“Instead of scientific progress, born from the intelligence that explains it all and from the elegance that saves all, we prefer a paper and bright horizon, with a rainbow above. We also would like to say that we aren’t where they are looking and don’t trust how we greet you.
Then there is this scent of dead roses, that we don’t like much..” – Archizoom.
In the 1960s, Italian architects Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, Paolo Deganello, and Massimo Morozzi smelled the dead roses, a scent that no one else could smell. In an era of positivity, economic boom, and family, the four artists of the Archizoom studio felt differently. With World War II over, Italy was experiencing a new Renaissance. The 60s and 70s were the years of the “Dolce Vita.” And of the Superonda and Safari sofas.
Empty Rooms and Free-style
The four architects formed their studio in Florence in 1966. The same year, they also inaugurated their Superarchitecture exhibit, and that’s how the group announced its debut in the world of design. The term “Super” might create a misunderstanding. “Super” might remind viewers of skyscrapers or the new Italy, a country filled with cars and Vespa bikes.
But, to Archizoom, “Super” meant something different. The decades of the 60s and 70s were the decades of super-production and consumption. These were the years of the supermarket with way too many options of tomato sauces and cheap packets of spaghetti. After the scarcity and poverty of the war and the aftermath, Italians wanted it all.
“Superarchitecture is the architecture of the superman,” read the poster of the exhibition. This wasn’t the superhero who saved the world, just the opposite. The designers of Archizoom saw ordinary men who believed anything was possible, especially the pursuit and reach of happiness. But this radical avant-garde movement didn’t believe in any of it. That’s why most art and design critics of the era defined the work of Archizoom as a “panic.”
The design and architecture of the 60s and 70s centered on one philosophy: functionality. Terraced houses, sofas, and armchairs were supposed to be practical and comfortable. Forget about imagination or creativity. Everything had to be functional, watch TV in comfort, or enjoy a coffee cup on the terrace. Until the four architects of Archizoom threw functionality out of the window with pieces like the Safari and the Superonda Sofa.
They also threw society’s ideas of happiness in the trash. The TV, radio, and even the media told Italians that happiness was within their reach. All they had to do was work hard and create a family. Then, retirement would reward them for their hardships. Needless to say, Andrea, Gilberto, Paolo, and Massimo didn’t believe in it. While they didn’t define their work as “revolutionary,” they wanted to make people and viewers think.
Stop focusing on the outside, Archizoom said, and look inside. How? With empty rooms and with the Superonda Sofa.
The Non-Stop-City Project
Archizoom launched this project between 1969-1971, and it included both the Superonda Sofa and the Safari Sofa. It’s figurative architecture, meaning it doesn’t solve problems (aka functionality), but it provokes the viewer. The principle behind Non-Stop-City is that, in the future, citizens won’t need a centralized and modern city like Milan was becoming. Why? Because technology will create a new metropolis that is revolutionary and it doesn’t follow any rules.
Traditional urban landscapes created interrupted patterns with tons of empty spaces. The new city is a continuous structure with no emptiness and in which everything was repurposed, like elevators that could become social spaces, a city without architecture.
“The No Stop City guarantees you will have the car outside your home, and it guarantees maximum demographic concentration,” said architect Andrea Branzi. This new metropolis will have parks with free-form organic shapes, like the ones of the Superonda Sofa.
The Unconventional Sofas by Archizoom
These two designs belonged to the 1969 project, and they quickly became popular. They are:
● Superonda Sofa
● Safari Sofa
The Superonda is designed as a free-style sitting space without any backrests or armrests. It’s a modular sofa with pieces that combine and match like a puzzle. However, this is a sofa without a body. Instead, it’s one big and colorful wave. It’s one block of polyurethane divided by an S-shaped cut. Thanks to its modularity, the Superonda Sofa can become a bed or chaise longue. It’s pop before pop culture was even a thing. Shiny (thanks to its sky coating) and in the colors of red, black, and white, this Archizoom sofa challenges conventional society.
Produced between 1968 and 1974, the Safari Sofa was advertised as “an imperial piece in the squalor of your domestic walls. A beautiful piece that you don’t deserve.” Provocative, indeed. Giant and with a fiberglass structure, the Safari Sofa features a seat in foam rubber covered with plush. Two superimposed solid pieces form this piece, and one is circular while the second is like a wave. Archizoom’s piece reminds the viewer of an African safari with two palms in the corners and a carpet in fake leopard leather. Kitsch and ironic, this sofa broke every design rule.
Against Every Rule
Both the Superonda Sofa and the Safari Sofa challenged the functional designs of the 60s and 70s. In fact, the architecture and furniture of these decades focused on gathering the masses. The new masses had money, and each house had a TV. People were ready to spend, and they started thinking about the future. Hence, geometric shapes and plastic are everywhere. Living rooms all over the world looked alike with household appliances and crowded open shelves. Consumer society didn’t have any space for creativity.
On the other hand, Archizoom studio has space for imagination. The four architects established themselves as the anti-design movement, creating panic in the field. This movement focused on warm, colorful, and soft shapes and forms. Also, modularity was an important characteristic. Forget impersonal industriality. It was time to find strength in the differences. Every design created by Archizoom promoted variety.
