Lessons from the Past of the Future

“Who can still believe the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened and multiplied sensitivity has already penetrated the obscure manifestations of the medium?”¹

Nowadays it is common to talk about the revolution that technology caused in our lives and its profound influence in every field. Of course we mean mostly the digital technology and the revolution that happened in the last decade – the unique circumstances and consequences that surround it. However this is by far not the only technological revolution that our civilisation has seen and neither are its consequences unique.

When in the beginning of the 20th century railway and motor cars entered our lives for good, the entire perception of space, time and mainly speed changed. Science explained it, but it was artists who first expressed the altering sensitivity and worldview that was soon to infect us all.

Deeply taken by the discoveries of the relativity theory and the implications of passenger trains were the Italian Futurists – a group of artists eager for a future of dynamism, change and flux, a “world […] continuously and splendidly transformed by Victorious Science”.  They were fascinated by the seeming interpenetration of objects, drawing everything together in time and space and the dependencies that different objects now suddenly displayed.

“Does not the fiction of an isolated object imply an absurdity, since this object borrows its physical properties from the relations, which it maintains with all the others, and owes each of its determinations, and consequently its very existance, to the place which it occupies in the universe as a whole?”  – Henry Bergson

Now for an architect, all that sounds too familiar. The announced in 2008 new style Parametricism calls already in its Manifesto for inter-articulation of sub-systems, parametric responsiveness and adaptation and describes space as a field “as if filled with a fluid medium”². Of course Parametricism offers also some new insights and ideas on the concepts of space, but the obvious parallels between the manifestos in inspiration and ideology open ground for speculation for other possible parallels.

In their passionate support for all that is new, for a violent break with the past and even WWI, it was not surprising that Futurism came to be associated with Fascism until in the 1920s when Mussolini and Marinetti finally fell out. The connection between an artistic movement and a political ideology, nurtured by highly turbulent times, was needles to say, very productive.

Patrik Schumacher recently called for the privatisation of cities and the abolishment of housing standards and land use prescriptions. With his views growing more political and our own times becoming more and more turbulent, it makes me wonder – are we taking a path already trodden? Could we learn from a past, so similar to our future?


¹ excerpt from Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting , Poesia, 1910

² excerpt from Parametricism as Style  –  Parametricist Manifesto, Patrik Schumacher, London 2008

Sources for this post:

Futurism by Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla, Oxford University Press, 1978



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