” Warren Chalk, member of former British architecture studio Archigram once said. Chalk's quote epitomized Archigram's outlook and approach—daring, brave, looking firmly into the future, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Archigram and its contemporaries of similarly brilliant names (Ant Farm, Superstudio and Archizoom) have since been canonized as being part of an elite group of supposedly Avant-Garde architects. But if that was the crème-de-la-crème of 50 years ago, what is the equivalent today? Re-imagining the Avant-Garde, on show at Betts Project in East London, might have the answer. If you want to see some good drawings, this is the place to go—not surprising given the star-studded exhibitor list: Ant Farm, Pablo Bronstein, Peter Eisenman, Sam Jacob, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, and Aldo Rossi, to name a few, are all on show and none disappoint. Neither do the smaller studios: UrbanLab, WAI Think Tank, Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR), and Office Kovacs. Those exhibited are either mentioned in or have contributed to a special edition of AD Magazine which takes the same name as the exhibition at Betts Project. British duo Matthew Butcher and Luke Pearson, both academics, writers, and designers guest co-edited the magazine and co-curated this exhibition. "Avant-Garde" used in relation to architecture today brings to mind the work of Archigram et al., all of who sprouted from the fervent experimental ground of the 1960s and ’70s. It's through this moment in architectural history which Re-Imagining the Avant-Garde attempts to frame contemporary architectural practice and thought. So how does the historical and contemporary sit next to each other? Rather comfortably, it turns out. As images and models, all arguably fall under the umbrella of Pop Architecture; British critic Reyner Banham's definition holding true. Take Belgium firm Office Kersten Geers' Border Wall, for example. The studio helped popularize the collage style of architectural representation a few years ago and it's a useful medium for Border Wall. Here it is employed to highlight tensions between territories—in this case, a walled forest in the middle of a desert divided by a fence. The desert landscape is a blurry image, while the tree trunks are conveniently hidden, all of which consequently obfuscates any sense of scale, adding a layer of ambiguity to the piece. Other exhibitors reference the Avant-Garde architectural canon explicitly, like WAR for example, who projects its architecture through a comic strip akin to the drawings of Archigram. L.A.-based Office Kovacs, run by Andrew Kovacs, meanwhile provides a palimpsest of readymade architectural artifacts in Miniature maze, a work that draws on the archive of affinities found in Kovacs' blog of architectural b-sides. As these works are displayed next to photos of Ant Farm's famous touring truck, and with other ’60s radicals in mind, it's evident that the contemporary practices on show are producing work that is just as visually arresting as their predecessors. But what's the difference between then and now? "Yes, ’70s utopian groups have influenced us—it's obvious, no? The difference is that we work out there in reality," Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of the Berlin-based raumlabor told AN editor-in-chief William Menking in his article for the issue of AD Magazine. Like all good exhibitions, Re-imagining the Avant-Garde provokes more questions. Is this the Avant-Garde reimagined? Why are we being asked to re-imagine the Avant-Garde in the first place, is it the hope of stumbling upon another wave of Avant-Garde architects? Very few, if any, realize they are part of an Avant-Garde, even if they have Avant-Gardist ambitions (see Chalk's quote). The term is, for the most part, applied through a historical lens. We only realize there was an Avant-Garde once it has been and, sadly, gone. We might even find that the more we search for an Avant-Garde, the more it will evade us. When Abbot Suger worked with his Master Masons on the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 12th-Century France, he probably didn't expect the Gothic-style church he commissioned to end up defining the built landscape of Medieval Europe. Far less did Suger realize that he was part of an architectural Avant-Garde (or equivalent seeing as the phrase emerged some 700 years after). Defining a historical Avant-Garde imposes restrictions on a supposed contemporary Avant-Garde. Also writing in the same issue of AD Magazine, critic Mimi Zeiger argues that "The work of Italian radicals Superstudio [and others] provides endless fodder for appropriation," which is the case with much the work on show at Betts Project. Furthermore, the elite Avant-Garde club which Butcher and Pearson refer to is essentially an all-white gentleman's club. "Re-imagining the avant-garde might seem celebratory at first but unless radically re-contextualized and critiqued, it can be a trap. Old biases and omissions are reinforced: canons crystallized, hierarchies hardened, patriarchal practices protected," adds Zeiger. In light of this, instead of aspiring to be part of an Avant-Garde, today's architects should forget about the term altogether and strive to make a more sustainable planet. Much as how Chalk imagined building for an "atomic/electronic age," a similarly forward-thinking vision will surely prove to be Avant-Garde in time. Re-imagining the Avant-Garde runs through December 21.
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Peter Lang on Cristiano Toraldo di Francia's 'incredible love'

