Antonio Sant’Elia: Manifesto of Futurist Architecture

No architecture has come into existence since the 18th century. A ridiculous hodge­-podge of various stylistic elements is used to mask the skeletons of new buildings and is called architecture. The new beauty of cement and steel has been profaned by the decorative imposition of carnival incrustations which can be justified neither by structural necessity nor by our taste, and which come from ancient Egypt, India or Byzantium or from that moronic flowering of idiocy and impotence called ‘Neoclassicism’.

Some architectonic whoring is welcomed in Italy and rapacious foreign ineptitude is passed off as ingenious invention, as radically new architecture. Young Italian architects (those who draw their only originality from clandestine, compulsive reading of art journals) give vent to their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a jolly salad of little ogival columns, 17th-century foliation, gothic arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo volutes, 15th-century cherubs and bloated caryatids take the place of serious style and presumptuously claim to be monumental. The kaleidoscopic appearance and disappearance of forms, the self-multiplication of machinery, the daily growth of needs generated by rapid communication, the concentration of populations, hygiene and a hundred other phenomena of modern life do not faze these self-styled renewers of architecture. They stubbornly persevere with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino. With the occasional publication on Germanic architecture in hand they once again stamp the image of secular imbecility on our cities, which ought to be immediate and faithful projections of ourselves.

In their hands, this expressive and synthetic art has become a vacuous stylistic exercise, a regurgitation of badly digested formulae which disguise the traditional box of brick and stone as a modern building. As if we, who store and generate movement with all our mechanical tools and the noise and speed of our lives, could live in the same houses and streets built for the needs of men four, five, even six centuries ago.

This is the greatest absurdity of modern architecture. It is perpetuated by the greedy complicity of academies, internment camps for the intelligentsia, where the young are forced to recopy classical models onanistically instead of straining their imaginations to search for solutions to new and urgent problems: the Futurist house and city. A house and city spiritually and materially our own, in which our riotous activity can rage without seeming a grotesque anachronism.

The problem of Futurist architecture is not one of readjusting lines, inventing new mouldings or frames for doors and windows. It isn’t about substituting columns, plasters and brackets for caryatids, dragonflies and frogs, nor does it deal with leaving the façade in plain brick, plastering it or facing it with stone. Neither does it make format distinctions between old and new buildings but rather constructs new buildings around a sane plan, with full advantage of every technological and scientific resource available.

Thus, our quotidian and spiritual needs will be nobly met and everything that is grotesque, ponderous and contrary to our natures will be eliminated (tradition, style, aesthetics, proportion). We will define new forms, new lines, new harmonies of profiles and volumes, a new architecture whose very purpose for existence resides in the special conditions of modern life and in its correspondence to our aesthetic sensibilities. Such architecture cannot be subject to laws of historical continuity. It must be as new as our state of mind.

The art of building has been able to evolve over time and pass from one style to another without altering the general character of architecture because any changes in fashion have been caused historically by shifts in religious convictions or political events. But very few have been motivated by profound changes in man’s environment, changes that discard and renew life-styles, perfection of machine technology and the rational, scientific use of materials. In modern life, the process of consequential stylistic development has come to a halt. Architecture is breaking away from tradition: it must start over from scratch.

Calculations on the strength of materials and the use of reinforced concrete and steel are outside the classical and traditional understanding of architecture. Modern structural materials and scientific ideas in no way lend themselves to historical styles. They are the principle reason for the grotesque appearance of ‘stylish’ buildings which attempt to pervert the litheness of steel beams and the delicacy of reinforced concrete into the heavy curve of an arch and the bulk of marble.

