The Radical Design Collective That Changed Disco Forever

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Interior of Piper, Turin designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, 1966© Pietro Derossi

A new London exhibition celebrates the architectural and socio-political movement that dramatically altered club culture

Isolated though the two may first appear, an inextricable link between the worlds of architecture and of nightlife manifested itself in the late 1960s and 70s, and nowhere more so than in Italy, as the new ICA exhibition Radical Disco seeks to point out. As the story goes, in 1965 a small group of Italian architects, frustrated by what they considered to be the ineffectiveness of postwar design, found themselves at the forefront of an innovative new movement which sought to use architecture as a tool for social change. The movement assumed the moniker Radical Design, and claimed the dancefloor as its arena; before long, clubs had become the ultimate spaces for multidisciplinary creative freedom, and an outlet for the collective's soci-political frustration. All manner of madness ensued.

By 1965 the first disco of its kind, Pipers, opened in Rome. “Designed by Manilo Cavalli and Francesco and Giancarlo Capolei, it featured reconfigurable furnishings, audio-visual technologies and a stage for Italian and British acts from Patty Pravo to Pink Floyd,” the gallery explains. The muscians "performed against a backdrop of works by artists including Piero Manzoni and Andy Warhol." It sparked a wave of fascination among young architects, and before long similar venues, known as 'Pipers' in a reference to the original, began popping up around the country, from L’Altro Mondo in Rimini, to [nightclub] Mach 2 in Florence. “Space Electronic hosted everything from performances by Living Theatre to a vegetable garden,” the ICA continues. “In Milan Ugo La Pietra designed Bang Bang (1968), a disco entered through a boutique, while on the Tuscan coast Gruppo UFO designed Bamba Issa (1969), a Mickey Mouse-inspired disco.”

Sadly, these subculture-saturated spaces didn't last long. By the mid-1970s most had been closed down, or transformed into commercial venues, and nowadays, the legacy exists only in the drawings, film, music and articles which surrounded them. Fortunately, much of this material is included in Radical Disco: Architecture and Nightlife in Italy, 1965-1975 at the ICA – a rare celebration of the unique moment when art, architecture, music, theatre and technology merged.

Radical Disco: Architecture and Nightlife in Italy, 1965-1975 runs until January 10, 2016 in the Fox Reading Room at the ICA, London. The exhibition will be accompanied by a related symposium, Designer Discos, which will take place on December 16.