Milan (Italy) 1968
Triennale Milano: ‘Il grande numero’
30 May 1968 saw the opening of the 14th Milan Triennale. The planned closing date was 10 July of the same year. These six weeks sufficed, given the special temporal conjunction — May 1968 — to turn it into a wholly unique case. It was immediately occupied by a group of artists and students. When they evacuated it, the building had to be repainted to make good the damage and the other signs of their occupation. The exhibition was better known through photos of the exhibits and the occupation, its catalogue, newspaper articles and the manifestos that were issued than by actually being visited. It reopened officially only on June 23, protected by the police, an event that led to the resignation of the Triennale’s executive committee, which was responsible for the exhibition.
Among the participants at this edition of the Triennale were Shadrach Woods, Alison and Peter Smithson, Aldo van Eyck and Giancarlo De Carlo — the latter also played a major role in the organization of the event.
Falling between the 13th edition, on the theme of Leisure, and the 15th (which wouldn’t be held until 1974), at which Aldo Rossi consecrated the formation of ‘Tendenza’, the theme of the 14th Triennale was ‘The Greater Number’, a typical Team 10 theme. While it recognized ‘the innovative force’ that machinery and industrialization had introduced into avant-garde thinking early in the century, the exhibition claimed that the initial impulse was now exhausted. ‘Today we know from experience that the machine and industrialization not only fail to exorcise the monsters that bar the road to harmonious social development, but also fail to transform architecture and production into activities capable of miraculously making good the inadequacies of our physical environment. In fact, despite a number of beneficial achievements, they produce an equal number of aberrant events that compromise our environment even more radically and rapidly than ever happened before.’
As the guide to the exhibition stated, the outlines of its programme were first discussed at the Convention of the Delegates of the Member Nations in 1965 and then developed by the Centro Studi della Triennale; finally they were formulated by two subsequent commissions. These commissions were made up of De Carlo (architect), Prof. Pasquale Morino (academic), Carlo Ramous (sculptor), Alberto Rosselli (architect), Prof. Albe Steiner, Marco Zanuso (architect) and Aldo Rossi (architect), who later withdrew. Alongside them other names appeared in the exhibition catalogue. Yet, despite all these names, it is undeniable that De Carlo played the principal part in the conception of the exhibition and its defence. It was in fact De Carlo who went and energetically debated the point with the protesters who were blocking access to the Triennale in the first few days after it opened.
The purpose of the exhibition devoted to ‘The Greater Number’ was to clarify the general and specific objectives ‘bound up with types of spatial organization and forms’, seeing them in relation to the immense power of the instruments available. It explored outstanding problems connected with form and typology, as well as ‘the new dimension of urban planning, mass production, the new behaviour of social groups, increased mobility, rapid obsolescence, and new ways of perceiving physical reality.’
To Team 10 the 14th Triennale presented the opportunity to revisit this theme once again, yet the Team 10 members came up with quite new and different ways of investigating and imagining this question. Only Woods (together with Joachim Pfeufer) made a contribution much more in line with the earlier CIAM and Team 10 debates on the concept of habitat. On the other hand the Woods/Pfeufer pavilion was the one that directly linked the issues of urban planning and design with political questions — the accompanying book is entitled ‘Urbanism is Everybody’s Business’.
Besides the Italian section, numerous other countries presented national exhibits (though the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China and India were not represented), and a large general section was entrusted to different curators. This was the most significant part of the 14th Triennale. Among other exhibits, it included an introductory section devoted to errors and information (the latter section also curated by De Carlo); one on the ‘macro-transformations of the territory’ (Arata Isozaki); ‘transformations of the physical environment’, one section being explored by the NER group (from the Soviet Union), another by Archigram; ‘the transformation of the city through urban services’ (Romualdo Giurgola, Peter Black, David Crane, Don Lyndon); and ‘production for big numbers’ (George Nelson).
Above all, the most significant and interesting sections were those devoted to changes in the perception of urban events (Hugh Hardy, Malcom Holzman, Norman Pfeiffer) and of the ‘nocturnal landscape’ (Gyorgy Kepes, Thomas McNulty, Mary Otis Stevens), the contributions by Aldo van Eyck — ‘on the importance of the small scale compared with the large scale’ — and by Alison and Peter Smithson on ‘urban ornament’. Van Eyck stressed the importance still possessed in the civilization of the ‘greater number’ of extraneous elements such as natural phenomena, minor objects, non-serial production, imaginative freedom and fantasy. The Smithsons explored the theme of the city and its transformations by events (a wedding in the city) or invisible ornaments (from overhead tramlines to cars, horses, rainfall and the seasons).
These ‘eccentric’ sections, which sought to reassess historical-environmental phenomena and explore mutations in architectural form, offer the most interesting keys to an interpretation of the event. Next to these two sections there was also a noteworthy exhibit devoted to ‘Protest Among the Young’ organized and designed by De Carlo, the film director Marco Bellocchio, and the painter Bruno Caruso. Added in a second phase of the Triennale, this section reconstructed, a few days after the actual events, a Parisian street with paving blocks, barricades and the young demonstrators. ‘Milan = Paris’ and ‘Paris Opéra = Milan Triennale’ were some of the banners that appeared during the occupation, showing what the Milan protesters were thinking. But one had: ‘The Triennale is not Paris — Merde to the Falsifiers’, criticizing the ‘forgery’ De Carlo enacted in this exhibit.
This edition of the Triennale, deeply criticized and judged ‘mediocre’, attacked for its ‘reformist’ vision of the problem of the Greater Number, brought a cycle to a close by exhausting the formula of the major exhibition. In reality the true objective of the occupation and the critics was the institutional role of the Triennale. Already in crisis, the Triennale had to wait several years before it was given a new statute and was able to mount a new exhibition. De Carlo’s idea of involving the protesters in a fruitful debate over the reorganization of the institution had no sequel.
Team 10 members present
Included in the exhibition were installations by:
De Carlo: The protest of the young people
Van Eyck: Mourning the butterflies
A./P.Smithson: Wedding in the City
Woods: The transformation of urban structure through the new conceptions
of the ‘habitat’ of ‘the greatest number’