The 1973 film Ceremony by Italian architecture group Superstudio features individuals who inhabit the “Invisible House”, a house devoid of not only a physical structure but, we are told by the narrator, all forms of furniture.
The inhabitants of the invisible house are happy.
Despite this and their other regular very public pronunciations against architecture and design, from their earliest days Italian architecture group Superstudio also designed furniture and lighting: a selection of which can be enjoyed in the exhibition Superstudio Mobilia 1966-2016 at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft, UAA, in Cologne.
Established in Florence in 1966 by the architects Adolofo Natalini and Cristiano Toralso di Francia, Superstudio later counted the architects Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Magris and Alessadro Poli, as well as the industrial designer Roberto Magris to their number, and are arguably best known for their leading role in the Radical Architecture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s: in which context they strove not so much to reduce architecture, but to dissolve it. Where for others “less is more” for Superstudio “less is still far too much.
Reaching an international public through their numerous films, exhibitions and collages Superstudio sought, in effect, and summarising a lot of theory into 28 words, a move away from the modernists attempts to bring things down to a rational, functional, minimum scale and instead explode the borders, embrace the endlessness of human emotions. Sought, if you will to explain architecture as symbolic for all the processes of human life, or as they state in Ceremony, architecture is not just buildings but rather, “occupies space and time and the space between us and others”
Or put another way, everything.
One of the most ubiquitous images in context of Superstudio is their Il Monumento Continuo – Continuous Monument – a monument which rather than going skywards, travels endlessly through the landscape, covering and connecting everything in its path, and ultimately making all in its path unnecessary. The Continuous Monument Grid was also worked into furniture objects, of which the Quaderna collection is arguably the best known example. Released in 1971 by Italian manufacturer Zanotta the table features the Grid printed on the vinyl covering typically used for tables in 1950s cafes and coffee bars. As with the later use of coloured vinyl by the Memphis Group the use of such an, allegedly worthless, vinyl in juxtaposition with a high quality furniture object challenging conventions of value and beauty. And so by extrapolation our understanding and perception of furniture.
In addition to examples of the Quaderna Collection Superstudio Mobilia 1966-2016 also presents the 1968 sofa Sofo, an object which at first glance has little connection with the Grid, but consider them in a stack…. and the Passiflora and Gherpe lamps which are far removed from the Grid. If not from Superstudio’s understanding of the necessary future of architecture and design.
According to Ungers Archive Director Sophia Ungers the original idea was an exhibition looking at Radical Design in its wider context; however, various factors contrived against such an exhibition and so the decision as made to concentrate on just one group. For us the correct decision. Fate once again showing it knows best. The exhibition space at the UAA isn’t the largest in Cologne and over-filling it isn’t difficult, and previous exhibitions such as Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto or Rem Koolhaas – OMA: Tools for Life have shown that when they keep the focus tight the experience is all the better.
The selected furniture and lighting objects are ably supported in the exhibition by sketches, montages and photographs which together with the available literature help place Superstudio’s furniture in context of the their wider output. And also in the history and development of architecture and design.
Don’t however tackle many of the very obvious contradictions which invariably surround groups like Superstudio – and there are many; but then that is a much larger subject, and as ever with exhibitions at Ungers Archiv the space is limited. Superstudios’s Monumento Continuo Grid may posses an enduring charm, but no magic powers, and thus alone cannot transform the limited confines of the Ungers’ building into an endless exhibition space.
However Superstudio Mobilia is as a very well conceived and presented introduction to both Superstudio’s furniture designs and also their Monumento Continuo. And should you make the the trip out to Ungers Archiv, do remember to ask in advance about tours of the house and library, and thus take the opportunity to learn a little about Oswald Mathias Ungers as well as about Superstudio.
Superstudio Mobilia 1966-2016 runs at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft, Belvederestr. 60, 50933 Cologne until Sunday January 22nd
Full details can be found at www.ungersarchiv.de