Monday, 21 November 2011

The Italian Futurists

Many people have been asking me about the Futurist movement and why I find it so interesting so I thought it was worth putting up a bit about Futurist theory and history in relation to the ideals for the Futurist City. To save me re-writing things I have already researched here is another extract [sorry its rather extensive]from my dissertation for the final year of my undergraduate degree. 

Futurism and early urban representation 

Italian Futurism emerged in Milan in 1909 and was amongst the first aesthetic movements to celebrate and exploit the potential of the modern metropolis. Led by Filippo Marinetti, the Futurists embraced the then new concepts of mechanisation, mass production and electricity, celebrating the impact of ‘the modern’ in a series of passionate manifestos on cultural topics such as art, cinema, and architecture.  Marinetti, who came to be known as ‘the caffeine of Europe’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:8], fervently welcomed the changes developing in the industrialising world. Marinetti single-handedly formed 
the Futurist movement and with his Founding Manifesto of Futurism [1909] declared his desire to replace the traditions of the past with a new Italian society founded on the speed and dynamism of the machine ethic: 

       ‘We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind…we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke- plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke…’ [Apollonio 1973:19]. 

Marinetti published the manifesto on the front page of French newspaper Le Figaro on 20th February 1909, using the new technology of mass communication media to transform it from an academic exercise into potent propaganda. This increased the diversity of his potential readers and brought him a greater chance of achieving his driving objective, to bring like-minded people together and ‘transform the mentality of an anachronistic society’  [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:7]. The first group to respond were the painters. With few precedents to follow, they experimented with styles such as Divisionism, Cubism and sequential motion studies before settling on the concept of Universal Dynamism. Universal Dynamism allowed them to draw all the objects in time and space together creating an overall impression of the subject. In 1910 the painter’s published their findings as The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting which revealed the urban basis and mechanical 
application of their approach: 

        ‘… the motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it[Apollonio 1973:23]

Despite the ambition of the first wave of Futurist painters to portray modern urban situations, their work did little to replace existing perceptions of the growing metropolis. Boccioni’s The Street Enters The House [1910-11] demonstrates the Futurist interest in depicting city bustle in its ‘fusion of urban tumult, broken brushwork and heightened colour’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977 26-27]. Nevertheless, his representation of the Milanese street-scape offered little that was new in its static arrangement of architectural form. In 1913 painter and theorist Carra offered a more developed description of the ideal Futurist city  in his 1913 manifesto The Painting of Sounds, Noises and Smells: 

      ‘When we talk of Architecture, people usually think of something static; that is wrong, what we are thinking of is an Architecture…found in the movement of colours, of smoke from a chimney, and in metallic structures when they are expressed in states of mind which are violent and chaotic’. [Apollonio 1973:42]

Despite their ambitions, Futurist architecture remained a construct that had still to be realised. In 1913 Marinetti famously exclaimed ‘we have all the arts but not Architecture’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:124]. There could be no true Futurist representation of the city until a suitable candidate emerged to portray it. 

Futurism and the architectural representation of the metropolis 
The name which would become synonymous with Futurist architecture was that of Milanese architect, Antonio Sant’Elia. Initially a Symbolist influenced by Mackintosh and Loos, by 1914 Sant’Elia was increasingly preoccupied with Futurist ideals: ‘his dreams…were to be of power stations, not archaic temples’  [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:126].

Sant’Elia’s mechanised vision portrayed cities not as individual structures but integrated entities condensed around the dominant presence of a power station, the ‘cathedral of the electric religion’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:129]. It was this correlation to the Futurist ideal which attracted Carra’s attention at the New Tendencies exhibition in 1914. Carra introduced Sant’Elia toMarinetti and the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture was published later that year. In line with the Futurist slogan ‘No architecture has existed since 1700’ [Apollonio 1973:160], Sant’Elia’s drawings which accompanied the manifesto embraced the Futurists’ founding concept of impermanence: 

        ‘this architecture cannot be subjected to the laws of historical continuity. It must be as new as our state of mind…’ 
        [Apollonio 1973:160]

Thus, deliberately devoid of context, decoration or locating elements, Sant’Elia’s visionary drawings portrayed the modern urban environment as one which reflected the Futurist ideal: 

       ‘the street will no longer lie like a doormat at ground level, but will plunge many storeys down into the earth, embracing the metropolitan traffic, and be linked up for necessary interconnections by metal gangways and swift-moving pavements’ 
[Apollonio 1973:160]. 

The clarity and energy of these line-based sketches ensured the legacy of the drawings as precursors of Corbusian ideals of inter-war urban modernity which informed global architectural thinking in following decades: 

      ‘this equation of the beauty of the straight line and of the machine is prophetic of the aesthetics of the 1920’s’ [Banham 1966:127]

In addition to their modernistic simplicity, Sant’Elia’s drawings illustrated the modern city in a new way and were: 

       ‘certainly the first by a European architect to project a vertical city, one composed not only of towers, but also of stacked layers of streets, plazas, and the mechanical movement of cars, trams, and trains’  
[Woods 2009: Nov 2]

Sant’Elia imagined a modern metropolis with multiple levels, external mechanical lifts and illuminated advertisements; where elements of the city, buildings, and traffic were organised by function and technology rather than geography or tradition. His influence can be seen as early as 1918 in the plans by French architect Tony Garnier for Une Cite Industrielle, which  illustrated his belief that: 

        ‘industrial requirements will be responsible for the foundation of most new towns in the future’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:126]

Sant’Elia’s vision also inspired Mattè Trucco who designed the innovative and utilitarian Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin. Described as ‘the first built invention of Futurism’ [Bozolla & Tisdall 1977:128] and constructed between 1916 and 1923, it was hailed by Corbusier as ‘one of the most impressive sights in industry’ and ‘a guideline for urban planning’ [cited in Glancy 2005: June] and remains one of the only true Futurist building ever constructed. In the realm of theoretical architecture, the work of architects in contact with Sant’Elia highlights the cinematographic qualities of his vision of the new city.Chiattone who exhibited alongside Sant’Elia at the New Tendencies exhibition produced designs for apartment blocks in 1916 which were articulated in colour and filmic in character, while aspiring Futurist architect Virgilio Marchi ultimately used his skills in architectural drawing in the theatre and film industry.

Apollonio, U., (1970) Futurist Manifestos, translated from the Italian by Brain R., London, Thames and Hudson 
Banham, R., (1966) Theory and Design in The First Machine Age, London, Architectural Press 

Bozolla, A. & Tisdall, C., (1977) Futurism, London, Thames and Hudson 
Glancey, J., (2005) Architecture and the car: as the automobile evolved in tandem with modern architecture, it created myths, legends and new building types, The Architectural Review, (June 2005).  Stable URL:
ai_n14809376/  [Accessed 26 July 2010] 
Woods, L., (2009) Sant’Elia’s Words, November 2 2009. [Accessed 24 July 2020] 

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