Camels, vegetable gardens, magic carpets and multi-colours were all fair game in the free-thinking discos of Italy's radical past. New exhibition at ICA London explores.

Camels, vegetable gardens, magic carpets and multi-colours were all fair game in the free-thinking discos of Italy's radical past. New exhibition at ICA London explores.

The 1960s and 1970s were a brief period of clubbing utopia in Italy where a wave of radical architecture groups started transforming spaces in an ideological way.

The era, brought to life in a new show at the ICA London: Radical Disco: Architecture and Nightlife in Italy, 1965-1975 until January 10, featured experimental architecture groups such as Gruppo 9999, Superstudio and UFO who were bored with postwar modern design and wanted to create something that would make clubbers think, as opposed to escape.

The stage and audio-visual system inside La Fine del Mondo, designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, Turin, 1966. © Pietro Derossi

The stage and audio-visual system inside La Fine del Mondo, designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, Turin, 1966. © Pietro Derossi

Interior of La Fine del Mondo, designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, Turin, 1966. ©Pietro Derossi

Interior of La Fine del Mondo, designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, Turin, 1966. ©Pietro Derossi

An early inspiration for some of the designers in the show was Carlo Mollino’s Le Roi Dancing in Turin. According to design journalist Alice Rawsthorn: “A dancehall, rather than a disco, Le Roi Dancing was built from scratch in an old scrap metal yard in 1959 by a local impresario Attilio Lutrario, who commissioned Mollino to design the interior. Known as the “dark prince” of mid-20th century Italian design, Mollino worked mostly in Turin with a crew of trusted local artisans. Like all of his projects, Le Roi combined colour, form and light to dramatic effect.”

Carlo Mollino’s Le Roi Dancing in Turin

Carlo Mollino’s Le Roi Dancing in Turin

One of the stand-out clubs in the exhibition is Bamba Issa in Forte de Miami by architect Titti Maschietto whose father bought a villa in the area and renovated it into a hotel. Maschietto decided it was the perfect place for UFO to put their theories into practice. According the Guardian: “Bamba Issa took its inspiration from a Disney comic book, Donald Duck and The Magic Hourglass, which UFO felt was “an allegory for capitalism, its arrogance and shortcomings”. The club’s design reflected the comic’s look: it had large lanterns, hourglass-shaped furniture, a DJ booth apparently on a flying carpet.”

Bamba Issa Forte dei Miami, 1970

UFO, lovers on a swing chair, Bamba Issa, Forte dei Marmi, 1970. Photograph by Carlo Bachi, © Lapo Binazzi, UFO Archive.

Bamba Issa Forte de Miami

UFO, amphibious camels returning to Africa, Bamba Issa, Forte dei Marmi, 1969. Photograph by Carlo Bachi, © Lapo Binazzi, UFO Archive.

Co-curated by Dr Catharine Rossi and Sumitra Upham, Radical Disco drops at the ICA London at a time when nightclubs are closing across the UK and the idea of clubs as important cultural spaces needs some serious consideration.

Radical Disco: Architecture and Nightlife in Italy, 1965-1975 is at the ICA London until January 10.