Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture/ Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation


The Mondial Festival presents: Life, Death and Miracles of Architecture and S-Space, the Separate School for Expanded Conceptual Architecture, in the Space Electronic, Florence 1971.

Vancouver Art Gallery. Curator in Charge: Stephanie Rebick. S-Space Curator Peter Lang. With contributions from Carlo Caldini, Gruppo 9999, Lapo Binazzi UFO, Alessandro Poli Superstudio, Gian Piero Frassinelli Superstudio, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia Superstudio.

The majority of the pieces on display were intended to simulate the original artefacts. Films and slide shows were presented through digital video reproductions. The bicycle was loaned from a bicycle collector in Vancouver. While most photographs were made from digital files into prints, a small number of original items were put on display, including the S-Space white fur cover catalog, several magazines from the period,  and original BW photographs from the 9999 archive, along with an accordion fold-out collage made between 1971 and 1974 depicting Interpalnetary Architecture, from the Alessandro Poli archive.

Exhibit installation design by Matthew Ashton.

photos  by Rachel Topham and Maegan Hill-Carroll, Vancouver Art Gallery

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Peter Lang, Professor, Architectural Theory and History, Royal Institute of Art, Department of Architecture.


4 June, 2015.

Catalog Essay below:



S-SPACE is a non-physical center of production,

elaboration and transmission of ideas,

processes, events, apparitions, prophesies,

memories, situations, existences.

S-Space is a catalogue experience for

conceptual, expanded, impossible, imaginary

and reflected architecture.



Over the course of 3 days in November 1971, the Florentine discotheque Space Electronic was transformed into a tactical site for full-scale installations, performance spaces and a theater for fabulist storytelling and space-age screenings. These experiences were part of the first Mondial Festival, featuring Life, Death and Miracles of Architecture, an elaborate program that also included an experimental learning center called S-Space: the Separate School for Expanded Conceptual Architecture.  It was the first school of its kind to chart the progress of the Italian Radical design movement.[1]


The Mondial Festival was conceived by two of Florence’s leading avant-garde groups, Superstudio, and 9999. Superstudio was one of the original founders of the Superarchitecture movement that made its debut in 1966.[2] (Fig. 1) Adoflo Natalini and Cristiano Torlado di Francia were behind the founding of the group, that later expanded to include Roberto Magris, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Poli and Alessandro Magris. Drawn together while attending the school of Architecture in Florence, the young collective was unusually interdisciplinary, with skills in art history and artistic practice, sociology, anthropology, the physical sciences, photography, filmmaking and industrial design.


Superstudio toyed with tenets of modernism and speculated on the future of architecture, quickly building a broad following in Italy and abroad. The group deployed singular design strategies, meant to streamline or render more efficient the creative process. Along the way, Superstudio developed design objects in series, as for example the Histogram furniture line, (fig. 2),  a uniform scaled grid system that could fulfill different domestic functions. By 1969 Superstudio’s overarching critique on mass consumption led them to fundamentally rethink the role of architecture in general, leading towards the formulation of a planetary-scaled singular building project, the Continuous Monument. (Fig. 3)


9999 emerged from the same post-war generation that engendered the Florentine Superarchitecture movement. The first collective assembly formed in 1968 was called 1999, but reconstituted itself in 1970 as 9999, changing not only a digit but some of its original members. 9999’s core protagonists were Giorgio Birelli, Carlo Caldini, Fabrizio Fiumi, and Paolo Galli. One in a series of prototypical discotheques built in Italy, Space Electronic opened in 1969, originating as a self-organized project, constructed on collective know-how and communal labor.[3] Half ludic dance hall, half cybernetic chamber, the making of the Space Electronic discotheque consolidated 9999’s reputation as critical players among this second wave of Radical Italian designers.[4]


What distinguishes the Mondial Festival is the way it subverted the architectural practice, jettisoning the standard tropes of architecture, plans, sections, elevations and perspectives in favor of enacting an architecture of experience. In other words, not architecture of representation but architecture of action.[5]


