FUTURISM



Italian in origin and concept, futurism was first theorized by Filippo Tomaso Marinetti in
a manifesto published on 20 February 1909 in the French daily Le Figaro. Futurism soon became
a movement central to the process of radical artistic renovation carried out by the
European avant-garde. It dealt both with cultural debates specific to Italian art of the first
two decades of the 20th century and with crucial discourses of the European artistic
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revival in general. While affecting primarily the arts in the more restrictive sense of the
term—under the influence of Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Gino Severini, and Mario
Chiattone—its most notable representatives in Italian architecture were Giacomo Balla
and Antonio Sant’Elia but also, in various degrees, such architects as Adalberto Libera
and Angiolo Mazzoni, among others. The close collaboration between futurist artists and
architects is evidenced by the fact that the first and only exhibition of futurist architecture
held in Italy of the period was curated by a painter, Fillia, who also edited journals on
topics such as “The Futurist City” and in 1932 wrote a book, La Nuova Architettu ra, in which he gave a
comprehensive view of the significance of the movement.
Most sensitive to the challenges of the new “machinist society” (Le Corbusier) among
the avant-garde artists and architects, the promoters of futurism were concerned primarily
with expressing movement and mechanical speed, which they saw as essential
determinants of modernity. The futurists extended their artistic vision to the study of the
latest conquest of modern science with an undivided enthusiasm for all of what they
perceived to be radical facts of the contemporary civilization. They rejected emphatically
the old canons of static prespectival representation and invoked instead the redemptive
force of the universal dynamism brought about by the machine, itself central to the new
forms of visualization.
Such a proposition was translated in architecture first through visionary
representations of cities shaped by speedy automotive vehicles and later through the
redefinition of the Modern movement’s functionalist themes in terms of extreme
flexibility and mobility (Libera’s imaginary villas, Mazzoni’s control tower for the
Florentine train station, and Le Corbusier’s inhabited high-ways).
The best-known early projects of futurist architecture are Sant’Elia’s and Mario
Chiatone’s urban experiments exhibited in Milan in 1914. The spatial relationships of the
city fabric were determined in the first place by an elaborate system of monumental
arteries distributed hierarchically through and underneath huge “streamlined”
skyscrapers, anticipating the post-Art Deco aesthetics of the 1930s, including Libera’s
entrance to the commemorative Mos tra della Rivoluzione Fas cis ta (1932) or his analogous Italian Pavilion of the 1933
Century of Progress Exposition, Chicago. Sant’Elia’s pre-World War I “città nuova”
projects informed significantly Marinetti himself, who published Manifes t of Futuris t Architecture, commonly regarded
as one of the most important documents of modern Italian architecture.
The thrust that futurism put on solving problems of motorized transportation and its
diversification according to speed and purpose—including strict segregation of pedestrian
circulation—had a significant influence on Le Corbusier’s 1922 speculative
Contemporary City for Three Million Inhabitants, the touchstone of pre-Chandigarh Le
Corbusian urbanism. This influence can be seen as well in the Amsterdam Rokin project
by Mart Stam and that of other European architects, Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus in
particular. Whereas at the eve of World War II the early Russian artistic and literary
avant-garde evolved a genre with a similar name—the Cubo-Futurism of Kasimir
Malevich, Khruchenikh, and Khlebnikov—with little significant connection with the
Italian movement proper, the postrevolutionary Soviet Constructivism (Chernikhov’s
mechanical architecture, Melnikov’s dynamic garages and exploded theaters,
Mayakovsky’s “urban poetry,” or Dziga Vertov’s cinematic constructions) played a
significant role in the development of futurism in Italy (Libera’s and Giuseppe Terragni’s
rooms at the 1932 Mos tra).
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After Düsseldorf, where he designed the interior of the Lowenstein house, Balla
conceived the interior of the via Milano Bal-Tic-Tac ballroom (1921) in Rome, often
seen as the first experiment in avant-garde architectural aesthetic in Rome. Vit-torio
Marchi, who wrote two books on futurist architecture in 1924 and 1928, designed the
Pirandello Theater in Rome.
In Italy, where modern and experimental architecture was never banished under
Fascism—and indeed was favored by Mussolini—the futurists emphatically tied their fate
to the new regime and imploded with it in time. Still, the extraordinary mass development
of automobile circulation after the country recovered from the disasters of both war and
Fascism and the increased need, under the circumstances, for pedestrian segregation
along with the desire to emphasize the particular urban character of mechanized
transportation have led urban planners since the early 1960s in Italy to search back for the
still-valid aspects of the futurist credo.

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