THE POP OUT SHOW: 2A+P/A, Rome 2010

The exhibition highlighted six recent projects selected from the Rome based Architecture Studio 2A+P/A. The set itself described our imaginary world, by changing completely the perception of the exhibition spaces: a surreal scenario where projects have been shown through different communication forms such as drawings, images, a wallpaper, models and video.

Project: 2A+P/A
Curators: P. T. Lang and P. Ferri
Location: Hyunnart studio, Rome Year: 2010
Photo: Sebastiano Costanzo

THE POP OUT SHOW, or 2A+P/A’s deadly showdown


Revised copy, May 18, 2010

In many ways Italy never changes. Italy is consistently the land where “now is always a bad time” and when “soon something very interesting will certainly happen.” When it comes to Italy’s architectural legacy, this simultaneous “not much worse—not much better” condition leaves a deep affect on its contemporaries: every day looks like a disaster avoided, yet somehow buried under the litter of the contemporary ‘extended’ city one continues to find the most amazing examples of new architecture taking shape.

This Italian condition is unique, in that with most other countries the evolutionary lifecycle of true quality architecture may take up to a couple decades before it makes a sharp descent into an overconfident production that becomes horribly kitsch. Outside Italy good building practices lead inevitably to a good building culture, which then collapses in the subsequent euphoria of over-zealous production. It is enough to look at what is happening most recently in Spain or in the Netherlands. Partly for this reason, one hardly perceives an impending crisis until it is too late, and there really are no debates that pick up on the tragic fall from grace in such a way as to render these declines in themselves poetic exercises in criticism.

In Italy the art of criticism surpasses every other nation, precisely because in Italy the crisis is permanent, unending, bottomless. One can look at criticism in Italy as merely an instrument, like a telescope or radar that is absolutely necessary in order to locate and identify those very rare instances when a truly excellent example of architecture design appears in the landscape. Ernesto Rogers, Bruno Zevi, Manfredo Tafuri in this perspective are merely channeling the same simple paradox: absolutely nothing noble can possibly emerge from the Italian context, and there are many great theories that prove this with absolute certainty. Yet the brilliance to these critic’s theoretical formulas is that they allow for the contingency of an anomaly to nonetheless exist.

Once again, the present critic can contribute to this age old Italian debate by updating the same historical paradox, which now would necessarily include the latest most current set of impossible cultural-political conditions that prevent good architecture from emerging in Italy today. It would sound something like this: the rise in political pardons over construction illegalities (condono) sustained by a pervasive corrupt speculative marketplace combined with a media monopoly that recognizes women only as female sex objects fatally attached to a xenophobic anti-immigrant propaganda machine exploiting underpaid laborers indefinitely prevents all possible forms of good architecture from coming into existence. There can be no exception. Period.

The 2A+P/A Pop Out Show, featuring the latest work by the architects Gianfranco Bombaci e Matteo Costanzo, can be understood as dwelling within a alter-dimension, a place somewhere on the reverse side of the Italian cultural crisis. The work of 2A+P/A is an inexplicable anomaly that exists despite the clear impossibility of such a practice to emerge. Precisely because there can be no critical explanation to justify their oeuvre, their work can in effect be interpreted and evaluated.

In their case, Bombaci’s and Costanzo’s migration into this anomalous zone of uncertainty, that can be seen as a simultaneous act of liberation and imprisonment (if one recognizes the shortcomings of occupying a heterotopic landscape), explains their free use of an expanded architectural vocabulary. Their embrace of the psychedelic surrealist style is merely the flip side of the dark and corrupt condition Italian critics have long recognized as representing the dominant Italian culture. 2A+P/A celebrates the steamy subterranean Fellinesque underworld not by desperate acts of futility but by cheerful escapades into the worlds of Alice in Wonderland, gently playing between fantasy and insanity.

