Imagine an automobile factory with a kilometre-long test track on the roof of the building to test cars that roll out of the assembly line. This is no 21st century architectural feat, but a FIAT factory designed in the 1920s where the company mass produced its iconic FIAT 500. In 1934, the Lingotto factory by Giacomo Matté-Trucco was recognised as the first futurist constructive invention.
It was Italian poet Filipo Tomasso Marinetti who produced the first Manifesto of Futurism in 1909. This movement didn’t just attract poets and artists, but also architects. Long dynamic lines that represented speed, motion, urgency and lyricism began to define futuristic architecture as we know it. This early 20th century form of architecture has its roots in Italy. It soon evolved into art deco, a term that was later used to describe a style of architecture that gained currency in the 1920s and 30s. With mankind’s space obsession and the automobile explosion came Googie architecture that originated in Southern California in the late 1940s. Googie architecture became mainstream; gas stations, diners and motels of the era began adopting this style. Upswept roofs, geometric shapes and the use of steel and neon. Space age symbols like flying saucers and diagrammatic atoms were all in the mix. The ‘Theme Building’ in Los Angeles International Airport is a great example. The cartoon series The Jetsons that premiered in 1962 used Googie architecture elements in its production design. It’s interesting that The Incredibles has taken some of these cues, too.
The Jetsons got quite a lot of the future right including video chat on flat screens, but Googie architecture didn’t last long. High-tech architecture or Structural Expressionism took over the Futurist Architecture mantle in the 1970s. This style incorporated elements of high-tech industry and technology into building design and was often tough to distinguish from post-modern architecture. Barcelona’s famous Torre Glories (previously known as the Torre Agbar) and London’s 30 St. Mary Axe, that locals call the Gherkin and the Wembley stadium, are popular examples of High-tech architecture.
The term neo-futurism gained currency in the 21st century in art and architecture; it’s an idealistic belief in a better future. Innovation designer Vito Di Bari proposed his vision for the city of Milan during an International Expo in 2015 where he defined neo-futurism as a cross pollination of art, cutting edge technologies and ethical values for a higher quality of life. It’s French architect Jean-Louis Cohen’s definition of neo-futurism that truly summarises the exciting times that we live in. He sees a whole host of possibilities being opened up by modern technology that creates new materials and forms previously considered impossible. Think of 3D printing; in 2016 a 250-square metre (2700sq.ft.) office building in Dubai created tremendous buzz around the world. 17 days, a 3D printer (that used a special cement mixture) a budget of $140,000 was all it took to house the temporary operations of the Dubai Future Foundation.
Neo-futurism is changing urban landscapes like never before. From the Heydar Aliyev Culture Center in Baku, Azerbaijan to the One World Trade Center in New York City, there’s a new dynamism and aesthetic appeal that’s quintessentially rooted in the new millennium. This could well be the 21st Century’s first true architectural movement. As for FIAT’s Lingotto factory, the company turned to architect Renzo Piano to bring a new life to this structure. It’s now a multi-functional facility for public use. It’s almost fitting that Piano who envisioned one of the finest neo-futuristic masterpieces – the Shard in London, worked on reimagining the first recognised futurist construction. Neo-futurism’s genesis can be traced back to the advent of the futurist movement. It’s modern technology that neo-futurism will ride on and the modern urban skyline may never be the same again.
Read Next: Art to Live In