Main _ the line is not so new

The Line is not so new

Predecessors and roots


‘The Line’ is not so new.

Recently, many photos have appeared on the screens of the phones, computers, or televisions of many architects, designers, or industry insiders, depicting a large hole in the Saudi desert, long and narrow, with diggers, bulldozers, and trucks carrying sand. It seems that ‘The Line’, the futuristic city-state project of the future, wanted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the heart of the desert, will come true, and works have already begun.

The project of ‘The Line’ consists of a single 170-kilometer-long building that would constitute an entire city of about 9 million people, in the heart of the Saudi desert, part of the even more pharaonic Neom project, of which ‘The Line’ is only a third.

In the Saudi Prince’s ideas, it will be zero-emission, powered only by renewable energy, with an autonomous microclimate and guided by artificial intelligence. Two huge walls clad with mirrored sheet metal, 200 meters wide and 500 meters high, will ‘protect’ the city equipped with a single ultra-fast rectilinear, multi-level-based connection system; there will be everything from housing to offices to all the services a city needs.

The debate on the actual success of ‘The Line’ has already begun. The uncertainty is about the real environmental impact that an undertaking of this magnitude will have, about the purely urbanistic perplexities of such a futuristic idea, and about all the ethical doubts that ‘The Line’ entails regarding the environment, the surrounding ecosystems, and the human condition.

There are sceptics and there are enthusiasts, there are those who strongly condemn the idea itself and those who would instead like to see something good in it.

What we will focus on, however, is not the present of ‘The Line’ itself, not even its future, but rather its past: where did the idea of ‘‘The Line’’ come from?
Where have we seen it before?
‘The Line’ is not as new as we think.


The project seems to trace some utopian project of radical architecture, some collage we have encountered while scrolling through our feeds or consulting some architecture magazine in a dusty shelf of our universities’ libraries, something that was very fashionable in the 1970s, years where there was a different vision of mankind with respect to the future of humanity, sons of the ’69 moon landing, 2001 Space Odyssey, the Cold War and the atomic bomb.

In those years in Italy, specifically in Florence, a group of young architects created Superstudio. Born in the Italian context of the late 1960s, the studio tackles ideological issues in architecture, bringing radical architecture to Italy. Superstudio focuses on a theoretical and utopian pursuit of its thinking. It is concerned not only with the spaces humans live in the present but also with those they will live in the future, future lifestyles, and the future of cities.

Among Superstudio’s utopian projects, one of the most famous and significant is the Continuous Monument, it is based on the juxtaposition of an artificial element, geometrically continuous, and ideally infinite that would ideally occupy the landscapes and the natural environment vacated by man. This creates a dystopian, sci-fi vision of future living.

The continuous monument is articulated across the earth’s surface furrowing seas, mountain landscapes, rivers and oceans, towering over New York City and the Taj Mahal.

In this collage (Superstudio’s preferred communication medium) the Continuous Monument stands across the Sahara Desert. What is striking is not only the suggestiveness of the image but also the stark and uncanny resemblance to what is the design of ‘The Line’.

“For those who, like us, are convinced that architecture is one of the few ways to achieve cosmic order on earth … it is a moderate utopia to imagine a near future in which all architecture will be realized by a single act, by a single design capable of clarifying once and for all the reasons that led man to build dolmens, menhirs, pyramids, and finally to draw a white line in the desert.” (A. Natalini)

Taking a step back, the idea of a linear structure extending into a desert landscape was already “discovered”, not surprisingly those years the avant-garde collectives of Italian architecture, looked a lot to land art, an artistic movement born between ’67 and ’68 in the United States.

Among the artists who were part of it, one contributed to the genesis of the continuous monument: Walter De Maria.

In 1964 De Maria envisioned ”The wall in the desert,” two mile-long parallel walls in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California. In the genesis of the project, still contained in 6 sheets of paper housed at MoMA in New York, the strong gesture of this land artwork, the ”line in the desert,” is evident. Although the design of the two parallel walls remained only on paper, the compositional connection with Neom’s future ‘The Line’ is mind-blowing, not only conceptually but also schematically, if we think that there are two vertical mirrored walls that hide the city within them.

De Maria and ”The wall in the desert” were certainly inspirational for the continuous monument: it is significant that Superstudio in an image of the continuous monument used a photo of De Maria lying on the ground between the two white traces in the desert indicating the construction of the parallel walls, and through collage, made the continuous monument appear just behind the lying figure, making its work appear frontally through the California desert.

The proposal presented in the Trinational Biennial in Graz in 1969, which first took the name “Viaduct of Architecture”, was the seed from which the Continuous Monument was born in December of that year. In the images presented in Graz, the megalithic structure goes through virgin landscapes, cities, and nature, changing conformation in each new setting. Its continuous neutral square-weave cladding changes continually surrounded the artifact completely or only in part, and in the end of the story the Continuous Monument, having arrived in New York, changes shape again to fit the location, spreading out over Manhattan to make room for skyscrapers.

Thus, takes shape New-New York, the new symbolic city of modern society, free from urban chaos and congestion, twenty years before Katsuhiro Otomo’s famous Neo-Tokyo, that Americans will see on cinemas in Akira.
In New-New York the surface of the Continuous Monument becomes completely reflective as in ‘The Line’, that the sky above becomes visible.

Thanks to this representation Superstudio understands the potential of a completely reflective surface, destined later to become the first physical dissolution of the continuous monument.

What remains with us today is a fundamental work on, the very concept of architecture, quoting Superstudio himself:

“…if design is merely a tool to induce consumption, we must repudiate design; if architecture is merely a codification of the bourgeois model of property, we must repudiate architecture; if architecture and urbanism are nothing but the formalization of the present unjust social divisions, we must repudiate urbanism and its cities…until through design we aim to satisfy basic needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can live without architecture…”

The “Continuous Monument” is the idea of a total architecture that eliminates itself, to be replaced by a potentially infinite object. A global architecture that can oust itself from the context itself, being able to live off and because of itself even in the desert.

A utopian idea that had the virtue of reevaluating the very relationship between architecture and anthropology, and which has found tremendous success in contemporary architecture.

Not surprisingly Rem Koolhaas’ final project at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London entitled “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture” was a clear re-imagining of the Continuous Monument.

He denigrated modernist utopias and proposed a walled city within London to create a new urban culture, which would lead the inhabitants to let the rest of the city fall into disrepair.

What the future of ‘The Line’’ will be is unknown to us but now we know its roots.


Author: Gianluca Ciuca

Gianluca Ciuca, studied Building Engineering and Architecture at UNIVAQ (Italy) and UPV (Spain), co-founded Superstudio.


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