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Rethinking the World: Italo Calvino and the Visionary Architecture of Lightness

About the program

Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

500 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

A hundred years after his birth, one of Italo Calvino’s most vibrant legacies continues to fold in the visual and performing arts. Witness the ongoing International Exhibit “Italian Excellence: Illustrations for Italo Calvino” at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, which presents the works of both established and emerging illustrators who have been inspired by Calvino’s “word images.” Undoubtedly, Calvino’s writings still grip our imagination: his keen observations on the spatial dimensions of our existence, the environment surrounding the individual, the way we, as people, experience places, both in terms of physical, material shapes and abstract relationships remain as fascinating and relevant as they were when he first wrote them. Today, artists, scholars, lay persons, cultural critics, urbanists, and many others read, teach, and discuss Calvino’s works. His 1972 novel Invisible Cities continues to provoke dialogue among architectural theorists and urban planners, some enthusiastic and others wary of his influence. But, knowing that Calvino has been and remains a great source of inspiration for so many, invites the question: What inspired his own imagination? More pointedly: What did he draw upon to reimagine the present and future urban environment?
Prof. Letizia Modena’s conversation will revolve around Calvino’s love for the city and engagement with the central preoccupations of urbanists in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the metamorphosis of cities into shapeless, congested, and overpopulated megacities was becoming more and more evident. We will see how much Calvino’s own imaginative and memorable urban icons were inspired by a revolution of forms underway in the novel’s milieu; a revolution that was generating design structures geared towards dematerialization, or lightness. Visionary architecture, which remains a controversial chapter in the history of architectural design, was comprised of an international cohort of architects whose works immediately preceded the publication of Invisible Cities, and in which the discourse on utopia was alive and well. Thus, we will see that the gravity-defying and utopian urban forms of visionary architecture inspired many urban icons in Calvino’s novel that still inspire architects, urban designers, artists, and many, many others.

The presentation will be moderated by Caterina Mongiat Farina, Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Modern Languages, Italian Program, at DePaul University.

The program is part of “Italo Calvino’s Universe” a lecture series on literature, ecology, arts and ethics. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Italo Calvino (1923-1985), the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, in collaboration with the Department of Modern Languages, Italian Program, at DePaul University, presents a series of lectures on exemplary and less known themes, from the vast body of work of the Italian author, between fantastic elements and historical issues.

The City is the Site