Superstudio’s continuous monument and the Twelve Ideal Cities used negative utapia with critical intent. This all metaphors were employed to broaden the discussion about architecture. Superstudio’s involment was manifestly didactic; to analyze and annihilate the discipline of architecture by using “popular” means of illustration and consumer literature. Between 1969 and 1970, they elaborated an extreme line of thought on the possibilities of architecture as the instrument for attaining knowledge and action through the means of an architectural model of total urbanisation. This work appears in the third cataloogue: THE CONTINUOUS MONUMENT
The architects from Superstudio movement were trying to understand the order on the earth with the help of architecture. There is a "modeate utopia" to imagine a near future in which all architecture will be created with a single act, from a single design capable of clarifying once and for all the motives which have induced man to build dolmens, menhirs, pyramids and lastly to trace a white line in desert.
There are several tangible signs for understanding the earth like The Great Wall of China, motorways, paralells and meridians. They believe in a future of "rediscovered architecture" in a future which architecture will regain its full power, abandoning all chaos of design and appearing as the only alternative to nature.
The continuous movement is a form of architecture all equally emerging from a single continuous environment; the world rendered uniform by technology, culture and all the other inevitable forms of imperialism.
We belong to a long history of black stones, rocks fallen from the sky or erected in the earth: meteorites, dolmens, obelisks. Architecture is the centre of the relationships of technology, utilitarianism and sacredness.A square block of stone placed on the earth is a primary act but because of this square block architecture becomes a closed, immobile object that leads nowhere but to itself and to the use of reason.
For example they adapted this to New York by passing a superstructure over the Hudson and the point of peninsula joining Brooklyn and New Jersey. A bunch of skyscprapers preserved in memory of a time when cities were built with no single plan.
The grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation…in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality” - Rem Koolhaas, Delerious New York
The grid is fundamentally a symbol of fabrication – an artificial structure that holds its own determinacy and potentiality. It can be thought of as denoting social convention and conservatism – The denizens of a given society (OneState, Diaspar, or Middle-Class North America for example) being ‘squares’ in a picnic-blanket grid of social strictures that expands into notions of the (social, political, electrical) power grid we are in reality both bound by and woefully dependent on. Living ‘off-grid’ then, implies the kind of transcendental lifestyle seen as both virtuously and threateningly subversive, encompassed by a range of figures from Thoreau to the Unibomber. In the quote above though, Koolhaas is referring specifically to the grid plan characteristic of modern cities. The structured, hierarchic system of blocks supersedes the natural landscape that lies beneath it, in a way that frames the grid as already unreal. The grid is set up as a kind of game-board on which the metropolis plays its own development. The city grid becomes the game-board of urbanism.
In an endless speculation of design action and user reaction, this imagined interplay frames the grid as a place of strategy and competition, in line with an array of parameters (economic, social, political etc.) that define the grid itself as a quintessential game space. This brings us to what is arguably the most iconic gridscape in recent science fiction:
Tron’s light cycle arena enables something like an object-lesson on the dynamics of interaction in strategic situations – a hugely oversimplified, albeit relevant sketch of game theory. Simply put, the grid becomes a not only a mental construct, but a structure with innate theory and parameters as well – all visibly demarcated in its ruled and intersecting lines.
In this light, the grid takes on a more autonomous expression – as a thing or entity unto itself – coming to delineate meaning through its own geometrical language. This is another way of saying the grid becomes weirder. When juxtaposed with the banal and familiar, the grid seems auratic, even sentient, as is the case in the final scenes of 2001 A Space Odyssey:
The backlit grid is ideologically opposed to the surroundings it upholds; densely traditional neoclassical designs – the furnature, the paintings, the ornament etc. – become objectified and suspended as mere incidentals in a far more abstract and alien environment. Kubrick has the protagonist traverse the area as an astronaut, taking advantage of the suit’s visually and aurally hermetic perspective, while further adding to the sense of this place as being somehow outside or beyond comprehension. The grid essentially sets the room up as a frontier populated by the trappings of domesticity and tradition – a disruptive, incongruent depiction that works to interrogate and subvert ideas of convention and normality. The grid itself is the prototype for understanding the arbitrariness of the normal when juxtaposed upon a surface of total possibility.
This brings us to what is likely the most abstract manifestation of the grid – and one that was at first comprised a fictional environment before drifting into the banality of the (hyper)real: Cyberspace. Coined by William Gibson, and popularized in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, the word is now ubiquitous (probably to the point of cliché) as a synonym for the internet.
Beyond the descriptions of it being a “consensual hallucination” of “disembodied consciousness”, Cyberspace to Gibson is structurally characterized by its now-infamous description as a “grid-space” or “matrix” full of “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void” – outlining an abstract space as imagined through an iconography of the grid. Gibson goes so far as to evoke, in full circle, images of the urban grid in his conception the internet, colliding and equating the two geographies:
“Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
Its funny the way that tangents work; while perhaps speaking more to the meanings of the grid in general, I think these extrapolations enable a re-conception of Superstudio’s provocative work as well, where the Continuous Monument can begin to be understood through associations of the grid in its many permutations, fictional and otherwise.
*Lang Peter, Superstudio, Life without Objects, 2003, Skira Editore*Byvanck Valentijn, Superstudio, The Middleburg Lectures,2005,Zeeuws Museum