1888 Antonio Sant’Elia was born in Como on 30th April 1888, son of Luigi Sant’Elia, a barber in Como (1845-1914) and Cristina Panzillo (Capua 1848-Como 1922).

1899 At the end of the nineteenth century the city was going through a prosperous time with much development taking place in the textile and tourist industries. At the same time improvements were being made to the infrastructures both on the land and on the lake and new hotels were springing up and changing the appearance of the landscape. Aware that it was an active and vital centre, Como celebrated its own prosperity in with its great exhibition to Volta of 1899 on the centenary of the Alessandro Volta’s invention of the Voltaic Pile or electric battery. The Expo put on show the products of the textile industry and promoted the history and art heritage of Como. The event had an extraordinary emotional impact on the eleven-year-old Sant’Elia, especially the displays of the engineer Eugenio Linati with wood pavilions and a spectacular entrance through two imposing reproductions of Piles with interior lifts and a series of illuminated fountains. On the occasion of the exhibition, the public gas lighting was partly replaced by an electrical grid and the first trams started running.

1903 After graduating from Cantù technical school, he entered an art and craft school the Castellini Scuola di Arti e Mestieri in Como in 1903.

1906 He obtained his construction industry technician’s diploma with marks of 160/200. In that same year the Sempione Exhibition was held in Milan, which Sant’Elia would certainly have visited.

1907 At the age of nineteen he moved to Milan where he found his first job as site manager for the completion works on the Villoresi Canal, which work meant he was able to view the hydroelectric power station of Vizzola Ticino. He then moved on to work as building design assistant at the Municipal Town Planning department for the city. During his stay in Milan he experienced in first person the problems associated with the growth of the metropolis and became thoroughly cognisant of all the innovations in technology and hygiene that were being introduced by Milan’s administrative authorities. The increase in population and the need for higher quality standards led to an at least partial introduction of mains drinking water, a sewage system, electric lighting, school buildings, charitable accommodation, the Monumental Cemetery and the Abattoir. The questions of urban transformation and the renewal of the road system made necessary by the growth in traffic were new subjects of discussion that Sant’Elia embraced and addressed in competitions, in exhibitions and in congresses. He attempted to propose his own responses by designing multi-family and multi-functional buildings to be located on the outskirts of the city.

1908 In January 1909 he sent a design to the Milan magazine “La Casa”, which published it, for a villa unifamiliare or detached house of formally Secessionist inspiration that received partially positive comments from the magazine as well as some criticism.

1909 In November he enrolled with the higher architecture course at the Fine Arts Academy of Brera. He attended the courses on perspective, embellishment and architecture and went to the lectures held by Giuseppe Mentessi in geometry, Angelo Cattaneo in perspective and scenography, Enrico Butti in sculpture, Cesare Tallone in painting and Gaetano Moretti in architecture. He lived in Corso Garibaldi, renting a room in a council house with Giovanni Possamai, a sculptor of his own age. His studies at the Accademia enabled him to gain his diploma as teacher of architectural design. A more technical education and the title of civil engineer or architect would have been available to him had he attended the Politecnico. The Brera for its part however represented an essential meeting place for animated debate. Those studying with Sant’Elia were just as dissatisfied as he was with the Realism and Symbolism that were then in vogue, and included the likes of Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Gerolamo Fontana, Leonardo Dudreville, Achille Funi, Mario Chiattone, Carlo Erba and Giovanni Possamai whose company Sant’Elia kept before his encounter with Marinetti and Futurism. Some Milan haunts, such as the downtown coffee bars Il Campari and Il Cova were also meeting places in which Sant’Elia met, among others, the painters Romolo Romani, Anselmo Bucci and Aroldo Bonzagni, the art critic and writer Mario Buggelli and the author Marco Ramperti.

1910 At the end of his first year at the Accademia, when he scored 9.5 in architecture, 6 in embellishment and 5 in perspective, he passed into the second year which he attended only for a short time.

1911 He gained an honourable mention for his entry to the Competition for a small modern villa announced in 1908 by the Cooperative “Milanino”, which was proposing to build a garden city in the area between Cusano Milanino and Cinisello Balsamo. There were two important International Exhibitions to celebrate the fiftieth year of the Kingdom of Italy, one in Rome dedicated to art and another in Turin celebrating industry. We know that Sant'Elia went to the Rome exhibition with a group of friends that included Luigi Pellini, Romeo Moretti and the painter Giulio Cantoni. He was particularly struck by the Austrian pavilion designed by Josef Hoffmann which exhibited paintings by Gustav Klimt and Franz Von Stuck, works of the sculptor Anton Hanak and reproductions of a number of designs by Otto Wagner and his pupils, Emil Hoppe, Marcel Kammerer and Otto Schöntal. The Rome exhibition also put on its National Architecture Competition for the “modern house”. It is probable that he also went to the Turin exhibition where the public particularly appreciated the Hungarian pavilion designed by Emile Töry and Maurice Pogány. At the end of that same year he worked with Italo Paternoster, who was both a friend and fellow student at Brera, on the plates relating to the International Competition for the new Cemetery of Monza, which would be announced in the February of 1912. The joint Sant’Elia-Paternoster, design was dubbed “Crisantemo” [Chrysanthemum], and was classified among the finalists.

