The futuristic architecture

by Luigi Coluccia

It’s a journey throughout the twentieth century the one we’ll do together, throughout some of the main architectural landmarks that have characterized that period, using as leitmotiv some of the main artistic movements that have been inevitably and continuously affecting architecture. It has always happened that the most significant artistic movements have influenced the world of architecture and the twentieth century has been a century characterized by a great artistic ferment with many alternating movements.  

Architecture takes care of organizing the spaces, mainly those in which people live and along with sculpture, painting and photography (and their modern derivations) is part of the so-called visual arts, or those that have as an end result visible objects which are represented also in their three-dimensional shapes given the use of moldable and adaptable material. Then we will go together through some of the artistic currents that have been affecting all forms of Architecture, thus influencing the main subjects of architectural photography as well. 

This journey starts in the very early twentieth century, as Futurism – a crucial historical vanguard that embraces all artistic forms – spreads out in opposition to the concept of elitism typical of the Italian Imperial Art and promotes the new modernity of cities undergoing a deep social and political transformation due to the new technological discoveries. Take for example the Futurist painters: in their paintings they report scenes of urban growth – the construction of the buildings in the suburbs, often surrounded by vast campaigns rather than by scaffolding – witnessing the new modern wave of that time and leaving behind the representation of the “old” Italian monumental architecture. This new futuristic vision tells us about social architecture that ultimately aims at meeting the housing needs, thus leaving apart any purely decorative element. The Futurists introduce the principle of deformation and associate it with the concept of crowd dynamics, noise, lighting, automobiles and everything is in fact the “new” city life.

 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti drafts in 1909 the Futurist Manifesto which is published in the Gazzetta dell’Emilia. It is however with the following publication on Le Figaro that the movement takes up that international standing which aspires . Two of the most significant talents of that time that are supporting Marinetti, are the painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni and the architect Antonio Sant’Elia .

A. Sant’Elia – La Città Nuova, 1914 – Draft of a building with external elevators, gallery, spot light and telegraphy

Antonio Sant’Elia drafts the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture which states the main criteria of this new wave. The city is the focus and is conceived as a symbol of dynamism and modernity.

“The Futurist architecture is the architecture of calculation, of daring and simplicity; the architecture of reinforced concrete, iron, glass, cardboard, textile fiber, and of all those substitutes for wood, stones and bricks that make it possible to obtain maximum elasticity and lightness; ”

All projects carried out by Sant’Elia relate to future cities that are the antithesis of the traditional ones, so far conceived. The ideal city of Futurists refers to a model of in-motion society and pays special attention to the transportation system. From the architectural-constructive point of view, new structural elements and raw materials, such as iron, concrete, glass are introduced, making also use of modern and advanced means of construction.

We can easily say that the contemporary modern architecture, characterizing our great cities is based upon his innovative idea of architecture: buildings with concrete and glass, sinuous, wavy lines, dynamic, elliptical shapes and curves that enhance the concept of movement and dynamicity.

La Città Nuova, as it would be today. – Digital rendering on Sant’Elia’s original project

In those years also Boccioni has been working on a similar document, which remained unpublished and found among Marinetti’s papers after his death. Boccioni’s work is focused on the desire to abolish the “forma urbis”, aiming at the end of the ordered, linear and serial perspective of the traditional Italian cityscape at that time.  The new urbanscape  would have developed dynamically according primary to the need of internal spaces. The buildings are no longer seen as single, on their own elements but conceived to fit into the urban texture, combining dynamically one to the other.

La città nuova, come sarebbe oggi. Elaborazione grafica digitale sul progetto originale di Sant’Elia

A new aesthetic sense made of contrasts, asymmetry, and vivid colors was coming to live. The result of these studies and projects aimed at gradually shaping a new urban vision in which the bare building skeletons turned into modern city blocks, including houses, hangars for aircraft and airships, bridges and theaters.

L’architettura futurista di Antonio Sant’Elia

Antonio Sant’Elia e il Manifesto dell’Architettura Futurista

Bocconi e l’Architettura futurista

Marinetti e il Futurismo

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