T.K. Justin Ng is a designer based in Toronto exploring the changing role of architecture and the future of cities through research, design and drawing.

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From Superstudio to Accelerationism, 2017

The architecture of the sixties became a major turning point in architecture with the collision of modernism and postmodernism as well as the rise of popularity in brutalism, formalism and many other forms of the ‘International Style’. This period was the age of the megastructures, the age of utopian dreams but also of dystopian commentaries. It is during this period where a group of radical Florentine architectural students established Superstudio.

Making use of unconventional architectural devices such as metaphor, allegory and tools of irony, their work criticizes not only architecture but also society through architectural drawings and projects. Influenced by the rise of Workerism (Operaismo) in Italy, Superstudio exists “in an empty rarefied area: there is a space between architecture and the visual arts, and there is a space between the cultural profession and life,” a space that allows them to escape the capitalist conditions, the wait for commissions, and the laws and regulations surrounding the profession. Superstudio’s refusal to create buildings along with its strive for a life without work demonstrate Tronti’s believe that it was the workers’ rebellious initiative against their work that caused capital to evolve. The group believed that consumer goods are another means of repression through which the social system is able to maintain itself, therefore, they strived for a ‘life without objects’. Through Walter Benjamin’s conception of the ‘destructive character’, many of Superstudio’s works destroy objects’ attributes of status and the connotations imposed by those in power. Together with Workerists and Autonomists, Superstudio aspired to discover an autonomous dimension of political power within the tradition of the working class.

Their body of work includes the Continuous Monument and the Twelve Ideal Cities that examines a “negative utopia”, revealing the ultimate consequences of carrying forward capitalism’s affective relationships. These images were intended to serve as a deterrent, in order for viewers to realize that it is necessary to resist the existing state of society. While other projects like Histograms and Fundamental Acts explore a rational and minimalist world, free of materialistic connotations.

Looking at the work of Superstudio in 2017, one realizes that their work is eerily prophetic. Since the sixties, the Continuous Monument has managed to erect itself in many of today’s largest metropolis while the Supersurface has manifested itself as an extensive network within the virtual world. From Jules Vernes’ 1886 vision of man landing on the moon, to George Orwell’s depiction of city-wide surveillance systems in Nineteen Eighty-Four, what began as a fantasy in the imagination of the creator becomes the present reality of the world. Although Natalini views Superstudio as a product of a specific historical context in the sixties, it seems to give us an insight into our current society, it is therefore imperative that we revisit this group’s work in today’s context.

The rise of the internet and technological advances stemming from it has radically transformed the world and the power structure of capitalism. Under the lens of today’s technology, works such as the Supersurface, Histograms and the Continuous Monument offer new meanings. In particular, the popular use of the internet and smartphones have created real-time information transmission that has exerted a powerful accelerating undertow on almost all areas of everyday life, quickly dynamizing the world. Although this dynamism feeds capitalism’s need for growth, acceleration, and innovation, an idea that at first appears contradictory to Superstudio’s refusal to work, it has also brought society closer to a life free from work, a ‘life without object’.

Upon closer inspection, Superstudio’s work shows a world where technology, in the form of gargantuan structures and the creation of an all-providing Supersurface, has allowed the ‘social workers’ of the sixties to be liberated from the socio-economic conditions of their time to transform into ‘multitudes’, as described in Negri and Hardt’s Empire. Through the acceleration of technological advances, the workers’ productive forces are no longer constrained by capitalism. Coupled with the rise of algorithms and more efficient means of production, the autonomous individual that Superstudio dreamed of can finally be born, allowed to wander freely on the surfaces of the Continuous Monument. With this shift in the worker’s identity, the working class is one step closer to achieving ‘collective self-mastery’. At the same time, Superstudio’s work shifts from Autonomia to a latent form of Accelerationism that saw technology as a springboard to launch us towards post-capitalism.

Adolfo Natalini, Lecture at the Architectural Association (1971)

Mario Tronti, L’autonomia del politico (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1977)

Walter Benjamin, The Destructive Character (Frankfurter Zeitung, 1931)

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, “Superstudio & Radicaux”, in Frederic Migayrou (ed.) (Architecture Radicale, January 12 – May 27, 2001 p.207)

Adolfo Natalini, Superstudio in Middelburg: Avant-Garde and Resistance (De Vleeshal + Zeeuws Museum, 2004)