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia sadly passed away on July 30. Cofounder, along with Adolfo Natalini, of the Florentine Radical design and architecture group Superstudio, Cristiano was the kind of person who was incredibly open-minded, shared a sharp sense of humor, and professed a deep love for humanity. While accolades spread across the internet following news of his passing, there was a lot to Cristiano that didn’t make it into these postings, tributes, and memorials. What might have been most lacking in all these accounts was the way he shrugged off fame and shunned formality. Yet he never wasted a moment, had infinite stamina, and to stick by him you needed to react fast and move quickly. Cristiano was a perceptive and ever-present photographer, and it is thanks to him that so many historical moments during their superlative adventure were captured for posterity. When I asked him about how he got into photography, he spoke about his father, Giuliano, who was a renowned physicist, recounting an odd story about how he was introduced to his first photo-camera. As Cristiano told me, in an interview at his house in Filottrano back in 2005, his father “…designed lenses for Ducati, at that time they made electronics—now they´re making motorcycles. They made cameras, radios. And they made a micro-camera, which anticipated the cameras of today, instead of the normal 35 mm film --24x36mm, they were using 24x18mm film, so it was fantastic. Italy was poor at the time, everything had to be reduced! Cristiano couldn’t help make a quip about the States, and while proudly acknowledging that Italian technology was inventing incredible things that were “almost too advanced for their time,” in America “everything was big—big cameras, big cars. But that camera was a jewel... Just to say that since I was a child I was initiated to the mysteries of photography—the images coming out of the acids, of the paper.” Probing further, I asked Cristiano what his relationship was to the burgeoning Florentine fashion industry in the early sixties when he was a professional photographer. “I was making family portraits at the time to raise money. In Florence, there is a big tradition around the Alinari family that besides all the city portraits,” now in the Alinari Archive in Florence, “they shot a lot of family portraits, but these were like paintings, all retouched, like Photoshop. “They were perfect photographers- so this tradition was present. I was trying to do a very different kind of photography. I looked more to the American model. A journalistic kind of picture, Diane Arbus... Not so much Man Ray or the historical ones.I became quite successful at the time. All these noble mothers came to make photos in my studio. After a while, I was asked to do fashion photography, but after a while, Superstudio started and I quit. But of course, I had all the contacts and all the people- I was friends with Oliviero Toscani for example,” who would go on to make the controversial photographic campaigns for Bennetton. With his usual irony, Cristiano pointed out that he also worked as a fashion model, for the kind of magazines that were constantly referencing architecture. It’s hard not to talk about the origins of the Italian Radical movement without getting into influences, of which there were many: “We started…” as Cristiano clarified in that same interview, “…on parallel levels, looking at Archigram, but even more we looked back at Dada and then to Pop-art that was bringing the Dada methods up to date. Fluxus—breaking boundaries and being completely interdisciplinary, fluctuating from one activity to the other. But on the other hand, Archigram had this political information as background—for which we could say maybe we were more idealistic than them. They were more pragmatic, more Anglo-Saxon.” Dan Graham connected his generation to Rock and Roll, and given the times, it is clear that music played a considerable role for Cristiano. When I spoke to Cristiano about music when we met in December of 2002, he had this to say: “When I talk about the importance of music, we don’t deny having discovered a person like Bob Dylan, or the Beatles, it was a time when popular music reached great artistic levels, Laurie Anderson, the whole group of Fluxus, back then there was a system of self-propulsion, in every field…” What is critical in understanding Superstudio is precisely this level of mixing passions that the art and architecture curator Lara Vinca Masini referred to as “contaminations.” Cristiano stabbed at this point by bringing in Aldo Rossi: “Yes the work of Rossi and others was interesting, but it was always inside a discipline with few confrontations with the world that went much faster than their own reasoning.” Getting back to the Florentine music scene, Cristiano credited his father with exposing him to experimental music when he was beginning university. In a conversation I had with him in 2005, Cristiano remarked: “My father was a scientist, and as a scientist he was traveling a lot and, in a way, disillusioned and relativistic. He was asked in 1963 to become president of the young contemporary music association. One of those members was Sylvano Bussotti,” a Florentine native, musical polyglot and noted dandy. “One was Giuseppe Chiari,” the atonal musician, close to John Cage and a member of Fluxus, “and the other was Pietro Grossi,” a Venetian electronic musician and composer living in Florence. “I remember they were making concerts of electronic music, and one concert was in the Conservatorio di Musica Cherubini which is a traditional music conservatory. And after 10 minutes of this music people went crazy.” Evidently, for this generation of young architects living in Florence in the sixties, these were incredibly stimulating years. Superstudio detoured around the traditional tools of the architect, experimenting with alternative forms of expression and representation. When Emilio Ambasz showed up in Florence around 1971, scouting for ideas for the upcoming exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape for MoMA, the young curator was seeking out experimental “environments.” These would be full-scale prototypes for living, accompanied by films serving as animated captions. Yet I wanted to know just how Superstudio produced this project, what kind of technology was used to build this elaborate environment and how did they create their 12-minute film Supersurface. The main backer for the environment was the manufacturer Print but they also had to procure other funders, due to the elevated expenses. According to Cristiano, they found the supplies they needed in Florence, the special reflective glass and the electronic components key to simulate alternating moods of day and night inside the environment. It took 15 days to manually assemble it before the show opened in New York on May 26th, 1972. The movie was instead made during the winter of 1971- 72 and it was filmed in 36 mm. “I worked on that with Sandro Poli,” the Superstudio member officially present between 1970 and 1972, “we found the music, made the soundtrack, with the professional help of a guy who made advertising for TV (Marchi Producers), who had that mentality, and in fact, we wanted it to be projected as if it would be an advertisement for the Supersurface. The first part presents in a scientific way how the thing is done, and the second one tells how happy you will be living there.” In fact, both making the environment and directing the animated film were very labor-intensive hands-on processes. I asked Cristiano what role the Italian manufacturers had in producing Superstudio’s concepts. Cristiano’s response was that these factories were mostly made up of artisans. “That is why we managed to make a series of objects from very different things and from really different materials. Most of these objects are coming out of a kind of bricolage. The factory made almost nothing—we had to find artisans who did the different parts. The industry would just put the parts together. We were doing a kind of bricolage Cheap-scape—as Frank Gehry would say—for the industries.” The Italian design industry seemed to work as an artisanal chain assembly. But what was still not clear, was why did these manufacturers get behind a group like Superstudio to make things that worked against the idea of mass consumption? Why would they sponsor designs that were against their best interests? “We thought these objects we were making were a kind of trojan horses that coming from inside the system would produce criticism, which means creativity, which means refusal, or incredible love. They were objects of poetic reaction for the people. They were not mass-produced, they were in little series, multiples, like works of art.” To this day I still think about Cristiano’s trojan horses, and his incredible love.
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Superstudio cofounder Cristiano Toraldo di Francia dies at 78

