Adolfo Natalini was an Italian architect, a real pioneer and an advocator of the radical movement of the 1950s and 1960s against the dictation from the rules of society through art which till today stands as an inspiration to voice opinion and generate dialogue to critique the architecture and envision the future. He considered himself a painter first and an architect later which was evident in his use of paintings to reflect his architectural ideas. To understand him and his work better first let’s take a look at the timeline of his life.

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Adolfo Natalini _©upgroup.it

He was born on May 10, 1941, in Pistoia, a northwest town of Florence, Italy. After graduating from the University of Florence in 1966, he founded “Superstudio”(With Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Roberto and Alessandro Magris, with Alessandro Poli) After exploring radical and pathbreaking design ideas for ten years, he started teaching at Faculty of Architecture of Florence. Along with this he also started working on projects for historic centres in Italy and Europe.He set up his own practice “Natalini Architetti” only in 1991 with Fabrizio Natalini at Salviatino,Florence. HIs frim ventured into numerous collaborative works with firms like Architectenburo Corinne Schrauwen(Amsterdam) and Abken Schrauwen Architecten(Ijsselstein).He died at the age of 78 on 22 January leaving behind the inspiration for all designers to think beyond the conventional.

Adolfo Natilini has many accolades in his name that includes being a member of the Order of Architects of Florence and an honorary member of the BDA (Bund Deutscher Architekten), and the FAIA (Honorary Fellow American Institute of Architects), an academic of the Accademia Delle Arti del Disegno of Florence, the Fine Arts Academy of Carrara and the Accademia di San Luca.

Superstudio

The architect is best known as the founder of “Superstudio” in which a group of students came together to critique architecture and society and expressed it in the form of mind-bending renderings, collages, films depicting utopian as well as the dystopian future world. It originated to defy the current system and proposed a radical alternate way of living in the world. 

To express that architecture is not merely about building, they explored the nature of architecture through drawings which at times got radically ambiguous but enabled them to uncompromisingly show what can be said with actual buildings. Then erratic but now looking into their dystopian vision like hulking buildings overtaking cities, giant golden pyramids, and flying silver pods invading the bucolic countryside seems quite prophetic.

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The Continuous Monument- 1969. _©archdaily.com
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The Continuous Monument- 1969. _©metalocus.es

The group experimented, researched for twelve years, and generated numerous visual prepositions most notable being the Continuous Movement: An Architectural Model for Total Urbanization. It was an anti-utopian model showing existing cities and landscapes taken over by enormous white three-dimensional grids implying what the all-consuming future that it entails as well as instrumentalizing the need to structure and alter the inherent condition within architects to make functional designs. 

They questioned the imposed order of a way of living and believing in society which has made all the cities look uniform and rationalized. The building-like structures with no doors or windows, no roads, or people with a definite form but nondescript function makes the makeable belief non-applicable. 

Adolfo Natalini once remarked: 

‘…if design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of 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…

(Natalini,1971 at London AA School of Architecture)

The other paper series includes Twelve Ideal Cities, Fundamental acts, Supersurface. One of the catalogs called Histograms of Architecture contains three-dimensional diagrams referenced with grids to scale and carry it over to the varied location. The design of this minimalist furniture range called Quaderna is still produced by Zanotta.

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The Twelve Ideal Cities- 1971 _©archdaily.com
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Superstudio Furniture Designs _©pinterest.com
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Quaderna Furniture Range _Zanotta _©pinterest.com

Superstudio has been displayed in various exhibitions and museums all over the world and acquired at permanent collections of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art, New York and had conceptual projects published in influential design magazines like Domus, the progressive Italian monthly Casabella and even Casa Vogue. Upon completion of fifty years “Superstudio 50” retrospective was presented at MAXXI in Rome in 2016 and the Power Art Station in Shanghai in 2018. 

Architectural Practice

After the group dissolved in 1978, Adolfo Natalini steered towards teaching and went on to form an architecture office Natalini Architetti with Fabrizio Natalini. Their built work was mainly in the historic centres of old European cities having major impacts in cities like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. His work largely stemmed from an idea of resistance against ultra-modernism and consumerism and started referencing regional architecture, pointing towards culture, history, and local people.

Natalini, back in 2005, wrote:

“My work aspires to timeless normality. I would like to vanish into my buildings. I would wish that these buildings disappear into their city contexts and become a landscape where it’s possible to live peaceably.”

His career moved with full force towards a full-fledged professional practice, undertaking large-scale building projects, including libraries, university campuses, museums, urban housing complexes, and a monumental cemetery. He secured his position among the canon of great Florentine architects with work on the Uffizi Galleries and the Museum of the Duomo. 

Some of his other projects include the Römerberg in Frankfurt, the Bank of Alzate Brianza, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Zola Predosa Power Centre, and the Saalgasse House in Frankfurt. 

Architect Adolfo Natalini’s explicit speculative approach in critiquing and designing architecture contributed to the debate about the role of architecture and the form that cities might take in the future and inspired young architects to obtain an operative and critical agency responding to the core concerns of humanity.

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Museum of the Duomo_©assets.arquitecturaviva.com
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Uffizi Gallery Florence_©architecturaldigest.com
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Frankfurt Saalgasse_©en.wikipedia.in

References

Elfline, R.K. (2016). Superstudio and the “Refusal to Work.” Design and Culture, 8(1), pp.55–77.

arch122 term assignment (2012). SUPERSTUDIO. [online] Blogspot.com. Available at: http://arch122superstudio.blogspot.com/.

Wallis, S. (2016). A ’60s Architecture Collective That Made History (but No Buildings). The New York Times. [online] 13 Apr. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/t-magazine/design/superstudio-design-architecture-group-italy.html 

Author

Trupti Agrawal is an architect by profession, an artist from the heart. She is an ardent reader and a believer in the power of art, being a great tool in uplifting human consciousness. She strives to tap into intangible aspects of human psychology through her art, which makes her a keen learner and an earnest listener, and a deep observer.

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