Sant’Elia was not the only Futurist who fought and died in the throes of World War I—a fact that should not come as a surprise. He and several others enlisted early, believing the world should be cleansed through warfare, the old order destroyed to make way for the future. The Futurists had an obsession with newness. They saw themselves as pioneers forging a civilization from scratch. “We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!”
wrote in the “Manifesto of Futurism” of 1909, the founding document of Futurism. “Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?” Marinetti declared both an end to the obligatory veneration of the Western artistic canon—“A racing car... is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace
”—and the beginning of an era in which the aesthetics of speed reigned above all else.
Sant’Elia believed that the primary task of a city in the industrial age should be to facilitate movement in the most efficient way possible. For his Città Nuova, he proposed three levels of traffic according to vehicle and speed: pedestrian overpasses, roads for cars, and tracks for tramways. These, along with vertical elevator shafts, were the only traffic arteries in the city. Sant’Elia also proposed that the city exist in a state of continuous construction. “We must invent and rebuild the...city,” he wrote. “It must be like an immense, tumultuous, lively, noble work site, dynamic in all its parts.”
His prototypes for the “Casa a Gradinata,” or “Casa Nuova,” set-back high-rise buildings with a separate tower to house elevators, were often positioned back-to-back, creating an internal corridor or arcade that would be criss-crossed with bridges and overpasses. This created the effect of an artificial landscape, with the buildings acting as mountains and the spaces between them suggesting valleys. In Sant’Elia’s world, naturalism would become urbanism and the individual would be consumed by machinery.