revolutionary utopia or self-fulfilling prophecy

Superstudio started their work 1966 in post modern Italy. At this time there
were only few regulations regarding city-development and architectural
design. An estimated two third of the construction projects in Italy were build
without the help of professionals. While investors had free reign to build
whatever was in their best interest the cityscapes started to degenerate very
fast and the waste of the vastly sprouting factories threatened Italy’s
The failure to regulate the construction industry led to massive underemployment
in the field of architecture. Looking for revenue many architects sought work in
the design sector which led to a dramatic increase of material goods.
After the death of Mussolini, with the riddance of the fascist system the Italian
society oriented itself towards the western world. Along with the new
conscience came the capitalism.
To understand Superstudio’s work in a broader context we first need to think
about our relationship to our belongings. By going through our rooms picking
up random personal items remembering what they mean to us and to what
other object they might relate to. Or by buying new objects that we hope will
make us look good or even in ‘fashion’.

01 the aura of objects

Every commercial object has an image that it represents. This image has
been embedded into the product by the company that created it. The reason
for a company to image-brand its product is pure maximization of profit. In
order to be a sustainable business you need to place yourself in the market
and most importantly stay inside the market for as long as possible.
Designing an object for the market is a well calculated and carefully planned
action. It’s not about producing something that is actually needed by the
people but it’s to create the object that will be most valuable for the company.
In the 19th century people would by a shovel because they needed a shovel.
After decades of being brainwashed by commercial media, today we buy a
shovel because the advertised one seems to represent our way of life better
than the one we already own. Where in the past people would judge a
product by ‘what’ (a shovel) and ‘how’ (made out of solid wood and steel),
people today are more interested in ‘why’.
Companies are fully aware of this new consumer behavior and they seek to
push the limit even further. During the last ten years after the bust of the dot-
com bubble, companies started to create and publish so called business
‘philosophies’. They began to advertise an image of the company rather than
promoting the product itself.
For the consumer the product becomes a mere object of compliance for the
business’ image.
Nowadays, through modern media and through the possibility that you can
share and spread ideas, ideals and thoughts independent of time and space,
people find themselves in a difficult position. They finally realize that they are
no more the individual that they thought they were. They are part of a society
that spans around the globe.
Rather than defining yourself in a small scale such as the city limits or inside
your peer-group you now have to define your persona on a global scale.
Hoping that by owning objects, the image of the company is visibly inherited
into yourself, you start picking up items that you think match your personality
in order to communicate your individualism.
You wouldn’t tell every person looking at you, that you enjoy hiking in the
summer but by wearing a soft-shell jacket by ‘jack wolfskin’ your viewer might
assume it.

Apart from the image that has been generated by companies, an object may
have another feature that is able to instill even the smallest and most obscure
object with a sentimental value.
Walter Benjamin often described ‘aura’ as a quality of arts and nature. Any
artwork is embedded in a unique history at a specific location and therefore
receives a certain viewer-dependent aura. Basically meaning is being
generated out of context. I suggest the same would be true for any object. As
soon as there is a specific action that links personal memories to an object,
this object then starts to receive an aura, too. The shovel I dug grandmas
grave with will always be ‘characterized’ by this tragic moment in the past.
The feelings of this specific point of time seem to translate onto the object.
The object doesn’t define the moment, the moment defines the object.
As fitting as these first thoughts on Benjamin’s statements in relation to
objects may be, there is one thing Benjamin said that doesn’t appear to apply
for material goods. Benjamin argues that in any reproduction of an artwork
the aura is lost since the copy didn’t participate in the events that generated
the aura of the original. Regarding the aura of objects we don’t care if there
are more copies of the same product out there and it doesn’t matter either.
The value of an object lies in the ability to become a reminder of our personal
past not in the physical object itself. We keep these objects because they are
part of our own story.
“By the destruction of objects, we mean the destruction of their attributes of
‘status’ and the connotations imposed by power, so that we live with objects
and not for objects…“
In ‘A House of Calm Serenity’, an article that was published in 1969 in
‘Vogue’, Superstudio argues against the trend to publicly illustrate ourselves
with the commercialized images of objects we own.

Through the “abandonment of all desire to be always ‘in fashion’ or the desire
to be always stylish, or amusing, or to be liked at once: that is, it advises an
immediate abandon of false problems, manias, hysteria”, a certain mindset is
introduced to our character. A mindset where only the choices we make
define ourselves. Where nobody needs to display what he can or can’t do.
The things that matter are not influenced by a consumerist understanding of
life but they are made out of pure interest, consciousness and reason.
“Then, one can begin to desire an unencumbered life, a life where objects
have but small weight, are only memories, a choice of light thoughts, the
reaffirmation of the truth we have reached, hopes for a better world, serene
co-habitation of things, times, places, people…”
Letting finally go of the object’s image which has been embedded by a ‘man-
in-the-middle’, we end up with nothing but the object itself and its aura.
Superstudo thought that this resignation of consumerist behavior will
ultimately lead to a kind of salvation and will in the end, change society in a
revolutionary manner. Further projects of Superstudio are based on the
condition that the described changes in society are in full effect.