Italian architect Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, master drawer, and cofounder of famed 1960s and ’70s collective Superstudio, has died at the age of 78. Best known for starting the radical design firm while studying at the University of Florence with partner Adolfo Natalini, Toraldo di Francia was a catalyst for the radical architecture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though the group built very little, it excelled in creating avant-garde narratives and installations for major exhibitions as well as producing highly-regarded drawings, videos, and lithographs. Superstudio’s influential architectural research, design, objects, and theoretical work were featured in both the Milan Triennale, the Venice Biennale (several times), and at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the Design Museum in London, among others. Several international museums have acquired their work over the years including the Centre Pompidou and the MAXXI in Rome. In 1972, Superstudio was invited by curator Amelio Ambasz to participate in its first U.S. showcase, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Though the collective fell apart by 1980, its effect on the architectural profession was huge. It’s said that Superstudio’s penchant for imagining outrageous mega-structures majorly shaped the design minds of Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. In the early 70s, Koolhaas focused his final thesis at the Architectural Association of London on the Florentine group. Born in 1941, Toraldo di Francia also became a respected Italian architect, author, and educator in his own right in Italy. After Superstudio broke up, he continued to work independently in Florence and eventually in Filottrano, Italy. Some of his major projects include designing the Livorno waterfront, the Florence Statuto Railway Station, the San Paolo di Prato Banking Institute, and the Banca del Chianti headquarters in San Casciano Val di Pesa. Arguably one of his best and most controversial designs was the La Pensilina di Santa Maria Novella that served as a bus and taxi terminal adjacent to the 1932 Florence train station. Inspired by the striped patterning added to the facade and interior of the Santa Maria Novella church by Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century, Toraldi di Francia made his elongated pensilina structure just as radical with skylights and ample marble material. It was built in 1990 ahead of the World Cup but later became inhospitable and dysfunctional. It was eventually dismantled by The Renzi government in 2010. In addition to designing, Toraldo di Francia taught and lectured at a number of universities Europe, the United States, and Japan. He was a founding faculty member of the architectural school at the University of Camerino in 1992. He worked there regularly until transitioning to the role of adjunct professor in 2011. A memorial is planned for the architect possibly this Thursday. Peter Lang and AN’s editor-in-chief William Menking wrote a book on Toraldi di Francia, his colleagues, and the Superstudio collective, Superstudio: Life Without Objects, which was published in 2003. Lang will follow up this initial obituary with a longer, more in-depth piece.
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In Florence, an unprecedented gathering at "Radical Utopians"