For the three day event in November of 1971, the festival featured a prominent roster of Italian Radical designers:  Gianni Pettena, U.F.O., Remo Butti, and Zziggurat, along Milanese pamphleteer and media theorist Ugo La Pietra, the Florence based Fluxus musician Giuseppe Chiari and Florentine artist/musician Renato Ranaldi. The international contingency included American Ant Farm, and the San Francisco based Portola Institute (behind Whole Earth Catalog), and from England, Street Farmer. With the slogan,  …we should better love our planet!  the event proved to be a significant study in cross-disciplinary actions, and just as importantly, the testing grounds for full scale installations and live interventions. Space-Electronic was an ideally receptive environment for the type of multi-purpose and interactive happenings that so distinctly characterized the Radical Italian design movement in this prime moment.


The complex and unique coming together of talent and ideas within the black box environment of Space Electronic was ultimately about challenging architectural practices though the use of alternative media and live spectacles. For the purposes of reaching a sort of experiential understanding of this expansive Radical school, three projects in particular have been chosen here to highlight their distinctive approaches and especially alternate outcomes. There were in effect, three major lines of investigation physically introduced into the spaces of the discotheque.  9999 developed a series of installations, U.F.O., fellow “Radical” travelers also from Florence, staged a live performance, and Superstudio presented two semi-fictional narratives, one as film, the other as theater. Topping this all off, a catalog was produced that served as the event’s manifesto and program guide. What follows are short summaries of these three revolutionary projects.



  1. Mondial Festival, S-Space, the Catalog:


Dear student or environmental cultivator, watch out!

Your ecosystem is in crisis, your capacity is dozing,

your virility vacillates,

your education doesn’t do any good,

your love is watered down…

We are interested in studying that part of

your environment that you don’t perceive

and that (according to Buckminster Fuller) is 99.99%

of it, we are interested in reflecting on the

fact that, of your automatic system, 99.99% are

outside your awareness…”[6]


The notorious fake white fur cover on the catalog manifesto, was not 9999’s first choice. In keeping with the ecological theme pervasive in Group 9999’s work, they had first considered using organic peat moss. This material proved too difficult to work with, hence the use of fake fur.[7] The S-Space catalog remains the most comprehensive document about the organizers’ intentions for the Mondial Festival.[8] (fig 4 and fig 5)



  1. Mondial Festival, S-Space, the Installation: 9999

The re-conceptualization of the Space Electronic into a parable based on the spiritual world according to Saint Francis saw the rearrangement of the discotheque into a prosaic garden of earthly delights, with the basement flooded to form a lake, the main hall converted into a full grown vegetable garden, and the sky a broadcast of lights and video remixings representing the heavens. This vast installation piece, if one can call it that, presented 9999’s immersive ecological treatise based on Saint Francis’ writings, “On the Individualisation of Alternative Models Analogous to the Meaning of the Canticle of All Created Things.” Depicting Saint Francis on a TV monitor, the group’s intention was to make a video to take their ecological message to the broader public. [9] (fig.s 6, 7, 8)


Re-purposing the same Space Electronic props—recycled refrigerator casings that had also been used for the student dance program in a test run of S-Space during the summer of 1970, –the same plastic refrigerator casings were made into green planters to keep alive full grown vegetables trucked in from the surrounding Tuscan countryside. (fig. 9, 10, 11) The Vegetable Garden House’s illustrations generated for the event and the unfinished video served also as the baseplates for 9999’s chosen entry for the competition to be included in Emilio Ambasz’s upcoming exhibition at MoMA: Italy the New Domestic Landscape scheduled to open in May of 1972. (fig.s 12)



  1. Mondial Festival, S-Space, the Performance: UFO

One of the most surreal performances that took place during the Mondial Festival was most certainly made by the Radical design group U.F.O..[10] The original members included Carlo Bachi, Lapo Binazzi, Patrizia Cammeo, Riccardo Foresi, Sandro Gioli, Massimo Giovannini, Vittorio Maschietto, and Mario Spinella.[11] The group was known for their tumultuous and provocative public actions, that were to an extent influenced by Umberto Eco while they were his students in Architecture at the University of Florence.[12]


