THE 1966 CHRONOTOPE
Can we believe in the existence of a specific time and place coinciding to produce a series of events so prolific as to lay the foundations for a new phase in history? The year 1966 in Florence – when and where the modern movement ended under the blows of radical architects’ vast repertory – seems to demonstrate the validity of the “chronotope” genre
Among the various historiographic genres, there is one that is not particularly widespread, but that has recently come back in vogue thanks to the work of Karl Schlögel and Antoine Compagnon. The former published Terror und Traum: Moskau 1937, dedicated to 1937, the turning point year for the Stalinist regime and the city of Moscow. The latter held a course in 2010-2011 at the Collège de France in Paris, based on the year 1966 and called “1966: Annus mirabilis”. The scenario for every lesson was almost always Paris, for the great books, films, translations and debates that abound in that particular year in French culture. Ultimately, these two great historians – one German and the other French – have revitalised the genre of the “chronotope”, the joining of time and space, basic to the theorising of the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin. A specific time and place inseparably bound by their fertility of events can form the foundation for a new phase in history, where time is the fourth dimension of space. Bakhtin defines the chronotope as “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature” (1881). In literature, but also in architecture. “What interests us is that this term expresses the inseparability of space and time. All values of real life and culture are laid out around these architectural points of the act in the real world – scientific, aesthetic, political (including ethical and social) and religious values,” writes Bakhtin, using an architectural metaphor. Hence, to focus on 1966 is more than simply to celebrate an anniversary and study a random collection of events relating to architecture. Yes, it is the year in which three fundamental writings by Aldo Rossi, Vittorio Gregotti and Robert Venturi were published, but it is also the year in which three natural disasters took place – the landslide in Agrigento, the flooding of Florence, and the flooding of Venice, which had profound repercussions on collective memory, shattering faith in the unstoppable progress of postwar modernisation. A few years ago, Francesco Dal Co noted (but without relating all this to the three abovementioned writings) that those three men used history as “design material” after decades of avant-garde clean slates, cultivating a secretly antimodern feeling, a little like what was taking place in parallel in the cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Hawks and the Sparrows, 1966), Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers, 1966), Mario Monicelli (For Love and Gold, 1966) and Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966). That year’s great epistemological break also coincided with the proliferation of a number of studies that are now unacknowledged and forgotten, but of no less importance. I am referring to Carlo Aymonino, the author of the IUAV series on urban morphology and building typology; Origini e sviluppo della città moderna, the first volume in the Polis series directed by Rossi and published by Marsilio; Paolo Portoghesi, who, in that same year edited three books: the new edition of De Re Aedificatoria by Polifilo, a monograph on Bernardo Vittone, and a big book illustrated with his own photographs, Roma barocca; and lastly Manfredo Tafuri, who in 1966 published a dense essay that was really forgotten by all, including the author himself, entitled L’architettura del Manierismo nel Cinquecento europeo. It is, however, an extremely important book, because it indirectly describes a general cultural climate1 as confirmed by the studies on the same theme conducted by John Shearman, Arnold Hauser and Walter Friedlaender, including a small volume by James Ackerman on Palladio, all of which came out between 1965
“But during my last months in Rome, I realized that Mannerist architecture was what really meant most to me, and I re-examined a lot of Italian historical architecture for its Mannerist qualities. This was important when I came to write Complexity and Contradiction in the following years.” P. Barriere, S. Lavin, intervista con Denise Scott Brown e Robert Venturi, Perspecta, vol. 28 1997, p. 127.
Laura Chiesa, Superstudio Double Take: Rescue operations in the Realms of Architecture, in Neoavanguardia. Italian Experimental Literature and Arts in the 1960s, a cura di Paolo Chirumbolo, Mario Moroni, Luca Somigli, University of Toronto Press, 2010, p. 285.
Adolfo Natalini, Com’era ancora bella l’architettura nel 1966, ora in, Superstudio, Opere 19661978, a cura di Gabriele Mastrigli, Quodlibet, Macerata 2016, p. 578.
and 1967. Lastly, after the end of the CIAM Giancarlo De Carlo in his role as a professor analysed the theme of the cityregion, editing La pianificazione territoriale urbanistica nell’area milanese with contributions from Rossi and a young Bernardo Secchi, among others. In his role as an architect, he took stock for the first time of his work in his adopted hometown in Urbino, la storia di una città e il piano della sua evoluzione urbanistica. In short, after Ernesto Nathan Rogers had left his post as the editor-in-chief of Casabella Continuità in 1965, and following the death of Le Corbusier the same year, soon to be followed by those of other masters of modernism, there was an objective generational change. Yet it is not enough to explain the importance of the 1966 chronotope, when there was such inseparability of time and space. The most important break took place in Florence, when architects arrived on the scene who were later referred to as radicals. As brilliantly demonstrated by Laura Chiesa2, they brought about on a visual level the “maximum possible shift in a situation where the methods of expression were traditional” with the maximum amount of awareness and examination of the relationship between operator and consumer. Where Rossi, Venturi and the others were black-and-white like the cover of the Beatles’ Revolver album, the radicals were as vividly colourful as the newly created Velvet Underground. In any case, no functionalism would ever again be possible from that moment on. In short, with a certain dose of hindsight, one can say that the modernist movement truly came to an end in Florence under the combined fire of the light-hearted collages by Archizoom and Superstudio, the “urban ephemerals” by UFO and the rest of the vast radical repertoire. Ten years later, Adolfo Natalini, already speaking in the past tense, underlined how only Arata Isozaki realised all of this “with subtle Oriental intuition” by titling his essay on Superstudio, Le tracce del diluvio3. This is proof of the fact that maybe, as Joseph Roth discovered on his Reise in Russland (1926), “having the present in common is a stronger bond than having a way of thinking in common, and a living contemporary is closer to me than a dead party companion.”