Superstudio‘s work was stimulated by different intentions. Superstudio describes his own work in terms of ‘radical architecture’, ‘anti-Utopia’, ‘negative Utopia’, or ‘of guerrilla warfare’. He is, especially, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, co-founder of the group together with Natalini, which were employed at this theoretical base. He understood the radical architecture of the decade of the 60 and beginning of the decade of the 70 principally as a form of social critique:
“l’architecture radicale représente –au-delà de n’importe quelle théorie architectonique define- un processus continu de critique concertant la structure de la societé, que rejette l’utilisation de la discipline aux mains des réformateur contemporains et néocapitalistes”.1
Under his point of view, this type of design can have in addition a therapeutic function, because it teaches the people to adapt to the new conditions of existence.2
In some of Superstudio’s designs, as Continuous Monument, the group uses a species of tactics of guerrilla warfare of the semantic redundancy, by means of which the meaning of the architecture puts in fabric of judgment for subverting his more significant gesture across endless repetitions.3 In last instance, Superstudio’s aim is to do that the people experience the life without objects. It has to learn and understand that the objects that they use, the consumer goods, are the way of repression across which the system is capable of being perpetuated this one. To promote this vision Superstudio it calls on to the negative Utopia or anti-Utopia.
In Superstudio we can find the use of the architecture as social manifest, the art as political action. This negative Utopia reveals the last consequences of taking forward the existing trends. His mission is it of serving as element disuasorio, and to develop this one, they hold that it is absolutely necessary to offer resistance against the status quoexistente. In other words, only in the horror the hope is.4
The conference that Natalini gave in the Architectural Association in March, 1971 describes with great precision Superstudio’s intellectual position and all that visionary architecture of the moment. Our work always has been in an empty and rarefied area: in a space between the architecture and the visual arts, and in a space between the professional culture and the life.4 He describes this space as the only not mentally ill area for his experiences as group. According to him, it is the only area in the one that, beyond the professional routines and the pure existence, believes itself a space of coincidence where Superstudio can be and do, act and exist. Symptomatic, in Natalini’s conference, the theory and the practice of the architecture they are described as parallel planes, where later this parallelism gets lost, when a gaseous form is constituted between both planes, distorting the mutual perception that is had of them. This distortion comes given by the socio-economic conditions, the attainment of orders, and the laws and own regulations of the profession.6
Natalini describes Superstudio’s work, using the geometric aberration as strategy, as tactics of guerrilla warfare. Very conscious that there can no be another architecture without changing the structures of the company and, on the other hand, that the system is the sufficiently strong thing as to incorporate any gesture or product, Natalini proclaims: The only product that will not be capable of being absorbed is the violent revolution or the intelligence does not force. The forms of not violence in the culture are alike the guerrilla war: they are underground, change his aims, are mobile and incomprehensible. I believe in this action of destruction on the part of the culture: the culture like an imbalance factor.7
He sees the first strategy in the production of aberrant images. A series of images aberrant, capable of postulating another set of values and behaviors, will replace the process of getting used to the company current.8 This way, the public image of the system will be questioned. It is almost as if the formulation of his ideas was containing the recipe of the Exodus machine by Rem Koolhaas of 1972. Collectivly induced the desires will be replacing other equally appetizing desires, which are, nevertheless, more just and verdaderos.9 And it is precisely in this point that the Utopian program acquires his form distópica, when Natalini continues: and to satisfy these new desires, the system convict meets to a crisis. The action to realize, in his simpler form, serves to take these processes to the limit, showing for absurdum his falsehood and his immorality.10 In Natalini’s conference, this reversion of Utopia in distopía turns into a point and new paragraph.
In the context of the decade of the 60 and beginning of the 70 also critical currents were structured against this type of architecture. The major critique to the positioning of a visionary architecture, as Natalini formulated and defended in his conference in the Architectural Association, was articulated by Manfredo Tafuri.
Actually Tafuri, might be considered to be another face of the same intellectual currency. This one analyzed the condition of the architecture based on the conviction of which the architecture must intervene in the relations of production, but, held Tafuri, sense would not ma as a contribution to the big historical events. According to Tafuri it was a historical mistake of the Italian design to move back at once in the participation of the production in mass of consumer goods and to happen to elaborate his designs exclusively for a limited segment of consumer goods of luxury.