In 2014, the micro storefront art cooperative Base/Progetti for Art in Florence launched Radical Tools, a series of speaking events held in their single window facing Via San Niccolò on Florence’s “left” bank. Most of Florence’s historic Radicals showed up to participate, and this event proved that, despite past animosities, rivalries, and other unfathomable differences, the Radical generation could possibly come together at last. From there, the exhibit, "Radical Utopians: Beyond Architecture: Florence 1966-1976," evolved, though it originally was to open in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of emergence of the Superarchitecture movement. But for the usual complications, the exhibit was delayed a year. Perhaps this was a forgivable slip if one considers that there were two debuts for the Superarchitecture movement, one in Pistoia in 1966, and the other in Modena in 1967, and that even those two dates were precariously fixed. The exhibit, nonetheless, is a Florentine first, as up till now, no one was ever able to bring all these main players into the same space. It is also likely that this won’t happen again. The curators, Pino Brugellis, Gianni Pettena, and Alberto Salvadori, with Elisabetta Trincherini acting as curatorial coordinator, faced a heap of criticism for daring to shake up conventions, separating the group’s sacrosanct works by themes, eroding in the process the hierarchies that had been persevered among them. But there were many, like myself, who feasted on this splendid eye-opening smorgasbord of projects, objects, films and other Radical life accessories. After all, this assembly of Florentine Radicals: Superstudio, Archizoom, 9999, UFO, Zziggurat, Gianni Pettena, and Remo Buti, in their native home of Florence, with works collected from group and individual archives as well as from private collectors, manufacturers like Poltronova, and major museums like the Pompidou Center, represents an impressive curatorial feat. Just to see Archizoom's collection of clothing, “Dressing Design,” on display, created principally by Lucia Bartolini, with her modular dress patterns intended to encourage the user to be her or his own stylist, or her intriguing “hairy” leggings, promoted by Fiorucci for his fashion collection, are in themselves worth the while. Besides a good number of precious pieces by Superstudio and Archizoom, this is also an occasion to become immersed in the works of the other Florentine Radicals: Gianni Pettena’s images from different cities featuring his first political “statements” using his monumental alphabet, along with his underground films and American land art-inspired house series. Then there are the images of UFO ‘s pre-postmodern semiotic-inspired performance extravaganzas, and most prominently their enormous Colgate inflatable suspended in the Strozzi palace’s outdoor courtyard. Also on view is 9999’s compilation of videos taken of the Living Theater inside their Space Electronic discotheque along with their Franciscan-inspired illustrations for a film never realized. Along with Remo Buti’s original airbrushed renderings of his ideal cities, one can view his important collection of imprinted architecture white ceramic dinner plates. And then there is Zziggurat, whose name is legendary, but whose works are rarely displayed. Here are the most architectural drawings of the exhibit, including their 1969 project “la citta lineare per Santa Croce (the linear city for Santa Croce),” a jagged and immense superstructure that rips through the heart of Florence, programmed with cultural and public activities. This project, as Elisabetta Trincherini pointed out in a recent exhibit walkthrough, could clearly have inspired Rem Koolhaas’s 1972 Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. As Andrea Branzi once remarked, this was a generazione esagerata, or an exaggerated generation. These no-holds-barred Radicals lived in the same city, frequented the same university, and mounted the same barricades. Their incredibly fertile years of invention and re-invention have made an enormous mark on our common psyches, whether we are ready to acknowledge their contributions or not. But this is a chance to immerse oneself in their world. If you can’t make it to Florence before January 21, there is a catalogue by Quodlibet Habitat, sold in Italian and English editions. This might well be the most up-to-date and comprehensive publication yet, and will certainly serve as a useful Radical primer. "Radical Utopias" is on view at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence until January 21. 
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Pieces by Zaha Hadid, Superstudio, and Adolf Loos go on auction

