A new domestic landscape. Catharine Rossi on the environments of Joe Colombo and Superstudio

Rossi, Catharine (2014) A new domestic landscape. Catharine Rossi on the environments of Joe Colombo and Superstudio. In: Grima, Joseph , Bagnato, Andrea and Shafrir, Tamar, (eds.) sqm: the quantified home. Zurich, Switzerland : Lars Müller. pp. 50-59. ISBN 9783037784532


In 1972 Italy: The New Domestic Landscape: Achievements and Problems of Italian Design opened at MoMA in New York. Curated by the Argentine architect Emilio Ambasz, the exhibition is seen as a landmark show; celebrated both as a survey of Italy’s leadership in the post-war design marketplace and as an showcase of the growing critical approach that its architects were taking towards their increasingly commercial and industry-orientated profession. This was most evident in the “environments” section, the eleven specially commissioned visions for the future of domesticity designed by leading and emerging architects of the day, from Mario Bellini and Gae Aulenti to Gaetano Pesce and Ettore Sottsass. This essay focuses on two of these visions; Joe Colombo’s ‘Total Furnishing Unit’, the last design of a celebrated product designer who died a year before the exhibition opened and Superstudio’s ‘Life Without Objects’, one of the most well known works of these key figures in Italy’s Radical Architecture movement. These two environments could be seen to represent the two extremes of the utopianism that pervaded this model architecture: the bright yellow plastic blocks of the former, in which rooms could be moved according to the users’ needs, affirmed a faith in technology; the other negates the ideas of rooms, and even houses, in preference of a neo-primitivist, nomadic lifestyle. Yet these differences mask shared concerns. Both were responses to a problematic society; for Colombo, it was the uncontrolled expansion of cities and the damage to both nature and man’s environment and for Superstudio, it was the alienation inherent in Italy’s consumerist society. Both Colombo and Superstudio advocated the need for a domestic architecture that went beyond superficial needs and which put man at its centre. Taken altogether, the Italy: New Domestic Landscape environments not only represent the range of Italian avant-garde concepts of the domestic in the 1970s but also demonstrate how Italy’s architects appropriated the domestic as a physical and conceptual site to comment on contemporary society; an understanding of the centrality of the home in a wider socio-economic and political context that could provide valuable lessons today.

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