02 endless monument

Superstudio argues that architecture inhibits existing societal structures. We
are all living in houses reflecting our status. Rich people live in huge buildings
with plenty of room, in pure luxury and in a separated neighborhood. Poor
people live in a cardboard-box under a bridge. Yet alone this separation
between people of high and low income impedes communication and works
against any efforts to free to world of its consumerist nature.
Adolfo Natalini propagandizes in a lecture at AA School of Architecture:
“If design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if
architecture is merely the codifying of the bourgeois models of ownership and
society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is
merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must
reject town planning and its cities… until all design activities are aimed
towards meeting primary needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can
live without architecture…”
In order to reach a state of unconditional equality we must rethink the way we
design. Neither the European city structure nor the American grid system is
able to support the loss of hierarchy. Additionally the whole idea of having
various separated cities that make up a country and countries that make up
continents is not very beneficial to the cause as well.
“… By the elimination of the city, we mean the elimination of the accumulation
of formal structures of power – the elimination of the city as hierarchy and
social model looking for a new free egalitarian state, in which everyone can
reach different grades in the development of his possibilities, beginning from
equal starting points.”
Superstudio imagined a singe structure spanning around the globe. Like a
layer of contemporary architecture the structure has been build on top of
ancient cities. Once in a while buildings of former towns peek through the
massive edifice, reminding us of the past. Like ‘central park’ in New York, a
small squared piece left blank in the city-fabric, reminds us of nature’s
struggle against overtaking artificial structures. But now the struggle lies
between the city and the monument.
Superstudio imagined that the ‘endless monument’ will be the last effort
architects need to make, the last building that needs to be build. It’s the
ultimate architecture that materializes the ‘salvation’ of society that has
happened before. After the monument has been build there is nothing else to
be done. It’s the “architects suicide” and the “disappearance of architecture”.

“Eliminating mirages and will-o-the-wisps such as spontaneous architecture,
sensitive architecture, architecture without architects, biological architecture
and fantastic architecture, we move towards the ‘continuous monument’, a
form of architecture all equally emerging from a single continuous
environment the world rendered uniform by technology, culture and all the
other inevitable forms of imperialism. ”
The ‘endless monument’ is made of identical cubic entities. Every entity
accommodates one single human and his personal belongings. Each person
has an equal amount of space. There is no value based differentiation of
social status. While this is a basic step towards an axiologically neutral habitat
it’s a commitment to simplicity as well. Superstudio tries to focus on the
essence of architecture. They imply that the first structures ever build by man
consisted of not more than these simple square blocks made of stone,
whether its an obelisk or a pyramid. Putting this in retrospective they get rid of
any virtue architecture has gained under the influence of the previous
capitalistic society. It is as well, a gesture to indicate the importance of this
final architectural development and to underline that their suggestions are
based on historic facts and could be considered a logical consequence.
“We belong to a long history of black stones, rocks fallen from the sky or
erected in the earth meteorites, dolmens, obelisks. Cosmic axis, vital
elements, elements reproducing the relationships of sky and earth, witness to
marriages celebrated, the tablets of the law, final acts of dramas of various
lengths. A square block of stone placed on the earth is a primary act, it is a
testimonial that architecture is the center of the relationships of technology,
sacredness, utilitarism. It implies man, machines, rational structures and
history. The square block is the first and ultimate act in the history of ideas in
architecture. Architecture becomes a closed immobile object that leads
nowhere but to itself and to the use of reason.”

03 supersurface

‘Supersuface’ can be seen as an advancement of the ‘endless monument’.
While all metaphysical ideas embedded in the ‘endless monument’ remain
true for the ‘supersurface’ as well, this new approach embodies the utopia of
the egalitarian society even more.
‘Supersurface’ consists of a grid entirely made of energy. There are no
physical elements that determine single entities in this structure. No walls, no
windows, no fences just a never-ending plane of nothingness. Unlike the
‘continuous monument’ the equalization of possession is irrelevant.
“The use of the hearth through a net of services and communication. The
cities constitute the knots. The grid is a continuous but not homogeneous
system. The voids leave space for the more or less intensive exploitation of
territory… Cities like New York constitute a didactical grid. The Manhattan
peninsula disappears under the unifying action of induced values…
Hypothesis of control of the environment through the use of energies (artificial
streams, thermal barriers, radiations, etc.). Toward the disappearing of the
membranes dividing the interior from the exterior space…”
Information can be shared independent of location. All humans on the
‘supersurface’ are able to communicate with each other. The grid serves as a
network that allows an information fluxus.

