Discotheques, Magazines and Plexiglas: Superstudio and the Architecture of Mass Culture


  • Ross K. Elfline




This article considers the groundbreaking works of the Italian Radical Architecture collective Superstudio (active 1966–80) with an eye to their complex and contradictory relationship to popular culture. Superstudio’s early pronouncements stating their abstention from building presaged their decision to investigate the radical potential of different non-tectonic mediums culled from consumer culture.

Initially, the group embraced popular culture and mass-production for their ability to challenge the hidebound discipline of architecture, leading them to produce an assortment of interior furnishings designed to activate consumers to alter their own living spaces. Later, the group abandoned these pursuits in favour of utopian ‘paper architecture’ projects, simultaneously rejecting the reified consumer object while relying entirely on the magazine as a formal support, a medium fully ingrained in the world of consumerism.

Eventually, Superstudio proposed a ‘world without objects’ in which the individual would have a more direct relationship to everyday life by pursuing nomadism and plugging into a networked grid covering the Earth’s surface. Once again, such projects were beholden to advanced information technologies spawned by late capitalism.  Studying the neo-avant-garde gambits of Superstudio, therefore, allows us to understand the contradictions inherent in any attempt to contend with popular culture in all its paradoxical forms.

Author Biography

Ross K. Elfline

Ross K. Elfline is an art and architectural historian based in Minneapolis and is Assistant Professor of Art History at Carleton College. His research focuses on conceptual art and architectural practices in Europe and the United States. Currently he is at work on a monograph devoted to the Italian architecture collective Superstudio titled Superstudio and the Staging of Architecture’s Disappearance.