A design auction, featuring a few rare and standout pieces by the late architect Zaha Hadid, will take place at one of Europe's largest auction houses, Palais Dorotheum in Vienna, on June 20, 2017. The “Design First” auction focuses on radical designs from the 1960s. Besides pieces designed by Hadid, works from architecture firm Superstudio and Austrian architect Adolf Loos are also up for bidding. Hadid’s “Project in Red” sofa, which is a part of her Wave Collection and was presented at Milan’s nightclub Studio 54 in September 1988, is a highlight. Another design by Hadid that will be in the auction includes a pair of “Monsoon” seats, which were custom-made in the 1990s for the Monsoon Restaurant in Sapporo, Japan. The other Zaha pieces include a tea and coffee set, as well as an ash "Ordrupgaard Bench." The items are now on view at the site before the auction tomorrow. Bidders can also bid online on the Palais Dorotheum's website, which ends in a few hours.
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More than 200 Superstudio works go on display at the MAXXI

The latest and most comprehensive exhibition on the work of the Italian design group Superstudio has recently opened at the MAXXI Rome, Zaha Hadid’s concrete neo-brutalist masterpiece. In an impressively fearless maneuver, the Superstudio veterans Adolfo Natalini, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, and Gian Piero Frassinelli have rammed their signature Continuous Monument straight through the entrails of Hadid’s longest suspended gallery. Revolutionary red and stretching over 100 meters, the broad elongated slab serves to reinforce Hadid’s sinewy and gravity-defying series of splayed ramped spaces, some futilely narrow, others in hairpin twists. Though clearly the MAXXI installations in this canted structure are improving as the curators come up with increasingly clever ways to hang shows in these spaces, Superstudio’s revisited monument functions as the critical datum on which this important retrospective is organized.

