Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview
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10: Sant'Elia and Futurist architecture

THE APPLICATION OF the term 'Futurist' to the opinions and designs of Antonio Sant'Elia has been contested with legalistic enthusiasm by Italian scholars since 1955, but only on biographical grounds, not in terms of the ideas involved. The biographical facts1 are not in doubt and may be briefly stated. Sant'Elia was born in Como in 1888, and was thus a little younger than the masters of the Twenties. His studies, first in Milan, and later at the University of Bologna, were interrupted by a period of apprenticeship to the Villoresi Canal Company, and of service in the works department of the commune of Milan. On his return from Bologna to Milan in 1912 he set up as an architect, but most of his time seems to have been taken up in work for other offices, and no buildings designed under his own name appear to survive with any certainty.

Sartoris has stated that Sant'Elia was in touch with the Futurists from the time of his return, and this has not been questioned in the recent polemics. In 1912, 1913 and 1914 he made a number (possibly several hundred) of imaginative drawings of buildings and town-planning ideas, and a group of these under the title of the Città Nuova were shown at an exhibition of the group Nuove Tendenze in May 1914. In the catalogue of this exhibition there appeared, over Sant'Elia's name, a Messaggio on the problems of Modern architecture: and a reworked version of this Messaggio appeared on the canonical eleventh day of July 1914, as the Manifesto of Futurist architecture, still over the name of Sant'Elia, and without other signatories. After the outbreak of War, Sant'Elia, like Marinetti and Boccioni volunteered for the Army, even before Italy entered the fighting. Eventually he died a hero's death in the battle of Monfalcone in October 1916, two months after Boccioni. His name and reputation were nurtured with unusual care by Marinetti, who, for instance, brought his work to the attention of the Dutch de Stijl group in 1917, but it is this Marinettian connection that seems to have provoked the recent attempts to diminish the

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1
See the biographical memoir at the beginning of Alberto Sartoris's book L'Architetto Antonio Sant'Elia.

-127-

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