Tag Archives: time & architecture

Architecture Misfits #5: The Futurists

The futurists were misfits in more ways than one. They had a manifesto – a written statement of what they believed in. The modern equivalent would, I suppose, be the “vision statement” that we see in business plans – only with more poetry to it. Here’s their point #7, for example.

We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace (or NIKE, to many).

[Winged] Victory of Samothrace (wikimedia commons)

Founded in 1909 by the poet F. T. Marinetti, Futurism remains Italy’s most significant contribution to twentieth century European culture. Marinetti wanted to break with the oppressive weight of Italy’s cultural heritage and develop an aesthetic based on modern life and technology, particularly speed and the machine.

This quote was taken from the website of the Estorick Museum. Have a look when you’re in London. In the early 20th century, everybody had a theory about something, but it wasn’t just about painting.


They also did sculpture.

‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’, 1913 bronze by Umberto Boccioni, wikipedia

Fashion. (for more details, see here.)


Stage design.



Costumes by Fortunato Depero for his ballet ‘Machine of 3000’ (1924)
Courtesy the Depero Museum, Rovereto (via dieselpunk)

(!!?? Let’s have a quick look at “Machine of 3000” – apparently the two “locomotives” are in love with the station master. Let’s hope it works out.)

Gardening. (This is not faceitious. Despite being organic, bonsai or a Japanese garden, is no less unnatural.)



Cooking. Yes! (Go here for more details.)

Alaskan Salmon in the rays of the sun with Mars sauce, Woodcock Mount Rosa with Venus sauce, a sculpted meat cylinder, and the non-meat sculpture Equator + North Pole. Yum!

Dining as theatrical event.

they made their own fun

Since Futurists were against history and tradition, Marinetti was against pasta, claiming it made Italians lazy and so on. The photograph below found its way into circulation around the same time. Marinetti claimed it was faked.

Marinetti tucking into a big plate of spag (allegedly)

Graphic design and advertising. Check here for more images of the work of Fortunato Depero.

Campari and soda is still sold in the bottle designed by Depero in 1932

Interior design.

Giaccomo Balla, again.

Architecture. (thanks dieselpunk!)

Study for a 1927 Biennale pavilion
by Fortunato Depero

One of the Futurists’ provocative characteristics was their fascination with the noise and dynamism of war – which is why not many of them lived to be old. Normally, Antonio Sant’ Elia is counted as a Futurist because of his “forward looking” designs but it’s more likely he gets mentioned with them to forge a link with art because, otherwise, there would be a big space in the history books – not least of all Sigfreid Gideon’s long book “Space, Time & Architecture where he had this to say.

The middle bit makes sense. Sant’ Elia did have an idea when people were looking for one. All his manifesto called for, however, was the sensible use of modern materials to adapt to mobility and change – which seems a sensible thing to do.


There was much about The Futurists that was a bit naïve and perhaps more than a bit disingenuous at times. The good thing about them, and the reason why they are the subject of this blog is that


To The Futurists – have one on us, Misfits salutes you!  

Time & Architecture: Part I (NOW and WAS NOW)

Hello! Continuing the cosmic theme of last week, let’s talk about Time and the ways buildings exist in this particular dimension we’re stuck with.

We need to do this because, even if we ever sorted out what Beauty was and how to create it in buildings, how could we be sure that it is always going to be beautiful? Just like you and me, buildings exist in the dimension of Time and can’t escape its effects. The colour of things changes. Bits flake and sag. Shape changes either because of additions over time or because pieces fall off. Even the position and alignment of buildings can change as portions of land are sold off to pay the bills or new development gets closer to overshadow once prominent or isolated buildings. Here’s what remains of the site of the Villa Savoye.

In 1929 it was possible to take this photograph. It’s not now. Time has moved on.

Time is important. It affects what we see as well as how we see it. It matters. The mindless pursuit of fleeting novelty – which, it must be granted, is all that’s required to satisfy the high churn ratio of contemporary architectural media – has done little to encourage our understanding of Time & Architecture.  So then, let’s begin to explore time. It’s always good to start from a strong premise. How about this?

“All building activity takes place in the present.”

Fine with that? Good – because it’s not possible to build in the past and it’s not possible to build in the future. The moment a building’s constructed, it has a unity with the present. It suddenly exists at this place in time called NOW. Here’s a pic I just downloaded from ArchDaily. The building was completed in 2012. It’s as NOW as we’re going to get, or need to get.

It may be a product of NOW now but, as it or any building ages we will, sooner or later, begin to think it’s from a time that is no longer the present. It will begin to look old – it will be old. It will have aged. It will, of course, continue to exist in the present but we see it is not a part of the NOW anymore – but a part of the WAS NOW.


You don’t have to go as far back as The Pyramids to see that a WAS NOW building. Here’s Peter Eisenman’s “House III” in 1971 when it was NOW.

In 2000, it was already very WAS NOW.

