Writing about radical architects from the 1960s and 70s, the acerbic American critic Michael Sorkin wrote: “Some chose the resistance of advocacy planning and community defense, carrying on the identification with the oppressed. Many took to the woods, back to nature, to study communitarianism and to live a life of virtuous simplicity. Others wondered about the architectural equivalent of rock and roll.” Replace communitarianism with open source, or rock and roll with science fiction, and he could just as well be describing a group of young Italian architects working today. The practitioners of the 1970’s, especially in Italy, transformed their profession but ultimately failed to realize their utopias. What might this new generation achieve?
Towards a New Avant-Garde, an installation and series of discussions at the opening weekend of the Venice Architecture Biennale, will confront the work and approaches of past masters like Superstudio, Archizoom, and the Global Tools group with new, speculative, and politically-charged projects by groups like Itinerant Office, IRA-C, and Snark.
Visitors to the Monditalia section of the Biennale in Venice’s 16th century Arsenale building can join architects (both young and old), critics and writers for three vibrant conversations themed around Internationalization, Collective Action, and Economics. The series was developed by New York-based editorial consultancy Superscript in collaboration with scholars Catharine Rossi and Rossella Ferorelli, as part of a six-month long research process.
An open-source installation created by the design studio DEVspace and the interaction designer Thibault Brevet, will act as both the setting and a live record of these conversations. Spools of paper cascading from custom-built printers will carry provocations from the organizers, comments from the participants in the Arsenale, as well as contributions from online followers tweeting with the tag #stayradical. So people who can’t visit the biennale in person can join in the discussion—and have their comments chosen to be printed at this exciting venue.
By the time the Biennale closes down this November, the continuing conversations will be gathered in a publication that might give us both digital-age perspectives on a significant milestone in architectural history, as well as ways to understand another exciting, socially engaged era for architecture in Italy.