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Futurist Architecture: A Wearer's Guide
Futuristic architecture, that starts with the Italian Futurist movement, makes a fashion statement for those in its sphere. Read on to learn what Futurist architecture, imagined as an outer most layer of clothing, says of its "wearers", and see how the Futurist impulse might be expressed in a swimsuit.
The Italian Futurist Movement
I started this series of essays by explaining your city's Classical style buildings to you, as if they were your outer most layer of clothes. Having dealt with the most prevalent of the old styles, let's turn to the newest of the new styles. It's newer than new. It's not even built! It's the style of tomorrow!
While the look of futuristic buildings keeps changing, as our dreams about the future keep changing, we can pinpoint a moment when this impulse got its first avant-garde movement, the Futurist/"Futurismo" movement in Italy.
The Italian Futurist movement came straight from the testicles of a spoilt rich Italian poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who in 1909, wrote amanifestoabout speeding and crashing his car. Yikes!
I doubt you would find as much war mongering ormisogyny in a50 Cent lyric sheet as you do in this manifesto. We will glorify war,it says, while destroying museums and scorning women. It was nonsense, but then, he was a poet, and the manifesto's aim was to make an impression.
The futurist manifesto ofarchitecture, published by Antonio Sant'Elia in 1914,calls for the destruction of cities so they might be rebuilt with steel and glass moving contraptions. He doesn't make a use-case for the new architecture. His idea is to destroy old stuff and replace it with new stuff, on the off chance the new stuff might function.
Laugh all you like, but most Modern architecture—in direct contradiction of its claims of rationality and avowal ofsuperstition—puts the same religious faith in technology as the Futurist movement. It trusts untested contraptions over anything old,even if the old things are proven.
Here are some examples of the futurist impulse in architecture of the twentieth-century:
glass lifts on the outside of buildings, where we can marvel at their gears, but where they also block windows, and where the heat of the sun could fry occupants trapped in them if they get stuck between floors,
mechanical sun shading that works for ten years then collects cobwebs for the life of the building,
mechanical ventilation that recirculates germs when windows would have done the job better
air-conditioning... the list could go on!
Sant'Elia, who shared Marinetti's excitement for war, diedin the war, the year after his manifesto was written. Though he never got to build anything he imagined, it's uncanny how many buildings of the 1930s seem to be inspired by his drawings. One literally is: the war memorial in Como, that the fascist architect Giuseppe Terragni copied from one of Sant'Elia's sketches. There are countless more buildings though (that we might lazily label "art deco"), that look as though Sant'Elia drew them.
Futurist-Inspired Buildings of the 1930s
One built by an electricity utilities company, in my own city, is the full catastrophe. It has the streamlined front cutting through the atmosphere as though the building is moving, hand railing copied from The Titanic, a state-of the art mechanical air circulation system that has long since stopped working (not that it would have been better than windows), and the revolving theatre that no longer revolves. So indicative is this building of its era(1939), that it was used ina Superman movie.
It's natural to brag when buildings we live near are chosen as locations for movies. It's like saying your leather jacket is a genuine limited edition piece made under licence for the James Dean Foundation. We're letting you know these are no theatre sets or tacky hire costumes. Someone paid extra, to express something of value.
In the case of Futurist—or let's say "futuristic"—buildings, the extra expense is an expression of techno-optimism. The vents and theatre might well be jammed. In the case of more contemporary futuristic buildings, the computerised systems and external lifts and apparatus might be broken or just a huge headache. Nevertheless, we hold onto the hope that the Egyptian sun god Amun-Ra might return, or maybe lightning will strike it in a particular way, and on that day the streamline forms will start moving, circular parts will start spinning and mechanical parts will start flapping, and the building will be seen to have been functional in ways for which we never gave adequate credit.
Futurism is like Alchemy
To me, the futurist spirit in architecture has always seemed like alchemy. Just like an alchemist in the middle ages, the futurist architect tinkers with the most advanced technology and materials he has at his disposal to make buildings that might prove to be useful to the next generation, who will think nothing of turning everyday lead into gold.