The formidable antithesis between the modern and ancient worlds is determined by everything that did not formerly exist. Elements have entered our lives that the ancients could not even imagine. Material circumstances and spiritual attitudes have arisen with a thousand repercussions. The most important, though still embryonic and obscure, is the formulation of a new ideal of beauty, an idea that has already captured the imagination of the masses. We have, in fact, lost our sense of the monumental, the ponderous, the static; we have enriched our sensibilities with a taste for the light, the practical, the ephemeral and fast-moving. We no longer feel ourselves to be men of cathedrals, palaces and ancient assembly halls, but of great hotels, railway stations, immense highways, colossal ports, covered markets, luminous galleries, straight roads and salutary demolitions.

We must invent and reconstruct the futurist city on the model of an immense, bustling shipyard, every part agile, mobile and dynamic; the futurist house must become a kind of gigantic machine. Lifts mustn’t be hidden away like solitary worms in stairwells, stairs – now obsolete – should be abolished, and lifts should wriggle up façades like steel-and­ glass snakes. The concrete, steel and glass building, bare of painting and sculpture, enriched only by the inherent beauty of its lines and modelling, will be extraordinarily brutal, ugly in its mechanical simplicity and as tall and large as necessary, unlimited by municipal building restrictions. It must rise on the edge of a tumultuous abyss. Streets will no longer stretch out like doormats at the entry level, but will plunge many levels underground and consolidate metropolitan traffic with interconnecting links to metallic cat-walks and high speed conveyor belts.

The decorative must be abolished. The problem of Futurist architecture must not be solved by pilfering from photographs of China, Persia and Japan, or by mindlessly aping the rules of Vitruvius, but with flashes of genius, reinforced by scientific and technological experience. Everything must be revolutionized. Roofs and underground spaces must be taken full advantage of, the importance of the façade must be diminished, questions of good taste must be taken from the choice of busy little mouldings, pretty little capitals and darling doorways and given over to richer, more rewarding questions of massing and the vast disposition of planes. Let us call a halt to monumental, funereal, commemorative architecture. Let us blow up monuments, pavements, porticoes, stairways and sink the streets and piazzas, elevating the level of the cities.

I combat and despise: 

1          all the pseudo-architecture of the avant-garde, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Germans and the Americans; 
2          all architecture that is classical, solemn, hieratic, stagey, decorative, monumental, pretty and pleasant; 
3          the embalming, reconstruction and reproduction of ancient monuments and palaces;   
4          perpendicular and horizontal lines, cubic and pyramidal forms which are static, grave, oppressive and totally removed from our new sensibilities; 
5          the use of bulky, voluminous, durable, antiquated and expensive materials. 

I proclaim:

1         that Futurist architecture is the architecture of calculation: of rash audacity and of simplicity; the architecture of reinforced concrete, steel, glass, cardboard, textile fibres and any substitutes for wood, stone and brick that allow a maximum elasticity and lightness;
2         that Futurist architecture is not combination of practicality and utility, but remains an art, that is to say, a synthesis, an expression;
3         that oblique and elliptical lines are dynamic, having by their very nature an emotive power a thousand times greater that of perpendiculars and horizontals, and that no dynamic, integrated architecture can exist without them; 
4         that decoration applied to architecture is absurd and that only through the use and original arrangement of crude, unadorned or violently coloured material is the decorative nature of Futurist architecture truly achieved; 
5         that, just as the ancients drew their inspiration from natural elements, we – materially and spiritually artificial – must find our inspiration in the new mechanical world we have created, and our architecture must be its most beautiful expression, its most complete synthesis, its most effective integration; 
6         architecture as the art of disposing built forms according to borrowed criteria is finished; 
7         by architecture, I mean the effort to freely and audaciously harmonise man with his environment, that is, to make the material world a direct projection of the spiritual world; 
8         no plastic or linear customs can derive from an architecture so conceived because impermanence and transience will be fundamental qualities of Futurist architecture. Buildings will last less time than we will. Each generation will have to build its own cities. This constant renovation of the architectural environment will aid in the victory of Futurism, already affirmed by Words-in-Freedom, Plastic Dynamism, Music without Quadrature and the Art of Noises. We will struggle relentlessly against passeist cowardice. 

Originally published in Lacerba
July 1914

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