There was a sense of deja vu recently when Saudi Arabias crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, revealed his prepare for a futuristic 100-mile-long linear city, momentously titled The Line. The remarkable promotional video showed aerial views of a radiant city ribbon cutting right throughout the country, forming a “belt of hyperconnected future communities” from sea to sea. It will be free from automobiles, he stated, powered by renewable energy and run by synthetic intelligence, slicing directly through the Arabian desert in one constant strip. As part of the nations $500bn Neom advancement, the strategy was trumpeted as a “civilisational revolution that puts humans initially”; but it had inescapable echoes of another project with a really different purpose.Three thousand miles away, in a gallery in Brussels, hangs a 1960s photomontage of a strangely similar vision, part of a brand-new exhibit about the extreme Italian architecture collective Superstudio. A great white oblong is depicted cutting through a desert, slicing through dune and marching past palm trees in an unbroken urban block, its surface inscribed with a limitless square grid.Deja vu … a principle illustration of $500bn Saudi city The Line. Picture: NeomThis is the Continuous Monument, a project thought up by Superstudio in 1969– not as a proposal for a smart city, however as an important caution against the unrelenting urbanisation of the world. In a striking series of collages the designers illustrated the vast blocky mass surrounding the globe with an unstoppable belt of development, dwarfing the rocky outcrops of Utahs Monument Valley, engulfing the Amalfi village of Positano and conquering Manhattans gridiron with its own inexorable grid.The images were alarming, but also sexy, and they remain so today. Part endless office block, part minimalist land art, the powerful montages reveal the monolith cutting across fields, mountains and seas in one beautiful blank strip, imposing Cartesian order over the natural world. Adolfo Natalini, a founding member of Superstudio, later on described the project as a “negative utopia,” a caution against “the scaries architecture had in shop, with its clinical approaches for perpetuating basic models around the world”. But, at the time, the groups objectives were more uncertain, and frequently lost in translation.Influential … a design for a Superstudio house from 1969. Picture: Superstudio MigrazioniPublished all over the world, the images handled an enigmatic aura, like the black monoliths in the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, launched a year previously. Was this a care versus the encroachment of rural shopping mall development, or a proposition for a superb kind of ultra-sleek modernism, commemorating the current in curtain wall innovation? In either case, Superstudios slick visual design and equivocal position would affect the nature of architecture trainee jobs, and practice, for years to come.
The timing of the exhibition is fitting, and not even if of the outlandish Saudi parallels. Superstudio outgrew a sense of international crisis and upcoming doom comparable to todays, after the young architecture students saw a remarkable flood that devastated much of Florence in November 1966. As the groups co-founder Cristiano Toraldo di Francia said, the flood transformed Florence into a continuous surface, from which the citys domes and spires emerged, “transforming the hard, stone assistance surface of its structures into a moving liquid blended with mud”. What they saw postured “an extreme difficulty to the traditional relationship in between architecture and city, country and ground, exterior and interior” that would notify their later speculations.The young designers were likewise part of a trainee branch of Operaismo, a left-wing political motion championing the workers struggle, associated with requiring academic community to be opened up to show the social modifications and experimental artistic currents of the time. One month after the flood, Toraldo di Francia and Natalini established Superstudio, signed up with by Alessandro and Roberto Magris and Gian Piero Frassinelli in the following years, to fight back versus the dominating orthodoxies.Can t stop … the Monumento Continuo reaches Positano. Picture: Superstudio MigrazioniThey felt that modernism had run its course, and was accountable for spitting up steel-framed boxes and concrete highways throughout the world, while widespread customer culture was resulting in an approaching social and eco-friendly crisis. “If style is simply an incentive to take in,” said Natalini, “then we must turn down style. If architecture and town preparation is simply the formalisation of present unfair social divisions, then we should reject town and its cities till all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary requirements.” It may sound nihilistic, however it would also be tempered with a great dose of enjoyable. I