The Italian furniture brand Poltronova produced the Superonda sofa and the Safari sofa.
Founded in 1956 by Sergio Camilli in Tuscany, this design company shows Italy’s hope after World War II. Poltronova was born with the idea of innovative modern furniture, bringing something new and different to the public. Joining designer Ettore Sottsass, Camilli and his company wanted to experiment with the boundaries of art and comfort. During the first years of the business, Poltronova focused on elegant and modern furniture, often using wood as the primary material. Warm and never outdated, wood can never go out of fashion.
Just like innovative design doesn’t go out of fashion. That’s why the Italian company always collaborated with the brightest and most alternative minds in this world, partnering with names like Mario Ceroli, and De Pas D’Urbino, and Lomazzi. Through the years, it became a safe space for creative people. Decades ago, the company had readings, movie showings (especially appreciating Andy Warhol), and poetry readings.
In the 60s, Poltronova and its team of designers embodied the diverse soul of Italian design, with all its contradictions and opposite tendencies. It did this with the certainty that this complexity hid wealth. The complexity could unite people, and its vitality could create an extraordinary phenomenon. It’s the phenomenon of pushing people to the limit and of making them rethink their certainties. After all, in life and design, there are no certainties. Everything can change at any time.
The Archizoom Designs, not Only Sofas
The four Italian designers didn’t break the rules only with sofas. While the Safari and Superonda Sofa are the most famous pieces, Archizoom studio produced armchairs, clothes, and inspiration worldwide.
The exhibition “Design Dressing” dates to 1973. Indeed, clothes for the designers. “We haven’t looked for a new line or clothes of the future, but rather for a different way of using clothes,” Archizoom announced. Every item has two fundamental pieces: a colored elastic costume and a loose suit. Mass production in the clothing industry had issues of organization and, once again, creativity. The “Design Dressing” exhibit focused on Arab standards and culture, but it created an independent outfit that could serve everyone.
Archizoom had a conflictual relationship with fashion. As the architects themselves stated, “getting dressed is easy because elegance is dead.” Fashion had rigid rules, both of gender and colors. Pink is for girls, right? And so are skirts. Well, the Italian designers disagreed – not a surprise anymore. Fashion could and should be free, especially free from sexual connotations and gender. This way, clothes become a means of communication, and the person decides what to communicate. Not the fashion designer.
And it all begins with one revolutionary piece of cloth. In the consumer society, everyone started looking the same. Archizoom studio wanted to inspire people to be themselves, outside of any rules, with its experiments and creativity. So, clothes are not functional but inspiring.
Archizoom challenged the conventions, even the idea of space itself and not only with the Superonda Sofa.
The Concept of Space
The consumer society liked owning things. Houses were filled with objects, and most of them were useless. Nowadays, we call it “materialism.” Space has to be filled. Not according to the Italian designers. Space is something negative, a reality that we aren’t living. So, it’s time to change it and even substitute it.
Perhaps with the AEO lounge chair, an armchair with Durethan base, painted steel structure, and fabric upholstery. People could add tables to it, changing the configuration of the lounge chair. Then, the studio launched the empty gazebos and rooms as the opposite of functionality. While these design pieces were meant to be empty, people could have filled them with Archizoom’s collections, like the “Rosa Imperiale” or the “Grandi Viaggi.”
The former literally means “Imperial Rose,” while the latter means “Great Journeys.” These collections featured mother-of-pearl coating, modular carpets, and stamped sheet metal. Or the “Letti di Sogno,” beds of dreams of the Rosa Imperiale collection. Their style is redundant and kitsch, like the Safari Sofa. Different symbols juxtapose and even pop elements. These beds are designed to be aggressive, and they oppose the surrounding space. Perfect with the rainbow lamp, also part of the series.
The Italian furniture brand Cassina has been the producer of the AEO lounge chair. This piece has been featured in its collection through the years alongside the works and creations of Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Mario Bellini, Vico Magistretti, and Gio Ponti. Because great minds think alike, still, the imagination of Archizoom went beyond these pieces.
More Designs Signed Archizoom
For example, the Mies chair, one of the group’s first creations in 1969. Made of chrome-plated steel, rubber, hide cushions, light bulb, and cable with plug, this chair looks like it should be by the swimming pool. However, it seems like a chaise lounge, but it’s not as comfortable as one. This is rigid yet functional. The rubber yields to the person’s weight, and it also features a footrest and headrest.
The bedrooms of the Italian studio featured fake marble nightstands, “front armchair for taking off your socks,” and portraits of Bob Dylan. Kitsch, unconventional, and not at all functional, every piece signed by Archizoom challenged the 60s and 70s.
“We want to introduce you to anything that’s left behind: the built banality, the international vulgarity, urban designs, and biting dogs,” stated the representatives of Archizoom studio. They reached their intent, undoubtedly. And they kept pushing the boundaries of architecture and beliefs until 1974 when the group took different paths. Still, they always smelled the dead roses, and they tried to do anything in their power to revive them.