SUPERSTUDIO’s Radical Architecture

Nowhere was the postwar avant-garde more radical than in architecture.  In order to shake off the “hegemonic grip” of academic classicism—and therefore bourgeois society—architecture would have to undergo a complete definitional transformation.  Instead of buildings serving functional uses for consumers’ lives and thereby reinforcing unjust social divisions, architecture would form a “single continuous environment, the world rendered uniform by technology, culture, and all the other inevitable forms of imperialism.”  And just what does that look like?  What does it look like to start over? To traverse the radical city of the mind?

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Formed in 1966 in Florence by a group of architecture students, SUPERSTUDIO was at the heart of the avant-garde for about a decade.  With Adolfo Natalini at the helm, the young firm undertook a stunning and extensive visual experimentation at the intersection of graphic design, architecture, and technology.   Florence, the bastion of Italian humanist architecture and home to the University and its attendant bourgeois attitude, proved a poignant site to reject architecture and engage the “flip side of the Italian dolce vita.”

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SUPERSTUDIO’s signature designs played with the interface between natural and artificial environments, to wit, the iconic grid, overlaid onto New York City, Niagara Falls, the desert, etc. Superstudio wrote that ultimately the grid would allow for a truly democratic human experience: because every point on the grid is identical, no place is better than any other. [images] It was a proudly utopic vision of a world un-designed and made whole by technology.

 

The aptly named French group Utopie likewise broke down barriers of form both on the ground and on the page.  Utopie’s “Inflatable Structures” offer another nod to “undesign,” where squishy inflatables fought rigid, establishment design.  One could also read them as counter-metaphor for over-inflated academicism, just about to burst.  In Paris 1968 the members of Utopie were certainly aligned with the pulsating culture of anti-government protest.

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Because much of their work would never come to physical realization, SUPERSTUDIO’s presence in print remains an important legacy. Their visual experiments appeared in and gained renown through Casabella and Domus, Italy’s leading design magazines, and in self-published catalogs. Rethinking the architectural profession altogether, SUPERSTUDIO, among others, managed to shift the focus of their practice toward conceptual and theoretical cultural criticism.  Symbolic, poetic content not only took precedence in their work, but was SUPERcharged. This campaign of images they created initiated an entirely new and to this day, enduring, way to explore and share ideas. And the world took notice: in 1972 they were included in MoMA’s show Italy: The New Domestic Landscape while still in their twenties.

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Beinecke has recently acquired Natalini’s personal archive on SUPERSTUDIO, featuring original catalogs, periodicals, and ephemera.  Don’t miss several issues of Utopie, as well as various archival material relating to their work, too.   

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Architectural Fantasies of the “Soviet Piranesi”

Iakov Chernikhov, Architekturnye Fantazii: 101 Kompositsiia v Kraskakh, 101 Architekturnaia Miniatura (Leningrad: Mezhdunarodnaia Kniga, 1933). 102 pp., 101 leaves of color illustrations.

Fantasy #67: Linear Resolution of 3-Dimensional Architectural Rendering in Axiometric Perspective

Fantasy #67: Linear Resolution of 3-Dimensional Architectural Rendering in Axiometric Perspective

Between 1929 and 1933, Iakov Chernikhov published three major works that together compose a vivid documentation of Constructivist architecture in Soviet Russia. It was above all the last of these, Architektura Fantazii, that earned him the reputation of being “the Soviet Piranesi.” Featured here, the color plates at the back of this volume capture the chernikhov-9-editinterplay of architecture, painting, interior and graphic design that was a hallmark not only of Russian Constructivism, but also of many other modernist movements–De Stijl, Bauhaus, Elementarism, to name a few–that likewise strove to integrate the creative arts in a way that would not only reflect the new utopian societies they imagined, but would actually serve as vehicles for their realization as well.

Chernikhov’s bold use of line, color, empty space, and multivalent form seems to blur the distinction between painterly abstraction and  architectuchernikhov-1-editral drawing, much as Lissitzky’s prouns had done a decade or so earlier, but from the other direction. A latecomer to Contstructivism , Chernikhov had himself long been interested in relations between painting and architecture. After graduating from the Odessa School of Art in 1914, he moved to Petersburg, where he initially continued his studies in painting at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, but in 1916 he switched to architecture and eventually graduated as a certified practicing architect in 1925. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Chernikhov devoted much time to teaching at various Soviet schools, where he focused on providing his students with a necessary introduction to “graphic literacy,” devising courses on “Methods of Depiction,”  “Projection Sketching” and “Projection Drawing” while simultaneously striving to compile an “Encyclopedia of Geometric Drawing” and “A Course on Curves.” The fruits of these efforts appeared in two large textbooks published at the end of the decade, Osnovy Sovremennoi Arkhitektury (Fundamentals of Modern Architecture, 1929-30) and Konstruktsiya Architekturnykh i Mashinnykh Form (The Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms, 1931). But his Architectural Fantasies remain unrivaled as an expression of his vision, inspiring generations of architects in the later twentieth century and beyond.

chernikhov-2-edit2Earlier this year, Beinecke acquired Chernikhov’s first two textbooks (check out the “Uncataloged Acquisitions” search engine on the Beinecke’s homepage), for which the Fantasies now make a fine companion volume as welll as an exquisite addition to the General Modern Collection’s holdings of Russian Constructivism and European avant-garde architecture.