took their work literally. I believed a few of it would be stunning if builtOver the next 12 years, these youthful provocateurs would make their case with satirical photomontages, furniture exhibitions, movies and designs, ending up being one of the most prominent architecture groups of the period– without constructing a single thing.The Brussels exhibition (which is now open to minimal numbers of visitors with pre-booked slots) combines a wealth of product, from the groups early “Nature Super” furnishings, with colourful sofas and lights in the type of waves, flowers and rainbows, to sensuous designs for store interiors, to a speculative catalogue of perfect villas, and the later “anti-architecture” work that sees the planet consumed by a networked “supersurface” populated by primitive nomads. The ubiquitous grid ends up being all-consuming, leaping off the page at one point to form a collection of furniture, spawning a series of rectangle-shaped chairs, stools and tables covered in white plastic laminate, simply inscribed with a square grid of thin black lines. The mute, blank surface area– as if folded from chart paper– was a repudiation of the world of design.Image-making … Superstudio created furniture, which can now be purchased for four-figure sums. Photograph: Superstudio Migrazioni” At that time,” said Superstudio, “it was apparent that to continue creating furniture, objects and comparable family decorations was no service to the problems of living, nor to those of life; even less was it serving to save the soul.” That didnt stop them from signing an agreement with furnishings company Zanotta to produce their blocky range. It is ironic, for a group of self-styled anti-design neo-Marxists, that their surviving commercial output is a laminate-covered MDF table that retails for ₤ 4,000. Possibly its a joke from the grave, on anybody lavish enough to purchase one.Ultimately, it is Superstudios practiced skill as image-makers that is their enduring legacy– a strength discussed by their backgrounds. Natalini had actually trained as a painter and was influenced by British pop art, replicating big format pictures in vibrant, bright colours, while Toraldo di Francia had actually worked as a professional photographer on advertising projects, and had evident ability with a scalpel. Roberto Magris was a commercial designer and graphic artist, while Frassinelli brought a strong interest in sociology to the group. While the work is often clouded by verbose and arcane theorising, it is the images themselves that withstand, even if their meaning has sometimes been misinterpreted by their fans.A neo-Marxist joke? … The Conran Shop sells a version of Superstudios Quaderna table (right) for ₤ 4,000. Photograph: Superstudio MigrazioniA case in point is the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who came across the photomontages of the Continuous Monument while he was a student at the Architectural Association in London. He was right away enrapt. “I loved Superstudio since I took the work actually,” he describes, in an interview in the exhibition catalogue. “I believed a few of it would be spectacular if developed.”
Koolhaas struck up a relationship with the group and welcomed them to lecture in London, however he slowly understood that the architecture he hoped to see constructed was intended to remain on paper, in the worlds of crucial commentary. He was stunned when Natalini went on to construct completely postmodern, neo-vernacular buildings in the Netherlands later on in life. – Superstudio Migrazioni is at Civa, Brussels, until 16 May.
Italys Superstudio collective cautioned versus rampant development by picturing one constant structure extending around Earth. Did their caution in fact motivate new Saudi plans for a 100-mile direct city?
As part of the countrys $500bn Neom development, the strategy was trumpeted as a “civilisational revolution that puts human beings first”; but it had inevitable echoes of another task with a very different purpose.Three thousand miles away, in a gallery in Brussels, hangs a 1960s photomontage of a strangely comparable vision, part of a new exhibit about the radical Italian architecture cumulative Superstudio. Adolfo Natalini, an establishing member of Superstudio, later explained the project as a “negative paradise,” a warning against “the scaries architecture had in store, with its clinical approaches for perpetuating standard designs around the world”. At the time, the groups objectives were more unclear, and frequently lost in translation.Influential … a design for a Superstudio home from 1969. Either way, Superstudios slick visual design and equivocal position would affect the nature of architecture trainee projects, and practice, for decades to come.
Superstudio grew out of a sense of global crisis and upcoming doom comparable to todays, after the young architecture students experienced a remarkable flood that devastated much of Florence in November 1966.