In the contemporary cultural imagination, people in the future won't only make gold. They will have telepathy, nuclear fusion, flying cars, time travel, immortality or anything you care to imagine. It goes without saying that future generations will have no use for daggy old wooden and masonry buildings. But they might appreciate our alchemists' buildings. The contemporary alchemists' brushed steel, huge glass panes and mechanical systems will, in practical terms, be as useless as a science book from the dark ages, but at least the alchemists tried!
For my clothing expression of the Futurist spirit, I am fortunate on two fronts. First, I am friends with a famous "Futurist" designer of bridges, Adriaan Kok, who designed the much lauded Hovenring bicycle bridge in Eindhoven, NL. Adriaan and I used to be speakers on the same talk circuit, the one for architects and planners with an interest in bicycle transport.
I call Adriaan a "Futurist" because the Hovenring didn't need that lighting that makes it look as though it could take off and because its mast is artificially tall: it looks like the Skylon at the 1951 Festival of Britain, another alchemical structure.
Adriaan is a rational engineer, until the time comes for styling, when the George Jetson Futurist within him comes out. Nowhere is this more evident, than in the head pieces Adriaan has been designing for pleasure.
They are alchemical headpieces. Future generations, who will be cyborgs, will look back and see how Adriaan was trying to do what they do, i.e. morphing themselves with machines.
The geometry of the hats is anthropomorphic, meaning it has flowed from a stylus held in Adriaan's hand. From there though, it's all done by computers, translating human-drawn lines until parts are cut with a rapid-prototyping machine.
His headpiece is a votive offering, or prayer to the technology gods, in the hope they might strike it with lightning. Who knows what this hat will then be! I like to think it will become some kind of time travel machine.
Adriaan 3-D printed a prototype in Holland and mailed it to Australia to be used in these photos. Together, Adriaan and I stand ready to produce these headpieces in small runs for sale, if enough people show interest. They could be sold in kit form or fully assembled.
A Futurist Swimsuit
I am fortunate, too, to have been able to source uniquely appropriate fabric for a swimsuit in the Futurist spirit. Payen in France, who make the unique stretch-woven fabric used in Pride's E-1027 and Fast Drying Maillot, aren't limited to black thread. Around each strand of elastane (and remember, every stand of their stretch-woven fabric has a core of elastane) they can spin nylon of any colour. They can even encase elastane in metallic polyester.
If my friend Adriaan can make alchemical offerings to the gods of technology, then by Jove, I can offer them too! I have procured a small run of stretch-woven fabric from France in one of Pride's signature hues, red oxide, interwoven with equally stretchy gold thread. You're not looking at a printed metallic surface that can wear off. The gold is in the actual weave.
All I did with regards to the cut, was look at the Maria robot in the 1927 film Metropolis, to determine the heights of the leg and neck lines. The shoulder straps and feature stitching are made with the same Italian recycled Lycra and thread I use for my red oxide coloured swimsuits in other styles. The lining is the exact same stretch woven fabric I use for my E-1027 and Fast Drying Maillot.
The Futurist architectural impulse that started with Sant'Elia in 1914 has gone through many phases, with streamlining and raked seating on tracks in the thirties, to the George Jetsons shapes of the "Googie style" in the sixties, to the Hi-Tech style of the eighties. The last in that list is now the house style for banks' and other financial institutions' headquarters, and that fact, I believe, tells us exactly how to wear the futuristic architecture of our cities as our outer most layer of clothing.
When taking selfies with these buildings as backgrounds, or when taking out-of-town guests for drinks in their bars and cafes, we should imagine these buildings as business suits, or other smart woven garments, cut to accentuate posture. The business suit is a pedestal, displaying the head, house of the brain, that is transporting us into the future.
Stand straight and look like you're thinking. Wear business attire (or smart swimwear) and stare into the future as though you know what is coming.