We researched the five acts that demonstrated the philosophical potential of the Radical Design Movement and it´s deep examination of the design discipline

We researched the five acts that demonstrated the philosophical potential of the Radical Design Movement and it´s deep examination of the design discipline

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The scope of influence of the Italian Radical Design movement was huge. Aesthetically, the movement pretended to be the opposite of modern design, of the Bauhaus principles. They mainly refuted that form had to follow function and rejected the principles of “good taste”, that about that time were totally identified with modernist design. In rebellion, kitsch aesthetics was followed, with pop reminiscences and bold colors.

But I believe this rebellion towards the appearance of objects blinds us from the true deepness of the Radical Design or Anti-Design proposals. The questioning of consumerism, of self-worshiping architects and designers, of the way of teaching and the way of building society. Nomadism, ecology, anti-materialism, collectivism, are the avant-garde ideas that were translated into bizarre objects but also into poetic and artistic performances that brought design and art closer.

When you take away the functional element of design, it gets closer to art. Collectives like Archizoom, Superstudio and Cavart used design as a way of comment and protest about the kind of society they were living and the utopic or dystopic visions they had for the future. Here we present five poetic acts, that despite their ephemeral character, they represented a way of thinking, of approaching design that has stayed engraved in the designer minds of the contemporary world. Radical Design opened doors that questioned and pushed the limits of what design can be.

Supersuperficie by Superstudio. MoMA New York, 1972.

In the mid 60s, a group of architecture students from the University of Florence, disappointed by their discipline, created the Superstudio collective, one of the pioneers of Radical Design. Influenced by neo-Marxist ideas, they proposed that if design will serve consumerism and architecture class privileges, it was better to live without objects and without buildings. For the groundbreaking MoMA exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, they created the Supersuperficie, an alternative model of existence where only a net of energy exists, a kind of matrix that you can access when you log in. In this world without buildings and without objects, humans can have a nomad life, free of repetitive work and the structures of violence and power. A network that levels social differences.

Besides the incredible similarities of this fictional network and our actual Internet era, their renunciation to the material world, places design in an ideological ground that was not used to. “We wanted to show that design and architecture could be philosophical, theoretical activities, and provoke a new consciousness,” says Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, co-founder of Superstudio together with Adolfo Natalini. They represented this net, graphically, with a grid pattern that they included in their whole oeuvre; furniture, collages, films, etc.

Destruction of the Lassú Chair by Alessandro Mendini. Milan suburbs, 1974.

In 1974, famous architect and designer Alessandro Mendini, was the editor of Casabella magazine. In the years where Radical Design was born, Mendini was in charge of three magazines that were essential in the narration, publication and dialoguing with the neo-vanguard; Casabella, Domus and Modo. One of his great inputs was to create iconic covers that gave character to the magazines and that revealed meaning with just one image.

For the covers of Casabella he created several “oggetti per uso spirituale”(objects for spiritual use), one of them was the Lassú chair. For the poetic act he designed and manufactured two identical chairs, in a scale minor to normal and mounted on a pyramid. With this he challenged two fundamental principles of modernism, first the functionality of the object and second its permanency, dealing with the maxim “design to last”. In the final poetic act he burned the chair. That moment became the cover of Casabella.

 

Guernica: Prospettiva del XXI Secolo by Cavart Group, 1974.

 The Cavart group was originated by a group of students from the University of Florence, influenced by their teachers, the creators of Superstudio. Cavart was one of the most radical and underground groups of the movement. This act of 1974 consisted first of making a real-sized replica of the famous Guernica of Picasso. They toured it around the piazzas of Padua, Venetia and Milan to end in Bologna and destroyed the painting in front of the new Galleria d’Arte Moderna. The act was charge with strong anti-fascist ideals, Guernica as a symbol of the violated freedom and also a commentary on the design discipline. The radicals acknowledge a big creative problem in their field, they felt there was nothing new to invent so they appropriate and work with past imagery.

Architettura Culturalmente Impossibili by Cavart Group,1975.

Culturally Impossible Architecture was a one-week seminar organized by the Cavart group. They invited artists, students and architects to unite and object the strong elitism of the field. It was held in an abandoned quarry near Padua. They invited non-professionals, like local peasants and their children, to create their own designs made with a mix of discarded industrial materials and natural materials, just as Art Povera was working. Casabella magazine described the results as “A curious temporary town of plain architecture,… at once archaic and futuristic; a kind of hypothesis of a natural life for the technological man of 2000 AD”

This temporal urbanity had other interesting structures like the ziggurat-like pyramid made of hay by Alessandro Mendini and Paola Navone. This again examines the permanence of design, using a historic idea but with disposable and burnable materials. Michele de Lucchi and his brother Alessandro, created a full scale reproduction of his final project Strutture Verticale. This construction consisted in a long vertical structure with minimal spaces to inhabit, connected in a vertical mode and with objects suspended on the air.

“MANTtransFORMS/Aspects of Design”, inaugural exhibition for Copper-Hewit, Natonal Design Museum, by Ettore Sottsass, New York, 1976.

The photographs that Sottsass showed for the first time at this exhibition curated by Hans Hollein, were taken between the ’72 and ’73, at the outskirts of Milan and in the Spanish Pyrenees. For the famous Sottsass this was a time of questioning and distancing from corporative industrial design, from which he had been an essential part while working for Italian firm Olivetti. The photographs show interventions to the natural environment, with simple and fragile objects, interrogating the role of the designer in society, its intervention on the environment and the over-sophistication of design. He remembers, “I felt a need to visit deserted places, mountains, to re-establish a physical tie with the cosmos as the only real environment, precisely because it is not measurable, nor predictable, nor controllable, nor knowable””

The photographs are accompanied by small texts that enhance the image with meaning. In Design for (the Necessities of) the Animals “Highway Between two Anthills” there is a stick that connects the two anthills. The word “necessity” in brackets is an ironic observation of unnecessary design and the real need of it. In Design for the (Rights of) Man, there are two pictures of a simple canvas giving shadow to a common chair on the middle of nowhere, in one you can sit in the shadow, in the other you can sit in the sun. Again with irony he shows the obvious interference of design in the daily life of human beings.

Be part of KatariMag

In KatariMag we love art, beauty and ideas. We devote hundreds of hours to research and write to deliver the best stories of contemporary culture.

But the love of art also has its needs. So if KatariMag moves you and entertains you, be part of our community and collaborate with us! You can choose between PayPal or Patreon


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