Gianni Pettena interviewed by Adam Budak
ADAM BUDAK Although you are associated with the Radical Architecture movement, you are often critical of it and claim that your practice differs from that of the Radical Architecture protagonists. How would you define the essential difference?
GIANNI PETTENA The difference is that between narrating, by means of the construction of spaces, a path of research and love for the discipline, creating, if required, even in a temporary manner. It is between defining a language that evolves in series of episodes (because they are the acts of continuous, neverending research) and reducing everything to a professional or academic strategy: the profession of the architect, of the designer, etc. etc... a jail!
AB “The Urban Structure. Legal and Illegal Use. Self-therapy” was an influential text you wrote in 1973-74. What were the main objectives of your thinking at that time? Do you think that this text still remains topical today?
GP It was a battle between the legal and the illegal, between the bureaucracy of the regulations and the limitations of building and becoming languages. At the time, there was a search for a space for the freedom of experimentation, producing architecture that was also temporary, with strong provocative elements, against an establishment that had taken over every single rule of “construction”. Today it is still essential to render dissent physical. We should not be limited only to demonstrations of dissent that are “authorized” by those holding power.
AB Your groundbreaking architectural and artistic practice has always been that of the outsider as well as the prophet. Your Grass Architecture (1971) and Tumbleweeds Catcher (1973) had foreseen an interest in nature and ecology. Can you sketch out your investigation into sustainability and environmentally sensitive art?
GP Those with ideas in the 1960s and ’70s limited themselves to describing them and making notes… Today we can find references to Grass Architecture in the initial works of SITE, in some of the works by Future Systems and Foreign Office. Tumbleweeds Catcher is the mother of Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale. All this is transparent, just as Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette references Archizoom’s Non Stop City and Rem Koolhaas’s drawings of Delirious New York reference Superstudio’s Istogrammi di Architettura… It’s a compliment to be referenced often even after a few decades but the reference of sources has never been one of the habits of architects.
AB Your L’anarchitetto. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Architect, published in 1973, seems equally anticipatory, especially with regard to the practice of Gordon Matta-Clark. You spent the majority of the ’70s in the US. To what extent was it a formative period in your creative thinking?
GP Yes, of course my stay and journeys in the USA at the beginning of the 1970s were important for understanding that Nature acts on a scale and intensity that architecture can never achieve. Reviewing architecture with the tools of Nature is still a great lesson… An architecture that is concerned also with narrating the evolution of a determinate culture into an ‘environmental and conceptual concern’ is the only evolution that history will remember.
Non-Conscious Architecture, Gianni Pettena, Stenberg Press, 2018