In the 1960s and ’70s, the Italian design collective Superstudio protested modern urban design by poking fun at the status quo and imagining its own utopias.
FLORENCE, Italy — One recent afternoon, the architect Gian Piero Frassinelli, 81, stopped on a walk through a piazza near his home, and pointed at a fresco high above on a building’s facade.
The illustration depicts an entourage of local luminaries, including Dante, the poet, and the painters Leonardo da Vinci and Giotto. Many would view the scene as a tribute to Florence’s historic golden age. For Frassinelli, however, it represents the city’s disrespect for its creative sons.
“Until after their deaths, this city’s artists are destined to be rejected,” he said.
As the last surviving core member of Superstudio, Frassinelli should know. That radical architecture collective galvanized the design world during a MoMA exhibition in 1972, and its futuristic vision zigzagged the globe. Although Superstudio built very few actual buildings, its witty photo collages and designs, presented in exhibitions and glossy magazine spreads, opened up new possibilities for what architecture and urban planning could be.
Some of the biggest names in the business in the 21st century — including Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi — have spoken of the group’s influence on their work, and, in the 1960s, Superstudio helped establish Florence as a hotbed of avant-garde design. Yet today, the city’s museums contain hardly any references to the pathbreaking group.
Six-hundred miles away, in Brussels, the CIVA museum is currently showing a sweeping survey of “Superstudio’s” work, through May 16. Titled “Superstudio Migrazioni,” it includes over 500 objects, including some of the group’s most famous photomontages, furniture and interior designs, as well as previously unpublished letters. Ninety of the works are on loan from the Pompidou Center in Paris.
The starting point of everything Superstudio did was dissatisfaction with the uniformity of modern architecture, which its left-wing members saw as an instrument of capitalism that disempowered the masses, robbing them of their individuality and freedom. Sometimes, they made fun of the status quo, or took it to absurd conclusions; other times, they imagined utopian futures.