“All built reality is either NOW or WAS NOW.”

Note: Don’t think of WAS NOW as “the past” and NOW as “the present” because doing that creates problems regarding “the future.” Only the present has any meaning for the construction of buildings and the present always becomes the past. Buildings show signs of changing from new to old, but never from newer to new. In our universe at least, Time goes in only one direction. We enjoy effects after their causes.

Another note: In this and the follow-on posts, I’ll only be concerned with ideas conveyed by buildings that actually exist. Drawings and models of buildings yet to be built are tangible objects that exist to market or otherwise convey ideas of something that may exist at some time in the future. There’s a rich history of ideas of buildings that were destined to never be NOW. Here’s one which regularly fills in a gap in the history books.

Here’s another.

This next one’s my favourite unbuilt building.

It’s El Lissitzky’s “Wolkenbugel” from 1923-1925. (The montage, however, is mine and, ever since it left home, seems to be having quite a nice life bouncing around the internet.) Buildings have to exist first as ideas or else nothing would ever get built but even buildings that don’t exist anymore can still have meaning as memories.

These and other ideas of buildings are stand-alone ideas that aren’t yet (or anymore) attached to real buildings.

Another note: Occasionally the opposite occurs, and a building that has been in our consciousness as a drawing or image is built well after it was designed. Frank Lloyd Wright deigned the Massaro House in 1949, reprising his greatest hit of 15 years earlier. It was finally completed in 2007, 49 years after it was designed and 39 years after the great man died.

Is the Massaro House new? Or old? Is it authentic? Does a long delay between design and construction matter that much? Along the same lines, is the Sagrada Familia new or old or both? It’s taking a very long time to construct but, compared to Chartres or a number of other cathedrals, they’re practically throwing it up overnight. So what’s new? What’s novel? What’s ‘ahead of its time’? What’s ‘avant-garde’? What does ‘timeless’ mean? In this next photo, the building, the car, the model’s dress, hat and hairdo were all modern once – in fact the very idea of women driving was modern.

Alas, the fact that everything but the building now looks a bit old fashioned might just mean that everything else have moved on apart from how buildings look.


So far, we have NOW and WAS NOW as the two ways a building can be placed in the dimension of Time. We can tell if a building is NOW or WAS NOW just by looking and it and seeing how it has physically aged.

Next time, I’ll talk about buildings that are conceptually NOW and WAS NOW. I’ll add these ideas to the two physical states of NOW and WAS NOW and we’ll see what happens. I’ll also talk about a new, third type of idea – NOT NOW – so look forward to that!


Big news this week was the discovery of the Higgs Boson or, as cautious scientists say, the discovery, to 99.99997% certainty, of a new ‘state’ having an energy level of 125 GeV and  seemingly consistent with what a Standard Model Higgs Boson is expected to be.

What’s charming about the Higgs Boson is that it proves the existence of the Higgs Field which, it’s claimed, was up and running one-trillionth of a second after The Big Bang. The Higgs Field explains why protons have mass and stick together to form the nucleus of atoms. Once they do, we pretty much know what happens next – but not, of course, what happened before, or why. Apparently, there wasn’t much of a ‘before’ before, because, if you’ve been following recent developments in string theory, the dimension of Time itself had only just ‘sprung’ into existence.

BTW, all this isn’t something I discovered myself, it’s just something I read about OK? It’s, like, an ‘introduction’. Stay with me. So, according to string theory, any possible universe has a maximum of twelve dimensions but our particular universe just happens to have the four dimensions of Length, Width, Breadth and Time. We have to live with what we have.

It’s frightening to think that every bad song lyric containing the words ‘beyond space and time’  was, in a sense, true. On the bright side, now, if anyone asks you “What is this mysterious force that makes The Universe hang together?” you can say, “Why that’d be the Higgs Field of course!” instead of looking at your shoes for a while before sheepishly suggesting “err… Love?” or something equally inane.

Which brings me to my point.

If we, mankind, the people on the planet … are clever enough to make such a theory as the Standard Model, the equipment to prove or disprove it, and to then go on to ask further clever questions about dark matter, supersymmetry and such, then why, I ask you, don’t we understand why our buildings look the way they do!!?? It’s not, even, as they say, rocket science.

In terms of aesthetic progress, our world is still flat. We randomly arrange resources across Length, Width and Breadth and in Time so they look new for a while and old forever after. How we design and construct buildings is not progressing towards any type of perfection. We are no closer to understanding why one particular arrangement of stuff looks more special than some different arrangement. Is Beauty really all that mysterious? Or even that important? Might it not be that we’ve just taken a phenomena we don’t understand, given it the name Beauty, and have become accustomed to claiming that its elusiveness only proves its awesome magic? What if, just if, it was possible to pin it down, explain it, and understand it? Would we even want to know?

As with all rhetorical questions, you can be fairly confident that the person asking is going to want to offer you an answer fairly shortly.