Build, baby, build: when radical architects did disco

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Build, baby, build: when radical architects did disco
Radical disco … interior of La Fine Del Mondo, in Turin, 1966. / Photo: Pietro Derossi

Vegetable gardens, flying carpets and Scrooge McDuck: in the late 60s, young Italian architects ripped up the traditional nightclub and designed a new type of boogie wonderland. Groove back to a forgotten moment in design history

In 1969, an Italian architect called Titti Maschietto got an unmissable opportunity. He and some fellow students at the University of Florence had set themselves up as a radical architecture practice called Gruppo UFO the previous year, inspired by studying “the language, semiotics and contradictions of architecture” under Umberto Eco.

As was the way in the late 60s, they had developed a lot of radical ideas – “about disunity and provocation and abandoned strands of urban theory” – but never really had the opportunity to put them into practice. “We started off disturbing the ancient traditions of Florence,” he says, “by parading huge inflatable objects down the street.”

But now Maschietto’s father had bought a large villa in the Tuscan seaside town of Forte dei Marmi, with the intention of turning it into a hotel. It came with its own stretch of beach and a “marquee or pavilion-type structure” that Maschietto decided was the perfect place for Gruppo UFO to design a nightclub that would put their theories into practice.

His father agreed, although you do get the sneaking feeling that he didn’t really know what he was letting himself in for. 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. […]