Progression of Art
Studi per una villa priva di decorazioni
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
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 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.
Nuova Stazione Centrale di Milano
In 1912 Sant'Elia collaborated with the architect Arrigo Cantoni to enter a competition to design the façade of the New Central Station building in Milan. It is believed that this design is Sant'Elia's work, although there has been some suggestion that Cantoni may have been involved at a conceptual level. The frontage is crowned by a central dome and two smaller domes mark and accentuate the ends of the structure. Tall pillars and rectagular grids of windows line the majority of the building, with areas of sculptural decoration drawing the eye towards the central dome.
The frontage also needed to fufil a practical function conveying passengers and lugagge from street level upwards to the level of the tracks. Sant'Elia incorporated large curved doorways across the design to allow an easy flow of people entering and exiting the building. The design incorporates large panels of glass and steel supported within a stone structure. This confident use of new materials shows Sant'Elia's desire to include new ideas and technologies into his work and it was this forward-thinking that, later, attracted the Futurists to Sant'Elia.
The design shows the influence of Otto Wagner, a pioneering Art Nouveau architect, on Sant'Elia, with the massive stone pillars and eagle decoration drawn from Wagner's Stadtbahn scheme in Vienna (1899). Some of the sculptural elements also seem to have been inspired by Wagner's Franz-Josefstadtmuseum (1902). The design can be seen as transistional, bringing together Art Nouveau details with bold new elements that are preemptive of interwar styles. The competition was ultimately won by architect Ulisse Stacchini.
Pilastri reggenti statue equestri
1913 marked a clear move away from Secessionist styles for Sant'Elia. Working in Milan he would have witnessed first-hand new innovations in building materials and techniques, urban planning, and industry. Taking these ideas, he looked forward expanding them to develop a completely unique vision of modernity which culminated in his designs for La Citta Nuovo. This sketch demonstrates a part of this journey showing an increasing simplification of structural elements and the removal of unnecessary decoration.
This design demonstrates how Sant'Elia approached multi-level buildings and shows his interest in incorporating curves and circles into his work. Each floor has a rounded balcony or dome leading up towards the top of the building. He explores the idea of circular design in both the rounded exterior, but also in terms of the two towers which mirror each other exactly. In this particular image, there are large statues adorning the building and these give the name to the design which translates as "pillars supporting equestrian statues". This hints at Sant'Elia's utopian idealism and his desire to bring art and functionally closer together; the pillars of the statues becoming buildings in their own right.
La Citta Nuova (The New City)
Sant'Elia's La Citta Nuova was shown publicly at the exhibition of the Nuove Tendenze in 1914. The work was a series of 40 drawings, under the same title, which showcased his innovative ideas that glorified modernism and technology. Intended to act as a symbol of a new age, their appearance was bold, unadorned and geometric and he made use of new materials in the designs. The sketches, however, go further than simply suggesting a new aesthetic, in them Sant'Elia highlighted his ideas about urban planning and the importance of technology. Sant'Elia commented that: "the problem of Modern architecture is not a problem of rearranging its lines; not a question of finding new mouldings; new architraves for doors and windows... But to raise the new-built structure on a sane plan, gleaning every benefit of science and technology".
This commitment to incorporating technology is clear throughout the drawings. External elevators are attached to the skyscrapers, interconnecting walkways and tunnels run, like veins, through the buildings and transport is organized into three levels: pedestrian overpasses, roads for cars, and tracks for tramways. This focus on access and circulation of vehicles and people leads to a de-emphasis on the individuality and autonomy of buildings within his designs and it becomes difficult to tell where one building starts and another one ends.
Sant'Elia viewed his cities as "gigantic machines" and this concept of mechanical dynamism aligned closely with that of the Futurists indicating that prior to becoming involved with the movement, Sant'Elia was aware of their work and it is probable that there was an exchange of ideas between the two. It was the display of these images, however, that convinced Marinetti to court Sant'Elia and encourage him to officially join the group, expanding their remit to include architecture and producing the manifesto later the same year.