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Antonio Sant'Elia

Italian Architect

Movement: Futurism

Born: 30th April 1888 - Como, Lombardy, Italy

Died: 10th October 1916 - Isonzo, Gorizia, Italy

Antonio Sant'Elia Timeline

"Futurist architecture ... is not an arid combination of practicality and utility, but remains art, that is, synthesis and expression"

Summary of Antonio Sant'Elia

An architectural visionary, Antonio Sant'Elia is best known for his futuristic designs for a modern city, La Citta Nuovo (1913-14), that anticipated many contemporary technologies as well as pre-empting the styles of Art Deco. A significant member of the Italian Futurists, Sant'Elia helped to form the movement's ideas on architecture and was a key figure in the production of the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture (1914). His career was cut tragically short by his death in the First World War at the age of 28. Because of this, few of his designs were actually built, but he is remembered for his skilled draftsmanship, bold sketches, and unique view of the future.

Key Ideas

Incorporating innovative technology into his designs was of the utmost importance to Sant'Elia who saw new ideas, practices and materials as having the potential to remake the urban world. His buildings have vast expanses of glass and are constructed of new materials such as steel and concrete. He also included technologically focused infrastructure such as tramways and airplane hangars in his work.
Geometric shapes, particularly cubes and pyramids, form the essential building blocks of much of Sant'Elia's work and this places him firmly in the modernist canon. Many of his later pieces are also on a huge scale, and he used the oversized nature of the buildings, in conjunction with their distinctive shapes, to physically represent their modernity.
Although not directly associated with the movement until 1914, Sant'Elia shared a lot of ideas with the Futurists. Most notable amongst these is his concept of the city as a mechanized organism with both man and machine at its very heart. Sant'Elia's legacy was maintained and popularized by Marinetti in the post-war period and he became an inspirational figure to the second generation of Futurists.
Scene from <i>Metropolis</i> (1927) futuristic German film directed by Friz Lang
Scene from Metropolis (1927) futuristic German film directed by Friz Lang

The brevity of Antonio Sant'Elia's life was not the only thing that prevented his designs from becoming reality; it was as if his thinking was too futuristic for the time into which he was born. But his influence has endured, extending into mainstream science fiction cinema, including Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Ridley Scott's Bladerunner.

Important Art by Antonio Sant'Elia Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Antonio Sant'Elia - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Studi per una villa priva di decorazioni (1909-1910)
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Studi per una villa priva di decorazioni (1909-1910)

Artwork description & Analysis: Many of Sant'Elia's early designs were made for competitions or submitted to magazines. In doing this, he garnered publicity for his work as well as getting constructive feedback on it. Studi per una villa priva di decorazioni (study for a villa without decoration) is a later version of a design for a detached house that he first submitted to La Casa magazine in 1908. Here, he shows his developing drawing skills, presenting the villa from different angles. The beginning of his distinctive Modernist architectural style is also present; geometric grids of windows, archways, curves and stair-like structures all became reoccurring features in his later works including Villa Elisi.

Unlike some of Sant'Elia's other work, this design shows no hint of historicism and as the title suggests the villa is unadorned. Although innovative and hugely different from the Italian vernacular of the period, it is probable that Sant'Elia drew some inspiration for the design from other architects, particularly the shapes of Adolf Loos.

Edifici monumentali con sculture (1911-1912)
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Edifici monumentali con sculture (1911-1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: In Edifici monumentali con sculture (monumental buildings with sculptures) we see a vast increase in size from Sant'Elia's previous work. The geometric features also become more prominent. The height of the towers are accentuated by the design of the rest of the building. On the left, the entrance is shrunk behind the two pyramidal towers forming a contrast that emphasizes their scale, this is further enhanced by the addition of the sculptural elements at the pinnacles of the building. On the right the windows mirror and draw attention to the larger part of the building in the background. The purpose of the designs are unclear and these could be facades of interconnected homes, a railway station, or an industrial building, demonstrating a vision of modernity where the domestic and industrial coexist in close proximity.

These designs suggests a towering monument to growth and new technologies but they are also practical - the spaces between the towers give room for pedestrian access. This can be seen in the left sketch, in which a walkway is visible, disappearing into the distance. The division and stratification of transport systems reappears in Sant'Elia's later work and this may well be a prototype for these ideas.

Villa Elisi (1912)
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Villa Elisi (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Villa Elisi was designed and built as a holiday home for the industrialist Romeo Longatti. The Villa, while small in size, features the asymmetrical, geometric designs seen in much of Sant'Elia's work. The front has round stone features that wrap around the walls and the building was decorated with frescoes in the style of Gustav Klimt. These were created in conjunction with Sant'Elia's friend Girolamo Fontana and this is a clear example of the influence of Austrian Secession styles on the architect.

No other buildings designed by Sant'Elia were completed during his lifetime so this small villa gave some insight into how his drawings could be translated into reality and produce an aesthetically novel, but also functional building. The project also represented an opportunity for Sant'Elia to prove his worth in a range of roles, as he acted as site manager for the build. The Villa still stands but the painted decoration was removed during modern renovations.

More Antonio Sant'Elia Artwork and Analysis:

Nuova Stazione Centrale di Milano (1912) Pilastri reggenti statue equestri (1913) La Citta Nuova (The New City) (1913-1914)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Antonio Sant'Elia
Interactive chart with Antonio Sant'Elia's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Filippo Tommaso MarinettiFilippo Tommaso Marinetti
Otto WagnerOtto Wagner
Adolf LoosAdolf Loos
Renzo Picasso

Personal Contacts

Mario Chiattone
Girolamo Fontana
Arrigo Finzi
Giuseppe Mentessi

Movements

FuturismFuturism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Antonio Sant'Elia
Antonio Sant'Elia
Years Worked: 1909 - 1914
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Helmut Jahn
John Portman

Personal Contacts

Mario Chiattone

Movements

FuturismFuturism
Art NouveauArt Nouveau
Art DecoArt Deco
Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Marley Treloar

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Marley Treloar
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson
Available from:
First published on 25 Mar 2019. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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