Their architecture as a body of production, succeeds therefore in establishing a sufficiently workable set of physical references that can be easily adapted by its targeted users. Virtual reflective signals used in the group’s earlier work, like Torino’s “Round Blur,” provide confused messages of stability and instability that nonetheless transcend industrial age political struggles mired in the FIAT dominated worker culture. The real barriers slip away from the historic ones. And in effect, projects like their Lugar Específico
 in Calaf Spain represent extremely sophisticated hybrid solutions that encompass advanced participatory techniques pioneered by groups like Stalker with a closed utopian dreamscape that cushions a small retirement community of residents.

Gianfranco Bombaci and Matteo Costanzo in their project for the re-construction of the Delft School of Architecture in 2008 recall the earlier Sixties struggles carried out in defiance of the fathers of the modernism. For the two young architects, engaged in this competition on nothing less than the future of architecture, there seems to emerge metaphorical references to the physical body of the school of architecture itself. Their project, inscribed as the “Diamond is Forever” takes a confessional position on architecture’s destiny. The original school of architecture by Van den Broek and Bakema- tragically roasted to ashes by a failed coffee vending machine, is re-exhumed from the dead in a carefully established dialectic between the old and the proposed architectural schemes. This is not a project about denying earlier legacies, but instead is a project about how to deal creatively with their ghosts.

2A+P/A seeks in this project the repossession of an urban campus, a veritable architecture pulled back from the dead. The significant difference with the Sixties Pop Radicals and their rivals from the Tendenza is that Bombaci and Costanzo recognize neither a promiscuous mix of nature and technology nor an autonomous a-historical authority: 2A+P/A instead transcends the modernist enigma by dialoguing directly with Van den Broek and Bakema, overcoming in the process decades of architectural impotence and futility.


Two projects, a design for the Port of Dunkirk, with Angelo Grasso, and the second, the Music Center for Taipei in Taiwan with Stefano Boeri and Salottobuono, fold into a common theme.  2A+P/A takes on the challenges of urban public space and social degradation. Again, Bombaci and Costanzo approach these two sites and programs with the same blood and guts honesty that sets them apart from their peers.

They see the city lying prone on its final deathbed, and therefore a perfect opportunity to thrash out extreme positions, pushing aside good mannered architectural concerns and instead striking out directly for the jugular. 2A+P/A’s approach owes more to current cinematic trends in today’s very popular horror-splatter and vampire cult films then to their neo-realists predecessors.

Yet if neither the Dunkirk nor the Taipei project starts out as exquisite corpses, they end up that way once 2A+P/A begin with their chain saw tactics and extremely unsubtle methods of re-animation. Utopias on heavy narcotics, each of these solutions resemble the bright perfect sun drenched worlds of pharmaceutical advertisements, hardly disguising below their surface the hardcore terror underlying today’s universal urban neurosis. The success of each of these solutions is due precisely to an undistorted honesty that reveals both our wildest desires and deepest fears.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing collaborative efforts between 2A+P/A was most recently with Andrea Branzi on the Drava Architectural Competition for the new museum in Maribor, Slovenia. This project, packed with the most advanced systems for sustainable building, remains at its multivalent core deceptively innocent. Provided with an almost militant program intended to turn artists into citizens and citizens into artists, this project practically contradicts itself in its ability to embrace surrounding urbanism, while rejecting standard ordering of front or back, entry or service entry, outside or inside.

The “building,” really a cluster of mushroom cloud shaped columns rising around and above the city of Maribor, is really viral—not in the sense of computer generated parametric form—but in the design’s ability to keep on growing throughout the city. One can only imagine that any day more of these “pine trees” as the collaborators see them, will begin to pop up elsewhere in the city, gradually adjusting or transforming daily life. One is reminded of the spore like growth portrayed in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” specifically the 1978 version, where the people in the city of San Francisco are replaced one by one by their flower pod replicants,  a process that gradually sets everyone free from daily toils. The mushroom cloud cluster intended for Maribor penetrates the urban fabric, opening the possibility of spreading deep into the unconscious realms of the city.

Any collaborative collective is at risk of imploding at any moment in its professional career, but in the case of 2A+P/A they seem to have succeeded in their accomplishments precisely because they are unafraid of the hazards of practicing in Italy. In other words Bombaci and Costanzo have demonstrated a certain capacity for survival, Italian style.