Unlike the forefronts of the decade of 1920, installed in the heart of the machinery of production of goods, the Italian designers content with a very marginal position of which they cannot but to offer marginal comments. This is valid not only for the designers of furniture, but furthermore pertinent, for his counterparts who design architectural fantasies of great scale.
According to Tafuri, this approach is necessarily impotent and ineffective: scarcely it is worth a sorrow mentioning here that, in a capitalist system, there is no break between the production, the distribution and the consumption. All the anti-consumer Utopias that seek to correct the ethical distortions of the technological world by means of the modification of the system of production or of the distribution channels only reveal the total insufficiency of his theories, opposite to the royal structure of the economic cycle capitalist.11
In Architecture and Utopia, Tafuri returns to affect again in this point. According to him, the proliferation of a design underground of protest has become institutionalized, spread for international organizations, and admitted into a circle of elite.12 The fact that the whole conceptual movement of the architecture began and ended in the MoMA in 1960, with the exhibition Visionary Architecture and, in 1972, with the exhibition New Domestic Landscapes: Achievements and Problems of the Italian Design, demonstrates it.
Tafuri, in addition, speaks of useless call to the disalignment, of the elimination of the critiques inside the own process, the poetry of the ambiguity, and of the construction of a semantic structure in the sense of turning the city into a machine that issues messages of an incessant way. To flirt with the chaos finds echo in his thought. Without leaving the Utopia of design, the processes that had overcome concretely the level of the ideology, they are subverted by the redemption to the chaos, the contemplation of the distress that the Constructivism seemed to have made eliminate forever, and the sublimation of disorder.13 Or still: In order to support a metropolitan space, the architecture seems to be obliged to turn into a spectrum of yes misma.14
The final verdict is overwhelming: The crisis of the modern architecture is not the result of the weariness or the dispersion. It is rather a crisis of the ideological condition of arquitectura.15 According to him, the redemption already is not possible: not for the worrying and erratic wanderings for the labyrinths of images that for his polyvalency come up to the point of turning into quiet images, not for the self-complacency of an absorbed geometry in his own complexity and perfection. The drama of the architecture is to be forced to return to the pure architecture, forms without Utopia, at best, to return to his sublime uselessness.16 Probably, in the deepest of the genetic code of the architectural thing, the gene of the Utopia resides, in eternal diaspora towards a possible topos, in constant tour towards an imagined world better than something the current one.
I do not believe that it could be said too highly, but from a reasonable distance to his powerful ideological body, Manfredo Tafuri had reason. Probably, in the deepest of the genetic code of the architectural thing, the gene of the Utopia resides, in eternal diaspora towards a possible topos, in constant tour towards an imagined world better than something the current one.
Miquel Lacasta. PhD architect
Barcelona, october 2012
1 TORALDO DI FRANCIA, Cristiano, Superstudio & Radicaux, MIGAYROU F. (ed) Cat. Architecture radicale, Institut d’Art Contemporain – IAC, Villeurbanne, January to May, 2001, p. 153.
“The radical architecture represents, beyond any definitive theory, a constant process of critique on the structure of the company, which rejects the use of this discipline in hands of contemporary neocapitalist reformers”.
Notes: translation of the author.
2 Ibídem, p. 171.
3 Ibídem, p. 183.
4 “il n’ya de l’espoir que dans l’horreur”.Ibídem, p.171.
5 NATALINI, Adolfo, Inventory, Catalogs, Systems of Flux… a Statement. Lectured at the Architectural Association, Londres, 3 March, 1971. En LANG, Peter and MENKING, William, Superstudio, Life without objects, Skira Turín, Milan, 2003, p. 164.
6 Ibídem, p. 166.
7 Ibídem, p. 164.
10 Ibídem, p. 165-166.
11 TAFURI, Manfredo, Design and Technological Utopi, en Emilio Ambasz, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape. Achievements and Problems of Italian Design. The exhibition Catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, p. 135.
12 TAFURI, Manfredo, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1976, p. 142.
13 op. cit., TAFURI, 1976, p. 136.
14 Ibídem, p. 145.
15 Ibídem, p. 181.
16 Ibídem, p. ix.