Lapo Binazzi, one of the founding members of U.F.O. described the performance piece the group devised for the Mondial S-Space Festival as a Futurist performance with bicycles. Three members of U.F.O bicycled their way into the discotheque, each wearing an Italian tricolor racing shirt, dismounted and then proceeded to build and then take down a pair of oversized classical Doric columns along with a broken entablature made out of color coated Styrofoam. The soundtrack, which was never played perhaps out of fears of frightening off the public, was to have been taken from one of the Cine-Città Sword and Sandal films where a rumbling earthquake takes down the entire city.[13]
Again according to Binazzi, once the performance was underway, the action of building up and taking down the Doric columns and entablature was in fact a demonstration in the crudest sense of a ingenious furniture design: the sectioned columns were meant to become seats, while the capitols and broken Lintel, all made of soft colored Styrofoam, were to be used as tables. The performance symbolized the making and unmaking of architecture that during this particular performance degenerated into a dogfight between the members of U.F.O. and 9999, as they began pelting each other with carrots and cabbage, or whatever could be found growing in their vegetable garden house installation.[14] In keeping with the groundbreaking nature of the Mondial Festival, U.F.O.’s performance launched, with this their first bicycle performance of the “Giro d’Italia, a series of tours across the mundane landscapes of the Italian countryside. (fig. 13, 14)


  1. Mondial Festival, S-Space, the fabulist narratives: Superstudio

For Superstudio, the Mondial Festival provided an opportunity to screen their first film production, Architettura Interplanetaria, (Interplanetary Architecture) completed the same year. At the same time, Superstudio presented their Twelve Ideal Cities, conceived as a publication of an illustrated set of fable like stories.


The short film in Super 8mm with sound, like the stories in Twelve Ideal Cities, were extensions of the Continuous Monument project: Interplanetary Architecture could be understood as the ultimate architecture, a bridge to the moon, taking the Continuous Monument to its logical extreme.[15] The voice over narrative, with a Pygmy tribal score in the background depicted this last architectural adventure as perhaps the most primordial of all of humankind’s quests: (fig. 15)



We have had news of men as animals, of men as machines, of men as biochemical complexes: perhaps the time has come to speak no longer of men but of behavior and to clarify that we are not even able to think of the behavior of man in space as a process of annulment.[16]


Superstudio’s Twelve Ideal Cities project, a bleak set of dystopian propositions for cities, their insides turned out from the Continuous Monument series, was published for the first time in December of 1971, in the British Architectural Design magazine, AD. Here too, the Continuous Monument casts its long shadow, having never really explicitly depicted what happens on its inside. Twelve Ideal Cities proposes just that, an introspective view into 12 possible urban allegories, projecting extraordinary outcomes of our every day human foibles.


The “Twelve Ideal Cities” resembled neither an architectural treatise nor a political or avant-garde manifesto, but were instead fabulist stories that have little in common to other architectural projects, past or present. The Eleventh City in particular presents a chilling portrayal of human domesticity and family rivalry, with each home’s interiors identical to the next, while the towers’ exteriors are extended and decorated to command the greatest admiration.[17] (fig. 16)


Eleventh City: City of the Splendid Houses.


It is certainly the most beautiful city in the world, because all its inhabitants, at every moment of their existence, move towards the single goal of possessing the most beautiful house.[18]


These three projects, the first an installation, the second a performance, and the third fictional tales, set in the black box space of a discotheque, implicitly question the very essence of what an exhibition is about. Umberto Eco’s formulation of an “open work,” encourages ambiguity, multiple interpretations, aspects that are characteristic of the flexible and obscure environments of the discotheque. When the spatial context is left undefined, the content is freed to act independently.[19] This in a way projects a notion of freedom, foremost within the historic context of the Italian Radical architecture movement, and arguably in the way such a context can be freely reenacted in today’s settings. In other words, where is the need to remain true to the original when the original was from the start built on recycling and reappropriation. It might still be possible to imagine that the Mondial Festival and its pedagogic offshoot S-Space could in effect resist historicization through the project of recovery and reinvention.





