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Architecture Myths #3: Futurist Early Deaths

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In response to a question posted by Francisco, I checked up on the dates and cause of death of the main Futurists. Most of them were born in the early 1880s and most of them lived to be about 70. That they all died young and when at war is true of only one, Antonio Sant’ Elia – who is lumped with the Futurists by virtue of having lived around the same time and by being forward looking, rather than “futurist” per-se. Umberto Boccioni died young and while in the army, but prior to seeing active duty.

Fortunato Depero, graphic designer, dramatist (1892 – 1960)
He was 68 when he died, after being ill with diabetes.
Giacomo Balla, painter (1871–1958)
Cause of death not known.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, (1876 – 1944)
“Marinetti had a minor car accident outside Milan in 1909 when he veered into a ditch to avoid two cyclists. He died of cardiac arrest in Bellagio on 2 December 1944.” (wikipedia)
Gino Severini, painter (1883-1966)
He died aged 82, but he did abandon Futurism after the First World War and was part of the “return to order”, becoming interested in a more conservative, analytic type of painting. (wikipedia)
Achille Funi, painter (self-portrait) (1890 – 1972)
Cause of death unknown.
Luigi Russolo, musician (1885-1947)
Cause of death: unspecified
Carlo Carra, painter (1881-1966)
Cause of death not known.
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Poet (1893–1930)
Attempted to enlist but was rejected. Shot himself in 1930.
Antonio Sant’ Elia, Architect (1888–1916)
Sant’Elia joined the Italian army as Italy entered World War I in 1915. He was killed the next year.
Umberto Boccioni, painter sculptor (1882-1916)
Died after falling from a horse and being trampled during cavalry training.
Sant’ Elia on the left, Boccioni in the middle, and Marinetti at the right.

It seems I’m guilty of having perpetrated the myth that The Futurists “characteristically” died young as a result of their aesthetic beliefs. I’m not even sure if this was even true of Sant’ Elia. Wikipedia says he was a nationalist as well as an irredentist (= people who say “give us back that land it belongs to us!”) so it’s possible he would have been keen to fight anyway.

On page 447 of his book “Space, Time & Architecture”, Sigfried Gideon  notes the following.

Le Corbusier was born in 1887 and Sant’Elia was born in 1888. In 1916 nobody knew if Le Corbusier’s talent would have developed either but, on the basis of what they were doing in 1916, I’d have put my money on Sant’Elia to come up with useful ways for the future of buildings to be. Gideon uses Sant’Elia as an excuse to write about Le Corbusier whose ‘vision’, come to think of it, not only didn’t direct the way architecture then went, but also didn’t present any viewpoint that hadn’t already been presented.

“the Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine”
Antonio Sant’Elia, Futurist Manifesto, 1914

“a house is a machine for living in”
Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architeture, 1923

Sant’Elia, 1914
Le Corbusier, 1916
Marinetti on the left, Achille Funi in the middle, and Sant’Elia on the right – 1916

There’s an English translation of Sant’Elia’s Futurist Manifesto of Architecture here.

Cheers, Francisco.


  • As a postscript to the entry for Marinetti, he later wrote this about his early brush with death in the ditch. The words “head over heels” and the ease with which he becomes mud-spattered makes me think he was maybe driving a bicycle and not a car.

    “We drove on, crushing beneath our burning wheels, like shirt-collars under the iron, the watch dogs on the steps of the houses.
    Death, tamed, went in front of me at each corner offering me his hand nicely, and sometimes lay on the ground with a noise of creaking jaws giving me velvet glances from the bottom of puddles.
    I turned sharply back on my tracks with the mad intoxication of puppies biting their tails, and suddenly there were two cyclists disapproving of me and tottering in front of me like two persuasive but contradictory reasons.
    Their stupid swaying got in my way. What a bore! Pouah! I stopped short, and in disgust hurled myself — vlan! — head over heels in a ditch.
    Oh, maternal ditch, half full of muddy water! A factory gutter! As I raised my body, mud-spattered and smelly, I felt the red hot poker of joy deliciously pierce my heart.”

    As mentioned, Marinetti died of a heart attach at the age of 78. As far as I know, the thrill of speed and machinery was not involved.

  • A lot of very interesting research on the Futurists and Sant’ Elia. One suggestion/comment, the spelling should be Boccioni. In Italian, ch is a k sound.

    • Thanks Karin. I’ve corrected that. Last night I read through Sant’Elis’ manifesto on Futurist architecture. There’s a lot of usable ideas in it. Here’s one item I thought was interesting and added to the main post.

      “the Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine”
      Antonio Sant’Elia, Futurist Manifesto, 1914

      “a house is a machine for living in”
      Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architeture, 1923