Interview with Emanuele Piccardo, 2nd June 2014.
You have conducted extensive research into Radical Architecture, and have been responsible for a number of exhibitions and publications on the movement. Can you tell us about this research, and what it is that interests you so much about this architectural avant-garde?
I first began my research on Radical Architecture in 2005 when I met Lapo Binazzi of UFO for a video interview in his studio in Florence. My first project was called Dopo la rivoluzione. Azioni e protagonisti dell’architettura radicale italiana 1963-1973 (After the Revolution: Actions and Protagonists of Radical Italian Architecture 1963 – 1973) and was shown at the Triennale di Milano in 2009. The project was a series of video interviews with Radicals like Andrea Branzi of Archizoom, Binazzi, Ugo La Pietra, Gianni Pettena, Carlo Caldini of 9999, Alberto Breschi of Zziggurat, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia of Superstudio, Pietro Derossi of Gruppo Strum, and Bruno Orlandoni, the historian of the movement.
The focus of my questions were the relationship between the Radicals’ work and the socio-political context of the sixties, as well as the importance of historical avant-gardes like Dada and Futurism, and the relation with the visual arts, literature and music in Italy, Europe and America.
Space Electronic wasn’t the only disco that the Radicals created. Why do you think that the Radicals were so interested in discotheques in the 1960s?
As I see it, there is one place that architects in the ‘60s saw as uniquely capable of expressing the concept of modernity: the disco club. Every radical architect designed one. Discotheques were a space where ownership was private, but use was public. In Florence, Superstudio designed Mach2 in 1967, while two years later 9999 created Space Electronic, which they also managed. Space Electronic was the most famous of the clubs the Radicals created. It was where the group organized concerts by emerging British bands, as well as happenings and experimental theatre performances. UFO’s Bamba Issa disco club in Forte dei Marmi (which ran from 1969 to 1972) and their Sherwood restaurant in Florence, La Pietra’s Altre Cose boutique with its Bang Bang disco club in Milan, which opened in 1969, were also key venues designed by the Radicals. The Piper disco club designed and managed by Pietro Derossi, which opened in Turin in 1966, became an arte povera meeting place. This new scene, which was so focused on entertainment, was promoted by architecture professor Leonardo Savioli who, inspired by his assistants such as Adolfo Natalini, proposed the disco as a design type in his furniture and interior design course at the School of Architecture in Florence in 1967. The designers of the Piper in Rome had also been his students.
How does Space Electronic compares to these other venues?
There wasn’t any difference in language between the clubs, in the sense that there was the same media used; light, monitors, an upper floor; the same program of performances by the likes of the Living Theater, Carmelo Bene, music concerts. The audiovisual machine in the Piper designed by Derossi was made by Bruno Munari. Each disco was an entertainment machine in which it was possible to explore the different senses; it was an involvement space, as Savioli discussed in his 1972 book Ipotesi di spazio (Hypotheses of Space).
Can you tell us about the influences on the Radicals in relation to their interest in discos?
For the Radicals the discotheques were a different “environment” (an audiovisual one), an alternative to the environment theorised by the American artist Allan Kaprow. The disco was an environment where more things happened.
What, if any, effect do you think that the Radicals’ foray into disco had on their later work – did Italian architects continue to design discos?
There was no effect. I think that designing discos ended when the Radical Architecture ran out of energy in 1973.
You’re Italian, I’m British. We’re both talking about radical architects and discos. You’ve suggested that there is an affinity between Britain and Italy when it comes to discos and the radicals. Can you say more about this?
The Florentine superarchitetti in particular got interested in the British music scene, and followed the experimentations of the likes of Brian Eno, the Rolling Stones and Beatles. At the same time there were British films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Antonioni’s Blow up, which tells the story of the swinging London of the fashion photographer David Bailey; and for the Italians there was also still the importance of Cedric Price with his Fun Palace, the Archigram group and their techno-city.
“Space Electronic: Then and Now” isn’t the only Biennale installation to examine Italian nightlife. There is even a whole weekend devoted to exploring notte italiana. Why do you think there is interest in this subject now, and in the context of the 2014 Biennale?
I don’t understand the relationship between the Biennale’s theme, Fundamentals, with Space Electronic or the other installations that are featured inside the Monditalia, such as “L’Aquila’s Post-quake Landscapes”, “Tortona Stories”, “Alps” or “La Maddalena”. There seems to be an eclectic vision of architecture in which there is no coherence between theory and practice. I do however find it interesting to consider together your research, about Space Electronic, alongside “Radical Pedagogies” by Beatriz Colomina, “Superstudio. The Secret Life of the Continuous Monument” and “Effimero: or the Postmodern Italian Condition”.
Why do you think that Space Electronic is still going today?
Because it’s still an innovative disco, especially for the younger generations.
What is the status of discos and clubs, of places like Space Electronic, in Italy today?
Since the sixties and seventies discos have changed their function. Today there are open-air discos on the beach, or disco-pub, but the public that frequent them has changed a lot.
Do you think that disco and architecture could again come together for radical experimentation?
No, this was a moment now frozen in history!
I have to ask – have you even been to Space Electronic?
Yes I went when I interviewed Carlo Caldini and Giorgio Birelli, but today Space Electronic is another place, very different to the first incarnation of the club.
Interview conducted via email between Emanuele Piccardo and Cat Rossi, 2nd June 2014. Translation by Cat Rossi.