Best known for starting the radical design firm while studying at the University of Florence with partner Adolfo Natalini, Toraldo di Francia was a catalyst for the radical architecture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though the group built very little, it excelled in creating avant-garde narratives and installations for major exhibitions as well as producing highly-regarded drawings, videos, and lithographs.
Superstudio’s influential architectural research, design, objects, and theoretical work were featured in both the Milan Triennale, the Venice Biennale (several times), and at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the Design Museum in London, among others. Several international museums have acquired their work over the years including the Centre Pompidou and the MAXXI in Rome. In 1972, Superstudio was invited by curator Amelio Ambasz to participate in its first U.S. showcase, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Though the collective fell apart by 1980, its effect on the architectural profession was huge. It’s said that Superstudio’s penchant for imagining outrageous mega-structures majorly shaped the design minds of Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. In the early 70s, Koolhaas focused his final thesis at the Architectural Association of London on the Florentine group.
Born in 1941, Toraldo di Francia also became a respected Italian architect, author, and educator in his own right in Italy. After Superstudio broke up, he continued to work independently in Florence and eventually in Filottrano, Italy. Some of his major projects include designing the Livorno waterfront, the Florence Statuto Railway Station, the San Paolo di Prato Banking Institute, and the Banca del Chianti headquarters in San Casciano Val di Pesa.
Arguably one of his best and most controversial designs was the La Pensilina di Santa Maria Novella that served as a bus and taxi terminal adjacent to the 1932 Florence train station. Inspired by the striped patterning added to the facade and interior of the Santa Maria Novella church by Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century, Toraldi di Francia made his elongated pensilina structure just as radical with skylights and ample marble material. It was built in 1990 ahead of the World Cup but later became inhospitable and dysfunctional. It was eventually dismantled by The Renzi government in 2010.
In addition to designing, Toraldo di Francia taught and lectured at a number of universities Europe, the United States, and Japan. He was a founding faculty member of the architectural school at the University of Camerino in 1992. He worked there regularly until transitioning to the role of adjunct professor in 2011.
A memorial is planned for the architect possibly this Thursday. Peter Lang and AN’s editor-in-chief William Menking wrote a book on Toraldi di Francia, his colleagues, and the Superstudio collective, Superstudio: Life Without Objects, which was published in 2003. Lang will follow up this initial obituary with a longer, more in-depth piece.