Critics’ Picks

Gianni Pettena, Ice House II, 1972, C-print, 16 x 16”.

Gianni Pettena, Ice House II, 1972, C-print, 16 x 16”.


“Utopie Radicali: Florence 1966–1976”

Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA)
1920 Rue Baile
May 1–October 7, 2018

In a 2007 manifesto on the “death of context” in architecture since the 1970s, architectural historian Mark Jarzombek asked: “When are we going to reclaim utopia for our discipline?” This survey of speculative, anti-utilitarian work by seven architects and collectives in and around Florence from 1967 to 1977 offers both a model for designers who would pursue such a reclamation and a warning of the monetized decline that can follow.

Avoiding the Albertian literalism of blueprints for an ideal city (the closest thing in this enormous exhibition is Grupo 9999’s collaged suggestion of a rewilded or garden university, Nuova Università di Firenze, 1971)—the utopianism here consists less in visions of the future than in an ethic of source material’s primacy, a way of asking what might, in the future, be imagined. The categorical indeterminacy that results is disorienting: What, I wondered, distinguishes architectonic experiments such as Gianni Pettena’s Ice House II, 1972 —a deadpan-absurdist photograph of a cube of snow beside a house of the same size—from visual-art objects proper? Regarding something like Remo Buti’s Piatti di architettura (Architectural Plates), 1962–75—a table set with commemorative dishware on which museum blueprints are printed (it seems impossible these weren’t the source of John Knight’s 1983 “Museotype” and 2011 “Autotype” sculpture series), why does one qualify “piece,” nonpiece, and source at all?

The answer, of course, is that those are units of exchange the market requires, which is exactly where many of these thinkers headed, via industrial design, in subsequent decades (precursors on view include Ettore Sottsass’s Ultrafragola, 1970, a wavy, side-lit, selfie-attracting mirror). No matter: The show is substantially a panorama of a time and place of sufficient hopefulness that different futures were imaginable. Are we going to reclaim hope?