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Tabula rasa or Hybridity? Primitivism and the Vernacular in Futurist and Rationalist Architecture

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A number of Futurist and Rationalist architects appropriated the 'primitive' vernacular tradition of Italy's peasantry to forge a new synthesis between the organic and the machine-age aesthetic while engaging competing notions of 'Italian-ness' that surfaced during Italy's Fascist dictatorship (1922-1943). This chapter discusses the contributions of artists and architects such as Fortunato Depero, Adalberto Libera, Enrico Prampolini, and Virgilio Marchi. These individuals (and others) engaged with the visual and spatial variety of the natural and built environment of the 'remote' island of Capri (as well as other sites around the Mediterranean basin). I shall examine how and why the work (painting and architectural design) that resulted from this dialogue valorized tradition while rejecting eclecticism of nineteenth-century historicism. For these Futurists and Rationalists, searching for the primitive (e.g., a return to origins) did not imply ignoring history, but meant idealizing history. The vernacular was viewed as uncorrupted by 'civilization' and outside the flux of history because it had not entered the official (and hence academic) discourse of architectural history. Furthermore, this chapter will explore how and why the construction of the 'technological imagination' of Futurists (as well as Rationalists) drew upon preindustrial buildings and objects as well as cues from modern-day industrialization to forge an Italian modernity between tabula rasa and hybridity.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2009

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