ArtworkFront DoorMuchaModernismPoliticalLeCorbusierSwiss Posters

“We shall sing of the great crowds galvanised by labour, pleasure or unrest;

Of the many-coloured and polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals;

We shall sing of the vibrating nocturnal fervour of the arsenals and the building yards ablaze with violent electric moons;

Of swollen railway stations, avid for smoking serpents;

Of factories hung from the clouds by means of the twisted arabesques of their smoke;

Of bridges bestriding rivers like giant gymnasts…

Of bold steamboats scouting the horizons, of broad-chested locomotives pawing the tracks like huge steel horses bridled with pipes, and the guiding flight of aeroplanes”

Italian architect Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916) from his essay ‘Messagio’


Sant’Elia was a modernist architect. He believed in the future.  He believed it would be big, bright, shiny and that it would work. To again get carried away in the moment, his 1914 Manifesto proclaimed:

 We must invent and rebuild the Futurist city like an immense and tumultuous shipyard, agile, mobile and dynamic in every detail; and the Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine. The lifts must no longer be hidden away like tapeworms in the niches of stairwells; the stairwells themselves, rendered useless, must be abolished, and the lifts must scale the lengths of the façade like serpents of steel and glass. The house of concrete, glass and steel, stripped of paintings and sculpture, rich only in the innate beauty of its lines and relief, extraordinarily ugly in its mechanical simplicity, higher and wider according to need rather than the specifications of municipal laws. It must soar up on the brink of a tumultuous abyss: the street will no longer be like a doormat at ground level, but will plunge many floors down into the earth, embracing the metropolitan traffic, and will be linked up by metal gangways and swift-moving pavements for necessary interconnections.”



Mighty stuff for 1914.  Sant’Elia was 26 years old at the time.  It proved heady inspiration for Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers as well as many of their predecessors. Sant’Elia envisioned his Città Nuova in 1913 and 1914. By this time he had only actually built one project - a hunting lodge called the Villa Elisi.  The Villa Elisi is I'm sure very nice to stay in.  It looks a little like a smaller version of the house in the 'Amityville Horror'. Radical it is not.  It would look equally at home as a Russian dacha, a cottage in Mullingar or a suburban dwelling in Queens NY.


Yet radical was exactly what Sant'Elia came up with next. He designed a new Modernist city, the Città Nuova.  A stunning  vertically-oriented glass and steel paradise.  Central to the scheme was a transport interchange - a massive multi-level railway station feeding directly into a massive office building.  In true heroic Modernist style there are jutting bridges and soaring towers.  As you can see from the illustration at left, it doesn't look unlike the design of the Canary Wharf tube station in London.  Given that the architect was a mere 26 years old at the time, this was a tremendous achievement.


Stunningly for 1914, the transport interchange is backed by an airport stretching into the distance beyond.  Even more presciently, the airport is unbounded - it isn't hemmed in by other aspects of the development and has room to expand as the needs of the city change over time.  It's a proven fact of life that airports evolve and mutate, something that is often forgotten by well-intentioned architects.



Artwork | Front Door | Alfons Mucha | Modernismus | Political Posters | LeCorbusier | Swiss Posters