[1] See Casabella no. 356, 1971

[2] Superstudio and Archizoom together invented the Superarchitecture movement. On Superstudio’s role, see Peter Lang, “In the Measure of Things: Superstudio’s Domestic Landscape” in Interiors on Display, DASH magazine. Delft Architectural Studies on Housing magazine #11,

[3]  The earliest example in Italy of an discotheque to embody these highly flexible spatial planning principles along with-advanced electronic programming catering to this up and coming youth generation was first developed in Turin, the Piper Club. Known also as “La Fine del Mondo” “—the End of the World,” source: La Fine Del Mondo, Marco Fusineto, Felicity D. Scott, and Mark Wasiuta ed.s,  Text: Scott, collaborating with Fusineto and Wasiuta. Lithuania, UAB publishing. 2014.) For Monditalia, Venice Biennale 2014. pp78. In Florence, the first of this generation was Mach2, a labyrinthine nightclub stretching around the basement of a building in Florence, and designed by Superstudio.

[4] see Marco Ornella 9999. An Alternative to One-Way Architecture, (Genoa, Plug In, 2015.) pp 73

[5] The Mondial Festival began by experimenting with a number of pre-events held in August of 1970: a sort of preliminary run-through for S-Space with 3 performance related projects, the first within Space Electronic, “Jam Session” a student dance in and around recycled refrigerator casings, and two others outside Florence, the “Dawn in the Pool” and the “Sounding of Trees,” an electronic audio piece created within a forested landscape. PTL interview with Carlo Caldini, 20 April 2015, Florence.

[6] From the Manifesto Catalog S-Space…

[7] PTL Interview with Carlo Caldini 20 April 2015. Florence.

[8] S-Space would also be published in a number of international publications, including the noted Casabella and Domus. G.C. “Sulla Scena dello S-Space,” Casabella 356 1971. Germano Celant, “Sulla scena dello S-Space,” in Domus, n. 509 1972.

[9] Marco Ornella… 9999. An Alternative to One-Way Architecture, (Genoa, Plug In, 2015.)

[10] UFO’s large tubular inflatables were painted with political slogans created to be paraded around the city, these were huge obtrusive banners called Urboeffimeri, (translates roughly into urban -ephemerals).

[11] for further information on U.F.O. see Stefano Pezzato, U.F.O. Story: dall architettura Radicale al Design Globale, (Prato, Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 2012).

[12] For more on Umberto Eco’s specific relationship to Florence and his contacts with the young generation of Florentine Radicals, see Amit Wolf’s “Superurbeffimero no. 7: Umberto Eco’s Semiologia and the Architectural Rituals of the U.F.O. in Archphoto 2.0 “Radical City, Vol. 01, Genova, Plug-in, 2011. Page 28. Like Eco, they sought to reverse standard cultural stratagems, through the reversal of high, mid and low culture conceits and plays a central role in the group’s live action scripts.

[13] PTL interview with Lapo Binazzi, 19 May 2015. Binazzi explained that the soundtrack they had in mind was to have been borrowed from one of the many films staring the character “Maciste” the greatest of the Italian muscle men starring in the early 19th century Italian cinema.

[14] PTL interview with Lapo Binazzi. In all U.F.O. anticipated with their columnar work broken down in their component segments could seat 18 people.

[15] Architettura Interplanetaria. Interplanetary Architecture. 1970-1971.

A hypothesis on extending the earth’s surface, in six chapters. Credits:

SUPERSTUDIO, Alessandro Poli (still collages), Adolfo Natalini, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Piero Frassinelli (diagrams), Alessandro Magris, Roberto Magris.

Cinematography and editing: G. Spezza and G. Salvagnini, The Experimental Laboratory for Film in Architecture, Florence University. (16mm film. color, soundtrack, 15 minutes). Scientific Consultation: Don Tagliaferri, Osservatorio Astronomico, Arcetri,

[16] Excerpted text read from the film Interplanetary Architecture, 1971. Superstudio.

[17] The designs for the City of Splendid Houses were the likely inspiration for MoMA’s outdoor courtyard display towers installed for Emilio Ambasz’s exhibition “Italy: the New Domestic Landscape,” at MoMA in New York in 1972.

[18] 11th City: City of Splendid Houses:

[19]  See Umberto Eco, trans Anna Cancogni trans. Open Work (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1989)