Environment and Counter Environment the INLD films screening at the Barbican

Friday November 29th 2013 by Peter Thomas Lang


Architecture on Film: Italy – The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972 + Q&A with Gaetano Pesce and Peter Lang

Thurs 28 November 2013, 7pm


Peter Lang, co-curator: Environments and Counter Environments. “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape,” MoMA, 1972. Now on view at the Graham Foundation Chicago through December 14, 2013.

Italian design achieved major international acclaim when an expansive exhibition on the works of Italian contemporary designers and architects was assembled for New York’s Museum of Modern Art in May of 1972. Curated by the young Argentinian born Princeton educated Emilio Ambasz, Italy: the New Domestic Landscape: Achievements and Problems in Italian Design, showcased some of the most provocative design objects and environmental prototypes to emerge from Europe in these years. Ambasz’s gaze on Italy was part of a calculated strategy to introduce to an American audience a more politically charged, and critically complex approach to what had up until then been a largely rationally driven industrial process yielding consumer product designs.


Ambasz organized the exhibition into two programs, one around Italian design “objects” for the most part already in production, and the other around specifically commissioned “environments.” Each of these programs had their own critical obstacle course to navigate: the design objects were broken down into “reformist, conformist, and contestatory categories, while the commissioned environments were in turn divided into “design as postulation; design as commentary; and counterdesign as postulation.” The objects were displayed in rows of wooden crates arranged like towers in MoMA’s outdoor sculpture garden, while counter-intuitively the environments were located in the building’s sprawling basement. Ambasz in conceiving the environments’ program, requested from his chosen list of Italian architects and designers to also develop short films to be played alongside. In response, a majority of those invited, Alberto Rosselli, Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini, Ettore Sottsass Jr., Joe Colombo, Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, Gaetano Pesce and Superstudio provided both prototype environments and films, while Archizoom produced a built environment with an audio installation only. Ugo La Pietra presented his destabilizing Domicile Cell, Gruppo Strum published specifically for the exhibit three magazines for free distribution, “the Struggle for Housing,”  “Utopia,” and the “Mediatory City.”  Perhaps most poignantly, Enzo Mari –whose work was already featured in an earlier MoMA exhibition on Optical Art, backed out of the this show submitting a letter of protest, published in the MoMA catalog.


Whereas most of these built environments have gone missing from MoMA’s collection, the recently rediscovered films offer an unconventional view of the New York exhibition through the lens of the motion camera. Studying these films today, we can get incredibly vivid depictions of imaginary futures, deeply marked by events that transpired some 4 decades ago. The films succeed in communicating much more then just design, form or function. Their original impact remains largely intact, their messages loaded with irony and innuendo, exaggeration and black humor. What becomes apparent throughout most of these cinematic documents is the critical assessment of a society tormented by social and political conflict, alienated by mass consumption, and alarmed over Earth’s degrading natural resources. It is not surprising if read in this context that the overt utopian messages in many of these projects really act to shroud far darker and more critical theses on Italian and Western society as a whole.


What makes the films of the MoMA collection so compelling is precisely the medium itself, which has the potential to convey through the deployment of cinematic narrative primary rituals and ceremonies of daily life. It’s the films that domesticate these engineered containers, accessorized interiors, and high tech designs. In these films we glimpse worlds of industrial detritus and speedways, alienating fun parks and airport tarmacs, forests and gridded networks. We meet a cast of characters, from forlorn beauties, crass salesmen, uniform clad workers, hippies, squirming naked bodies and a fag puffing radio announcer. It’s a real world populated with real people struggling with their illusions and anxieties. Its what makes these domestic landscapes so familiar yet so eerily prescient.


In viewing this set of 8 films projected at MoMA in 1972 one cannot help but recognize cultural references to Italian contemporary film, theatre, comics, TV advertising, literature, as well as the conceptual and performance arts. In other words, these films succeed in expressing dreams, moods, attitudes using a grab bag of alternative narrative languages that were culled from diverse contemporary multi-media practices becoming common at the time. These designers and architects were the contemporaries of a generation of artists and writers, art critics and semioticians who often collaborated in groups, co-organizing large-scale international exhibitions and avant-garde publications. Its difficult to understand just how the fields of architecture and design, with all of their professional traditions and heavy historical baggage could have jumped into such an expressive medium as film without taking the broader generational context into consideration. In the films we can watch this society unfold before us, but what’s even stranger is how we are able to recognize ourselves in their future.


2013-11-28 18.17.56






Introductory/Orientation Film by Emilio Ambasz (12 mins)

title Italy: the New Domestic Landscape

Length 11′ 30″

Emilio Ambasz, author

Director: Giacomo Battiato

Production: Sergio Lentati

Politecne cinematografico Milano

Photography: Dido Mariani

Cameraman: Alberto Spagnoli

Staging: Oliva Collobiano

Music Composer Tito Fontana



Gae Aulenti, Three Elements
(Dir. Massimo Magri, 4 min 20 sec)


Ettore Sottsass, Jr, Untitled
(Dir. Massimo Magri. 8 min 51 sec)


Joe Colombo, Total Furnishing Unit
(Dir. Gianni Colombo and Livio Castiglioni, 4 min)


Alberto Rosselli, An Idea for A Mobile House
(Dirs. Ernesto Prever and Osvaldo Marini (CINEFIAT) 5 min 23 sec)


Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, Untitled
(Dir. Giacomo Battiato, 9 min 24 sec)


Mario Bellini, Something To Believe In
(Dir. David Mosconi, Visual ideas by Mario Bellini, Francesco Binfaré, David Mosconi, Giorgio Origlia, 15 min 58 sec)



Gaetano Pesce, Paesaggio Domestico: Habitat for 2 People

(Dir. Klauss Zaugg, 5 min 31 sec)



Superstudio, Supersurface – An Alternative Model for Life On The Earth

(Dir. Superstudio, 9 min 20 sec)


In partnership with the exhibition
Environments and Counter Environments: Experimental Media in ‘Italy: The New Domestic Landscape’, MoMA 1972, curated by Peter Lang, Luca Molinari and Mark Wasiuta, organised by GSAPP, Columbia University.

Curated by The Architecture Foundation