MAXXI’s artistic director Hou Hanru offers up one of the museum’s prime spaces for the exhibition, and it pays off with great dividends as Superstudio’s work gets the kind of ample spatial treatment it has long deserved. Moreover, this show, curated by Gabriele Mastrigli, comes with a comprehensive book-catalogue that weighs in at over 660 pages and proves that Mastrigli, who spent more than five years compiling the publication, has mastered every aspect of the group’s oeuvre. While now only available in Italian, an English edition is promised in time to accompany the show’s move to Shanghai early next year.

The MAXXI exhibition offers more than 200 works by Superstudio, with a surprising amount of pieces never before placed on public display. Organized mainly in chronological order, the first objects one encounters at the ground floor entrance to the gallery are full-scale reproductions of the first Superarchitettura installation made for the Jolly2 gallery in Pistoia in 1966, mounted by the Tuscan manufacturer Poltronova. As soon as one alights the top of the main stairs however, the real show begins with the group’s timeline, beginning in the fanciful pop phase, journeying through the design storyboards, the histogram assembly, and the gridded villas, until a few stairs up, one gets to meet with the Continuous Monument in all its splendor and folly. From there, things get gnarly, as visitors can branch off in different directions, depending on which ramps they follow: A few contemporary works pop into view, such as the new digital animation based on the Continuous Monument storyboard by Lucio Lapietra. Present among these new works are also the Trieste-based architect and photographer Stefano Graziani’s collection of unmediated photographs made while working in the Superstudio archive, and the mesmerizing “living Photoshop” compositions by Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib. 

Then there are the late pieces made for the 1978 Venice Biennale curated by Lara Vinca Masini in the Magazzini del Sale: The Wife of Lot, a table-stand supporting the primary archetypes of architecture made in baked salt, and the Life of Zeno, a documentation on the farmer who contributed to the important extra-urban material cultural studies conducted at the school of architecture in Florence through the 70s. There are some notable absences however. Like any superstar rock group worth remembering, there are misgivings among Superstudio’s members. Alessandro Poli is conspicuously absent, along with him some prime works from the group’s first collective film effort, Interplanetary Architecture. Contributions of two other members, the brothers Roberto and Alessandro Magris, remain evident throughout the show.

Stephen Wallis’s recent T Magazine preview, “The Super Superstudio,” carries the subtitle “A ’60s Architecture Collective That Made History (but No Buildings).” The myth that Superstudio never completed a single building is a convenient notion that serves to disempower the group’s revolutionary impact on mainstream architecture. If indeed they had built nothing, theirs would be a non-threatening movement of the coffee table variety. But that’s far from the truth. Superstudio was a fully functioning architecture office, with clients seeking designs for discotheques, bank interiors, homes, industrial designs, and a consistent production of competitions, exhibition installations, etc. Furthermore, it was precisely this very real and frustrating daily architectural practice that provoked these Florentines to push even further their anti-design philosophy.

When compared to the Milanese retrospective organized at the PAC in 2015, MAXXI’s Superstudio 50 is a much more introspective story. There are none of those previous controversies present here at MAXXI. This exhibition is unabashedly all about Superstudio, and there are no diversions whatsoever to undermine this essential premise. But therein lies the exhibition’s greatest weakness. If the PAC juxtaposed the works of Superstudio with a set of questionably unrelated contemporary artists, the Rome exhibit acts inevitably to “ghettoize” the primacy of the content: Is Superstudio really a standalone act of architecture? Or is it in fact something much more than that, something that has embedded a majority of the great conceptual themes of an era? Isn’t the work of Superstudio so incredibly significant today precisely because it reaches across professional disciplines and political boundaries, connecting the arts with architecture, humanities with science fiction, performance with deadpan spectacle? While the book begins to fill this gap by bringing together an encyclopedia of Superstudio related sources, the exhibition is hung dry. If architecture is to regain its role as social instigator ever again, and not just behave like a capitalist lackey, then a whole lot more must be brought to bear in the toolkit that serves architects today. That’s why Superstudio’s work deserves to be in more space, but also to be in more categorical places. Each document by Superstudio can be read as a call to action, inaction, violence, or desperation. These messages are not limited to architects—they are relevant to everyone.

