Crafting a Design Counterculture: The Pastoral and the Primitive in Italian Radical Design, 1972 – 1976

Catharine Rossi, Grace Lees-Maffei (Editor), Ktejil Fallan (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

In 1972 Italy: The New Domestic Landscape and Problems in Italian Design opened at MoMA in New York. Curated by the Argentinian architect Emilio Ambasz, the products and specially-commissioned ‘environments’ on display not only confirmed Italy’s pre-eminence in the design of desirable products but also its position at the vanguard of a critically-informed design practice. This was the Radical Design movement, which first emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and by the early 1970s had re-surfaced in a more utopian form. This chapter examines a number of interconnected, and largely overlooked, aspects of this second wave of radicalism. Using contemporary periodicals and archival material, and informed by a craft-based, Marxist approach, it does so by examining a number of key figures and groups of the design counterculture: Riccardo Dalisi, Enzo Mari, Global Tools, Gruppo 9999 and Superstudio.

What united all of these architects was their Marxist opposition to design manufacture and consumption, and the anthropological and production-led nature of their negative, or critical, utopianism. This was particularly the case with Superstudio’s involvement in exhibitions such as Avanguardie e Cultura Popolare, held in Bologna in 1975, their participation in Global Tools, their teaching at the University of Florence and their 1976 project Oggetti d'Uso Semplici e Culture Materiali Extraurbane in which they conducted an indepth investigation of the Tuscan peasant Zeno Fiaschi. Their anthropological study of Fiaschi point to an unexplored interest in nature, in cultures existing outside of the northern, industrial, Italian urban experience as the locale for their utopian imaginings.

The pastoralism and primitivism of this radical gaze, one tied up with the povera avant-garde, is entirely absent from any existing reflections on the era and yet was central to the Radical movement’s activities. As such, this research not only re-examines one of the most fascinating periods in Italian design but also provide a historical context for the development of critical and conceptual design practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMade in Italy
Subtitle of host publicationRethinking a Century of Italian Design
EditorsGrace Lees-Maffei, Ktejil Fallan
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
ISBN (Print)9780857853899
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Post-War Italy
  • Design History


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