During the 1960s, supermannerism and supergraphics were words coined to describe breaks with modern design. Like many art history labels, supermannerism was first used disparagingly. Mannerism was originally used as a label for the stylish art of the 1500s, which broke with the natural and harmonious beauty of the High Renaissance. Mannerism departed from Renaissance norms by taking liberties with the classical vocabulary of form; the term supermannerism was first used by advocates of the purist modern movement to describe work by young architects whose expanded formal range embraced the pop-art notion of changing scale and context. Zigzag diagonals were added to the horizontal and vertical structures of modern architecture. An architecture of inclusion replaced the machine aesthetic and simple geometric forms of the international style.
In the late 1960s, the application of graphic design to architecture in large-scale environmental graphics extended the formal concepts of art concret and the International Typographic Style. Supergraphics became the popular name for bold geometric shapes of bright color, giant Helvetica letterforms, and huge pictographs warping walls, bending corners, and flowing from the floor to the wall and across the ceiling, expanding or contracting space in scale changes relative to the architecture. Psychological as well as decorative values were addressed, as designers created forms to enliven dismal institutional architecture, reverse or shorten the perspective of endless hallways, and bring vitality and color to the built environment.
Philadelphia-born Robert Venturi is the most controversial and original architect branded with the supermannerist label. When Venturi looked at the vulgar and disdained urban landscape of billboards, electric signs, and pedestrian buildings he saw a vitality and functional purpose and urged designers to learn from the hyperbolic glitter of places such as Las Vegas. Venturi saw the building not as sculptured form but as a component of the larger urban traffic/communication/interior/exterior environmental system. Uncommon uses and juxtaposition of materials, graphic elements from the commercial roadside strip, billboards, and environmental-scale lettering were freely added to his architectural vocabulary. Venturi sees graphic communications and new technologies as important tools for architecture; his proposal for the Football Hall of Fame featured a giant illuminated sign that would have been visible for miles on the approaching interstate highway.
Supermannerist architect Charles W. Moore designed a large condominium project at Gualala, California, in the mid-1960s. He called on graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon to bring the walls and ceilings of this large architectural project to life through the application of color and shape. Solomon, a San Francisco native and painter who had studied graphic design at the Basel School of Design during the late 1950s, used a pallet of pure hue and elementary shape in compositions that transformed the totality of the space. In 1970 the American Institute of Architects presented its medal to Solomon for “bold, fresh, and exciting designs clearly illustrating the importance of rational but vigorous graphics in bringing order to the urban scene.”
Both the name supergraphics and the idea caught the public’s fancy; by 1970 supergraphics were being used in corporate identification systems, in interior design for shops and boutiques, and to brighten factory and school environments, bringing about greater graphic-design involvement in environmental design.