Superstudio 50 (Five Decades Later) is on view at the MAXXI - National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, Via Guido Reni 4A, 00196 Rome, through September 4, 2016.

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On View> Three L.A. shows present a flood of architectural experimentation

Forget El Niño, this SoCal winter presents a deluge of architectural representation. Three weeks with three openings bring drawings, models, mock-ups, and experimental visualizations to Los Angeles. Things kick off on January 16 with the exhibition Errors, Estrangement, Messes and Fictions, featuring the work of two collaborative pairs: Laurel Broughton/Andrew Kovacs and Anna Neimark/Andrew Atwood of First Office (AN's 2015 Best Young Architects winner). Installed at the Space@All Gallery in the Bradbury Building and curated by architect Hadrian Predock, director of undergraduate programs at the USC School of Architecture the exhibition is supported by USC, where Broughton is a faculty member. Models from the four emerging architects will fill the show, which Predock describes as an “early career retrospective,” an apt description of a quartet who is just as comfortable cribbing from the past as toying with our pop present. A week later is the opening on January 22of Drawings Lie: Recent Works by Bryan Cantley at Christopher W. Mount Gallery in the Pacific Design Center. Cantley is an architect and a master illustrator, and his experimental, almost sci-fi drawings fall in line with the visionary work of Superstudio, Lebbeus Woods, and Neil Denari. “[These projects] attempt to question the role of representation in architecture, the potential of the non-building as a form of critical discourse in the profession,” said Cantley. The month closes out with Building Portraits, featuring the work of architect Elena Manferdini. The show opens on January 30 at Industry Gallery in Downtown L.A. The exhibition continues the investigations Manferdini began for the Art Institute Chicago last year—a series of elevation studies and models that riffed on Mies’ Lakeshore Drive Apartments. For this exhibition she’s created a new set of abstract, chromatic drawings and a metal mock up.
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La Moglie di Lot in Venice Remembers Superstudio's Radical Ideas

05-venice4 The Florentine architecture group Superstudio enjoyed the penultimate moment on the world architecture stage at the 1972 MoMA exhibition, The New Domestic Landscape. However, by the end of that decade with worldwide radical politics on the wane and postmodernism on the rise, the Florentines found their radicale arguments and practice marginalized and they began to move away from architecture towards other sorts of design initiatives. But before the group left the international stage, they created one last potent architectural statement: La Moglie di Lot and displayed it at the 1978 Venice Biennale of Art. 03-venice4 The piece consisted of an iron frame with a table on which were placed four basic architectural forms constructed of salt, like a round Coliseum (see below). The frame has a taller high-rise like armature that help up plastic tubes that dripped water down on the forms. Each mass slowly disappeared or eroded into nothingness like Superstudio's careers and hopes for radical change in culture and the architecture profession. The frame from Moglie disappeared after 1978 but now a gallerist from Genoa has reconstructed a new frame (in fact, he built three of them for sale), and it is on display the 2014 Venice Biennale in the Moditalia Arsenale. 04-venice4 02-venice4 01-venice4
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Alessandro Magris, 1941-2010

Peter Lang called this morning with the sad news that Superstudio member Alessandro Magris has died in Florence, Italy. Born in 1941, Magris joined the group in 1970 after graduating from the University of Florence, and was responsible for the general organization of the Superstudio office. He continued a practice long after the demise of Superstudio, specializing in the restoration of historical monuments and residential and commercial renovations. He is the brother of Roberto Magris, also a member of Superstudio, who died in 2003.