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Gianni Pettena (Bolzano, 1940), architect, artist and critic, professor of History of Contemporary Architecture at the University of Florence and of Design at California State University, along with Archizoom, Superstudio and Ufo, he belongs to the original nucleus of the Italian radical architecture movement. Since the Seventies, his work and theoretical and experimental propositions, expressed in the form of design projects, interior design, architecture, museum installations and performances, has conversed and merged with the evolution of the world of the arts in a continuum of comparisons and participation in exhibits in museums and galleries. While not denying his academic education as an architect, and firmly convinced of the need to rethink the meaning of the architectural discipline, as were the other ‘radicals’ who were at the time his companions along this journey, unlike them he prefers using the instruments and language of visual arts, instead of the more traditional ones of architectural design, thus moving closer to the conceptuality of the Austrian radical movement, as opposed to the British pop-inspired culture that forged the majority of Florentine radicals, at least in the beginning.
This tendency, already evident in the first works created in Italy between 1968 and 1971, and even more in his work during the years spent in the USA, will be acknowledged and underscored with the publication of L’anarchitetto (Guaraldi, 1973) and with the declaration/performance Io sono la spia (I am the spy) on occasion of the foundation of Global Tools, a school-laboratory system that reunited all the Italian ‘radicals’.
The languages of ‘spatial’ art, of conceptual art and of American land art, acquired and experimented in the United States through his many artist friends, are assimilated and implemented over the following years, also through his work as professor and critic. Indeed, already in the Seventies he lectured and held seminars and conferences in many universities and schools of design and architecture in the USA and UK.
As critic and architecture historian, he organized and prepared exhibits on the most important exponents of contemporary architecture and on the most significant schools of thought and trends in the sector. He re-proposed the themes of the ‘radicals’ in the exhibition entitled ‘Radicals. Architettura e Design 1960-1975’ at the Venice Architecture Biennial in 1996 and in the subsequent exhibitions entitled ‘Archipelago’ (1999) and Radical Design (2004). Inspired by and in memory of the friend and artist Robert Smithson, he brought the importance of landscape architecture to the attention of the general public by presenting, for the first time in Italy (Florence, 1996), the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park and forerunner of the modern concept of an urban natural park.
He has written on funk architecture, on the radical movement, on the theme of ‘physical space’ in art and on design and architecture.
Without ever abandoning an artistic journey that has remained coherent with its origins, in the following years he proceeds with an art activity that never denies all previous ideological premises but, on the contrary, emphasizes theories and concepts related to the interchange and overlapping of artistic disciplines. The idea that for what concerns the relationship with a physical space there are no differences between the sensibility of an architect and that of an environmental art started years ago and grew up in him throughout time. This belief is metaphorically illustrated also in his recent works starting in the years 2000s with the series Archipensieri (Archithoughts, 2001) and Il mestiere dell’architetto (The craft of the architect, 2002) up until his proud claim of the architectural context inside that of the visual arts made by means of a virtual methodology typical of the artistic experimentation (Vive l’architecture, 2015), and a vision of architecture (Dreaming architecture, 2016) which is by now serene and disenchanted.
© Gianni Pettena
© Gianni Pettena