04 internet

In many respects Superstudio’s theories seem to be scurrilous and a little out
of touch. But although this radical shift in society caused by a global return to
auto-criticism and self-reflection is very unlikely to happen, there have been
cultural tendencies that appear to relate to principles similar to what
Superstudio explained. There are even man build structures that have some
of the qualities mentioned in regard to the continuous monument and the
The possibility to communicate via a grid of energy, independent of time and
space is a concept that today, everybody is able to experience. Since text,
images and sounds can be translated into a series of electric binary signals to
be send around the globe, we don’t depend on the physical presence of a
person, to share information. Through the use of the Internet we are able to
broadcast our thoughts to anyone that is willing to listen. The time that it takes
to send a message from America to Russia is measured in Milli-seconds. With
the development of even faster connections the concept of time will soon be
negligible. Information is instantly spread to one or more hosts.
Every device hooked up to the Internet is connected to every other device. A
host is described and identified by an IP-address. This address is used to
send or request data to or from a specific machine. While IPv4 and IPv6 are
key-concepts of the technical infrastructure of the Internet they can be
understood as a kind of camouflage for the user as well. I don’t know who’s
sitting behind the computer that just send me a message but I know it’s IP-
address and thus the origin of the message. This masquerade allows the
author to be evaluated only for the quality of the content he or she shares. In
1984 Steven Levy wrote a book titled ‘Hackers: Heroes of the Computer
Revolution’. He argues: “Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not
criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.” This book described a
series of norms for a new growing subculture that had similar ideas on the
ideal society. The norms in the book were soon regarded to as the ‘hacker
The Internet serves us as a dedicated collective human memory. Everything
we do and communicate is stored on machines. Information is search-able
and re-share-able. We can access endless resources of ideas and thoughts.
The entire human history is archived along with relating alternating point-of-
views. We can learn, adapt and improve on the things we see on the net. It is
a chance to get back into touch with who we are, a chance to reflect the way
we live. Levy states: “Access to computers – and anything which might teach
you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total.
Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!”. While Superstudio didn’t mention
the importance of free information, I think this concept would be essential to
their theories. It serves as the initial step towards the changes in the mindset
they described. Before you are able to grasp the disaster of current social
structures you need to analyze it. This analysis becomes easier when you
have lots of data from all over the world. Additionally free information requires
us to let go of the idea of intellectual property. It’s the abandonment of
ownership which is a necessity for an egalitarian society.
If we look at the technological idea of TCP/IP based networks we see a
structure completely free of hierarchy. Every information is divided into
packages and send to the receiver. The packages don’t necessarily need to
take the same route around the net because the protocol always tries to
figure out the fastest route for each single package. This assures that every
host in the network gets the requested information as fast as possible. There
is no differentiation between the users. Everyone has the same priority. It’s an
architecture that is free of the hierarchical model and structures of the
physical world that it was build in. Each machine has to send, receive and
distribute packages. If you want to send or receive data you have to take part
on the redistribution of packages others requested as well. Applied on social
models this would be a system where everybody would try their best for
benefiting society.

Superstudio’s supersurface doesn’t consist of physical elements. It is made
out of pure energy. It is hard to believe that you could be aware or even live in
such an environment. But there are places hidden behind a massive amount
of machines, that seem to be completely detached from the physical world.
To gain access we use gray little boxes, artifacts that rarely work as we would
like them to. Even-though there is hardware behind any networks, we don’t
see it, we are completely unaware of it. With the routine of using social
networks, real-time news and other Internet based services the user starts to
perceive a space that is purely digital. The personal avatar in the network
demands interaction and needs to be developed parallel to the real person.
Our avatars aren’t just copies of ourselves they are autonomous figures.
While the physical person acts and communicates in a certain way our
avatar’s actions might be based on different maxims. This is because our
digital image lives in a another setting. In order to generate and develop the
avatar we need to be aware of this space that doesn’t exist.
There are many other ideas like creative commons, 3D printers, DIY-culture
and peer-to-peer-networks that could be analyzed and be put into context of
Superstudio’s theories. Although this would be an interesting thing to do my
work stops here. I wanted to illustrate Superstudio’s work as a logical
consequence from a revolutionary change in society. And I wanted to show
that this so-called utopia isn’t at all as utopian as we thought it was.

*unless otherwise noted: “superstudio life without objects” –
peter lang, william menking, Publisher: Skira (August 23, 2003)

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