Architecture as Political Vision: The Utopias of the 1960s and 1970s
Duration of the exhibition: until October 7, 2018
Location: Canadian Centre for Architecture (CA)
“We were all about ideas, we didn’t want to build houses,” said Gianni Pettena at the exhibition opening in Montreal. The Florentine architect is one of the curators of the exhibition “Utopie Radicali: Florence 1966–1976”, currently on view at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Some 50 years ago, Pettena was one of the young protagonists who came together at the Faculty of Architecture in Florence to design radical utopias that redefined the boundaries of their discipline. They came to the public with political actions, happenings, installations, collages and videos – for them, the bourgeois world of architecture had become too restrictive. Forming collectives such as Archizoom, Superstudio, UFO and Zzigurat, they developed radical utopias in which the future served as a playing field for new possibilities.
An ice block that revealed the structures of the building beneath it transformed architecture into a natural monument: Gianni Pettena’s “Ice House I” was performed in 1971 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. His temporary installation invited the public to reflect on nature, on building typologies and their uses, which were hidden in an abandoned school building shrouded by ice and snow.
With shrill Pop Art ideas, happenings and visions of the future that drew on the imaginary power of NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission, the utopians conquered public space, from the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) in Florence to Minneapolis and the moon. In his “Architettura Interplanetaria” photo montages, Alessandro Poli of Superstudio developed a series of atmospheric insights around an imaginary motorway connecting the Earth and the Moon. Furniture and lamps, clothing and films are only part of the immense repertoire with which the utopians brought their ideas to the public attention and turned architectural thought on its head with the aim of liberating it. The CCA showcases the legacy of the radical architecture movement with 300 exhibition objects, curated from its own and other archives worldwide. The impressive show presents a systematic arrangement of the objects according to relevant keywords, such as “Nature”, “The Moon” and “Territory”. The topic “Action” reveals how the architectural utopias of the time were intertwined with the radical student movement of 1968, with their protest actions calling for a new way of thinking.
Some of those visions would go on to become a regular part of architectural practice. Participatory processes, green building practices and the notion of a public that actively interferes in planning in order to claim space can all be traced back to the radical utopians of Florence. In this respect, yesterday’s future has become part of today’s reality.