In the Florence of the 1960s, a group of students had just finished architecture school but were frustrated at the lack of work and the general stagnation of the architecture profession. These students coalesced into groups of design vigilantes known as the “Italian radicals.” Among these groups were UFO, Superstudio—famous for its “Continuous Monument,” a world-covering architectural grid—and Archizoom Associati, best known for “No-stop City.” Though perhaps not the best known of these groups, Archizoom is arguably the most influential.
The group was formed around 1964 by Andrea Branzi, Massimo Morozzi, Gilberto Corretti, and Paolo Deganello, though it would soon add two more members, the Bartolinis. Initial products included Pop Art-inspired furnishings, such as the Safari Chair, which was upholstered with exotic animal skins, or the Dream Bed, which, with its kitschy color and shape, sought to disrupt any attempt at good taste in middle class homes.
Another satirical artifact is Archizoom’s “Mies” chair, named after the iconic modernist architect and designer; using Mies’s own trademark chrome tubes, along with Le Corbusier’s cowhide pillows, the chair sought to take the consumerist impulses of modernism to an absurd extreme.
Many of these furniture-jokes were displayed at Superarchitettura, a 1966 exhibition put on by both Archizoom and Superstudio. This exhibition combined the aesthetics of Pop Art with the principles of mass consumption, with the aim of overturning mainstream society. As stated in the firms' joint Radical Manifesto, "Superarchitettura is the architecture of superproduction, superconsumption, superinduction to consume, the supermarket, the superman, super gas.” Soon after the exhibition, however, Archizoom and Superstudio began to argue as to the best way to encourage revolutionary architecture: Superstudio proposed to invent a completely new architecture, one that could incorporate dreamy ideals, while Archizoom sought to take consumerism and modernism to their logical extremes by exalting kitsch and industrial tropes, a motive most clearly seen in their celebrated “No-stop City.”
No-stop City is an unbuilt project, one that is, however, well documented in drawings, photographs and a 2006 monograph. The drawings show an infinitely extending grid, subdivided by partial lines symbolizing walls, and interrupted only by natural features such as mountains. The photographs portray an endless and rather featureless space in which humans live as campers. Spaces are filled with rocks and branches, small pieces of nature brought inside the artificial world. Tents, appliances, and motorcycles show that basic needs are met, while other drawings show endless grids of bedrooms, perhaps containing the Dream Bed or Safari Chair.
The No-stop City is an instrument of emancipation. Branzi explains: “The idea of an inexpressive, catatonic architecture, outcome of the expansive forms of logic of the system and its class antagonists, was the only form of modern architecture of interest to us… A society freed from its own alienation, emancipated from the rhetorical forms of humanitarian socialism and rhetorical progressivism: an architecture which took a fearless look at the logic of grey, atheistic and de-dramatized industrialism, where mass production produced infinite urban decors.” The City frees us with its blankness, its featurelessness, allowing us to be anyone anywhere.
Despite its losing out to the hippie imagery of Superstudio, Archizoom has been quietly pulling the strings behind the scenes of architectural discourse. Credited with starting the “Anti-Design” movement, the group might also have had an influence on Rem Koolhaas’s essay “Junkspace,” now studied even in English departments, which envisions a world of endless airports and shopping malls, featureless indoor spaces animated only by shopping and air conditioning.
The genius of Archizoom is that they sought to change the world using the power of that which they critiqued. As they explained in a 1965 issue of Domus, “We want to introduce to you everything that remains out of the door: the fabricated banality, intentional vulgarity, urban furniture, voracious dogs. To scientific progress, born out of the intelligence that explains it all, and the elegance that saves it all (disabling the fuses and laying out a radiant future). We prefer a postcard-like horizon complete with rainbow. Like the fake pacifists, in the evenings we take away the beards and moustaches, meditating the most violent treason. We also want to say: we can't be found where you are looking for us, don't trust the way we greet you. And then, the air smells of dead roses, a smell which we don't like that much…”
Archizoom group portrait via Domus