1912 He executed some tables for the architecture firm of Arrigo Cantoni for the second stage of the Competition for the New Milan Railway Station. At the same firm he became friends with the designer and silversmith Arrigo Finzi who he met in 1909. He designed some kitchenware for him which was briefly in production from 1914 up to the time both departed for the war. On his return from the front Arrigo Finzi reopened the factor in Via Caminadella and restarted manufacturing without meeting the favour of customers. It was not until the “Sant’Elia” trademark was filed in 1933 that the cutlery, vessels and silver coffee services in the art deco style, quite different from the art-nouveau designs from Como’s architect, obtained success on the market and were particularly acclaimed by Giò Ponti. He designed and built, with his friend Gerolamo Fontana, Villa Elisi in the Le Colme a San Maurizio area above Brunate (Como) to the order of the industrialist Romeo Longatti. The small villa had a tympanum, that no longer exists, and geometric decoration influence by the Vienna school whose culture had been spread by such Italian magazines as “L’Arte Decorativa ed Industriale” of Camillo Boito, “Emporium” and “L’Illustrazione italiana” as well as by foreign magazines. This same Milan architect paid great attention to any new ideas coming from the other side of the Alps. The plans and designs of the architects Gaetano Moretti, Giuseppe Sommaruga, Ulisse Arata, Angelo Cattaneo and Ernesto Pirovano found inspiration in the Austrian models for a middle way in architecture between the new and the traditional, which language also met with the approval of the new entrepreneurial bourgeoisie that was at this time in the ascendant. His friends Gerolamo Fontana and Mario Chiattone were in possession of publications on Wagner and the Wagnerschule. Sant’Elia himself acquired the Wagner School yearbook of 1902. Having left the Brera Academy in the October he took and passed the professional examinations as teacher of architectural design at the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna (with marks of 242/280), obtaining the highest mark for his design for the project the Façade with portal for the transept of a large metropolitan church. He obtained good marks in the practical tests (67\70 and 70\70), with lower marks in the essay (49\70) and in the final interview (56\70).

1913 He rented a room in Milan at Via S. Raffaele, number 3, from the painter Carlo Prada. The room that he set up as studio and lodging was just a stone’s throw from the Electrical Power Station of Santa Radegonda. This, among other things, set in motion for him some real reflection on the nature of his own personal architectural language, unbounded by the taste of commissioned orders, as he set about drawing up the first elements of his Città Nuova, the New City. He worked with the Arrigo Cantoni architecture firm on the plans for the Competition for the New Headquarters of the savings bank the Cassa di Risparmio di Verona, bearing the name “Costruire” [to build or building]. The design of the final plates was shared out between Sant’Elia (perspective views and cross sections), the architect Tancredi Motta (floor plans), and the painter Leonardo Dudreville (water colour perspective views). The plans were admitted to the second stage of the competition and were finally awarded third place.

