We all know about the revolution of the 60’s and we are familiar with terms like „youth activism”, „student protests” and „children of the revolution” - but are these phrases of the past? Where is this happening today? Are we becoming lazy or just revolting via taps of our iPhones?
Superstudio was the name of an architectural movement formed by a group of university students in Italy in the late 60’s that immersed themselves in utopian and democratic ideals and expressed them through film, photomontage and striking visual imagery.
The founders were two university students of the University of Florence, Adolfo Natalini and Cristiago Toraldo di Francia. Via architectural discourse, Superstudio was able to communicate their ideas that addressed social and political issues. They were one of the first groups of revolutionary young architects that successfully identified and expressed architecture as a social and political practice.
Superstudio’s self-proclaimed radical architecture were a reflection of their leftist political stance. Their principal concept was to apply a grid system to the urban context in which every point on the grid was the same as any other point and people existed equally. It was to be the ultimate true democratic experience.
Their powerful imagery often conveyed urban contexts that had been wiped cleaned, almost as if a „reset button” had been applied to the world, and reflected a society of free and equal social structure. The image of „the grid” (a continuous strip of rigid structure) overlaid onto New York City was arguably their most famous manifestation of their key principal of democracy.
The focus of the practice was cultural criticism through theory and concept, as there was no money (or market) to build any of the projects. The grid system was a form of „anti-architecture”. For the members of Superstudio, architecture was no longer about the aesthetics of a stagnant building but instead, was a mechanism and means of cultural criticism.
Superstudio, its ideas and concepts was a response of the social, economic and even environmental context of its founders.
Italy was still recovering from the huge economic loss from World War II and the job market was dire. During this time it was extremely unlikely any architectural graduates would get the opportunity to build or teach in Italy. The group’s 1972 proposal to flood the River Arno was a response to the 1966 mass flooding of Florence and their opposition to heritage and criticism of the internationally established bourgeois who flocked to Florence at the time to set up and sponsor many restoration institutions. Superstudio was a form of protest for its young members.
The rise of international avant garde publications and increasing popularity of science fiction set up a platform for Superstudio’s revolutionary ideas to be communicated and widely accessible. Their works were often published in (and became famous through) magazines like Domus and Casabella.
However, Superstudio were not the only group of architectural avante garde thinkers that suggested architecture transpired building design at the time. The UK’s Archigram embraced technological advancements as part of their theory and produced powerful images that projected futuristic settings of „plug in cities”. France’s Utopie produced large scale, „un-designed” inflatable structures that fought against the rigid structures of the conservative bourgeois society.
The argument can be made that the content which was produced by Superstudio from 1966 to the time it disbanded in 1975, was secondary to the social impact it had on young architects and architecture students in Europe at the time. Despite the sustaining popularity of Superstudio’s iconic images, its theory and concepts were regarded as too radical to be transferred into built form. However the energy surrounding the anti architecture movement motivated an entire demographic and its legacy has endured into the twenty-first century exemplified by the obsession with architectural monuments known as „super structures” made famous by the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Bjark Ingels.
Words Micha Woodhouse