1914 He took part in the Competition for the New Parish Church of Salsomaggiore, which was announced on 1st February of that year. Sant’Elia participated in two exhibitions that amounted to denunciations of official culture and expressed the need for alternative exhibition space. In March he showed some designs at the group exhibition organised by the Associazione Lombarda Architetti [association of Lombardy architects] at Palazzo della Permanente managed by Giovanni Rocco, alongside the works of Raimondo D'Aronco, Giuseppe Sommaruga, Ranieri Arcaini, Ulisse Stacchini, Tancredi Venturini, Orsino Bongi, Angiolo D'Andrea, Cesare Mazzocchi, Giovanni Broglio and Marcello Piacentini. From 20th May to 10th June he exhibited with the Nuove Tendenze, New Trends, group which had been set up the previous February by Ulisse Arata, Decio Buffoni, Gustavo Macchi and Ugo Nebbia at the headquarters of the Famiglia Artistica Milanese at via Agnello 8 in Milan. He exhibited the plates of the New City (The new city, Station for aeroplanes and trains, The new house, three Electrical power stations and five Architectural sketches) showing these alongside the works of Leonardo Dudreville, Mario Chiattone, Carlo Erba, Achille Funi, Giovanni Possamai, Adriana Bisi Fabbri, Marcello Nizzoli and Alma Fidora. The plates by Sant’Elia presented a picture of surprising modernity and captivated the attention of the public. The exhibition catalogue has a brief passage written by Sant’Elia which emerged with additions and some reworking by Marinetti and his companions in the Manifesto of futurist architecture, distributed in the July in the form of a leaflet printed by Taveggia of Milan and subsequently published in the magazine «Lacerba» on 1st August. Download the Manifesto of futurist architecture
At the request of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti he designed the cover of the book Ponti sull'oceano [Bridges on the ocean], a collection of poems by Luciano Folgore. In July of that year he stood as a candidate on the list of the Revolutionary socialist party headed by Arturo Labriola for the Como local governmental elections. He achieved a good result, obtaining 2446 votes to come in fourth and was thus elected as council member sitting on the opposition’s benches. The popularity he achieved in Como resulted in his obtaining a number of commissions, including for the school for the Viganò district (which was never built), for the decoration of the façade and the boundaries to the Francesco Baracca school in via Brambilla, as well as for the decoration of the façade of a building in Via Cesare Cantù, where his father had run the barber’s shop. He drew up the plans, on commission, for the New headquarters of the Società dei Commessi [sales clerks’ society] of Como, which was not finally built. In December he completed the design of the Gerardo Caprotti Funerary Monument which he had been working on since October of 1913. The tomb was built by the contractors Donzelli in the cemetery of Monza, to the most economic version of those designed by Sant’Elia.

1915 He joined up, together with other futurists such as Marinetti, Boccioni and Russolo with the Lombardy Volunteer Cyclists’ Battalion commanded by Captain Carlo Monticelli. After a short period of training at Gallarate, he was assigned to Third Company, Eighth Platoon, with Boccioni, Bucci, Buggelli, Erba, Funi, Sironi, Piatti and Marinetti. In July of that year, during their stay at Gallarate, the futurists organised some benefit theatre shows for soldiers’ families at the Teatro di Condominio and Sant'Elia was assigned the task of coordinating the scenery. Between August and September the battalion was moved to Peschiera, where it quartered at the Polveriera Ronchi. At the end of October the Volunteer Cyclists were incorporated into the Alpini and undertook hard training at the end of which they took part in the conquest of Dosso Casina, which had been held by the Austrians. The Battalion was broken up on 30th November 1915 and in December Sant'Elia and his brothers in arms were given a period of leave.

1916 In May he left Como again for the Carso as Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the 225th regiment of the Arezzo Brigade, in the 5th Armata. At Monte Cucco the Army Corps succeeded in pushing back the Austro-Hungarians to Monte Zebio of Asiago, where on 6th July Sant’Elia was wounded to the head during an attack, standing out for his scorn for his personal safety and for the generous conduct towards his fellow soldiers in difficulty. As soon as 16th July, decorated with a silver medal, he went back to fight. After a brief period on Monte Baldo he re-joined his regiment at Monfalcone where he was charged by his commander General Napoleone Fochetti with the task of designing the War Cemetery for the Brigade. The works began straight away under the direction of the master-builder Nino Dabbusi. On 10th October 1916 during the eighth of the eleven battles of Isonzo he was mortally struck in the brow by a machinegun bullet as he led his platoon on an assault on Quota 77 at the foot of mount Hermada. He was buried in the military cemetery of the Arezzo Brigade of Monfalcone that he had himself designed, being awarded posthumously a second silver medal. The obsequies, without the presence of his body, were celebrated in Como on 12th November 1916. He was commemorated at a session of the city council of Como by the leader of the socialist group, the lawyer Angelo Noseda.

1921 On 23rd October the coffin carrying his remains were moved to the Cimitero Maggiore cemetery of Como to one of the cells set aside for Benefactors, the Meritorious and Martyrs of the Patria”. The ceremony was organised by the local authorities and was attended by members of the Fasci of Combat and some socialists, but it was the futurist Russolo who made the funeral oration.

1930 In September of that year at the Broletto building in Como an exhibition was held of 95 of his drawings under the management of Michele Leskovic, known as Escodamè, which exhibition then transferred to Milan’s Galleria Pesaro and to Rome (to the Artists’ Circle of Via Margutta, then holding its first Quadriennale). On 14th October 1930 a funeral celebration was held at the Teatro Sociale theatre in Como. Thanks to the action of Marinetti it was decided to build a Monument to the Fallen based on one of his drawings for the “Light tower”, which should according to Marinetti suggestion be adapted to the occasion firstly by Giacomo Prampolini, while the final version would be realised by Attilio and Giuseppe Terragni. The Famiglia artistica of Milan and the City authorities conferred honours upon him and the Milan Polytechnic bestowed upon him a posthumous honorary degree.