There has been something like a mania for the manifesto in recent years. While only a little while ago one could still hear about the absence of manifestos in architecture, today we seem to be surrounded by them. Manifestos have been the subject of public reading marathons, taken up as themes for biennales, exhibited at galleries, exchanged for drinks, and become the subject of conferences at schools of architecture. 1 About this resurgence, there is understandably little consensus. The urgency of the genre has returned to prominence at a moment of economic crisis and political protests over inequality, but it also appears wedded ever more intimately to official institutions of culture, which have gravitated toward performative genres in recent years. For some, the manifesto remains an archaism, the product of another century whose current revival artfully masks the fact that it has outlived its use. For others, the manifesto remains protean, a form that not only continues to remake itself but also stands to be reclaimed in our age of rapidly changing media. For still others, it is precisely the outmoded, untimely qualities of the manifesto that make it so interesting at present. What does this confusing situation imply about the ongoing relevance of the manifesto form today?
After the Manifesto wrestles with such questions by bringing together a series of reflections on the history of the form in architectural culture. In looking back, rather than forward, After the Manifesto could be seen to betray the very future-oriented nature of the genre, which has vividly projected the outlines of non-extant forms, movements, and figures, and has often succeeded in bringing some version of them into the world. On the one hand, After the Manifesto registers a palpable feeling that however actual and contemporary, the manifesto form represents the legacy of a different historical moment. To think about the manifesto today is to think about where one stands relative to the boldest claims made by architects over the last century.
A manifesto, after all, is a text that calls for a response, even if it is not always the one expected or desired by its authors. Paradoxically, then, while manifestos have often served as vehicles for making absolute claims, they themselves are anything but. The manifesto is a form colored and remade according to its time. A key rhetorical weapon deployed by the historical avant-gardes, the manifesto’s language of rupture and revolution was an indispensable vehicle for setting transformative architectural projects in motion. At the same time, manifestos have also been associated with some of the more problematic elements of such vanguard positioning, from hyperbole, exhortation, and naïveté to misogyny, racism, and sympathies for fascism. How, if at all, do these conflicting legacies bear on the manifesto’s contemporary resurgence? To what extent has the genre reformulated itself, adopting different qualities and addressing other purposes today? Can the manifestos of the twenty-first century still be recognized using the terms of the past?
While one may feel increasingly swamped by manifestos, it is also true that we remain largely ignorant about the state of the architectural manifesto in recent decades. Although a few texts have been preserved in collections of architectural culture and theory, no systematic effort has been made to inventory the genre since Ulrich Conrads’s classic Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture (Programme und Manifeste zur Architektur des 20. Jahrhunderts), now already fifty years old.2
Confidently slim, matter-of-fact, and prefaced by less than 300 words, Conrads’s collection had no doubt what a manifesto was, nor which ones mattered. When Charles Jencks and Karl Kropf compiled Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture roughly thirty years later, the opening salvo was aimed at Conrads’s book, which had helped, they argued, to “turn the architectural manifesto into predictable event.”4 Jencks sought to detach the manifesto from the avant-garde legacy, seeing it as a broader, more perennial and changeable form, marked by the tension between violent flights of rhetorical passion on the one hand, and a deep-seated, Old Testament propensity for handing down laws, on the other.5 Despite the desire for greater inclusiveness and a mania for categorization, the book actually contains very few texts that are explicit manifestos.6 As a result, the vast majority of the manifestos produced during the last fifty years remain scattered in archives, like so much unexploded ordinance waiting to be unearthed. The contributions collected here might be considered an initial set of probes into such territory. They are the fruit of two daylong meetings, the first at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the second at the Architecture Faculty of the University of Navarra in 2012, that brought together architects, scholars, and editors to consider the enduring rhetorical traits, printed forms, and modes of action of the genre.
Literary theorists have turned considerable attention to the form’s rhetorical conventions.7 A manifesto is typically a text defined by conviction, urgency, and immediacy, seeking to push the domain of words as close as possible to the domain of deeds. The force and persuasion of manifestos appear frequently in the proliferation of injunctions, formulated with modal verbs—must, can, shall, will. The temperature of such injunctions can be modulated considerably, ranging from the imperative to the subjunctive, from command and demand to a more nuanced play between desired and hypothetical states of affairs, between possibility and doubt. Such injunctions often appear in the guise of theses or numbered points; condensing thought with emphatic precision, they concentrate the effort of the text. If they are often full of points, manifestos are also fond of pointers, those pronouns indicating the place and time of utterance, as well as the objects of concern: “here,” “now,” “today,” “this.” Such pointers direct the reader toward something outside the text; indeed, the manifesto operates as a special kind of text, drawing the reader’s attention to the page in order to direct it immediately back out toward the world. As significant as the pointers are the shifters: personal pronouns like “I,” “you,” and especially “we.” The play of such pronouns has a particularly important function in manifestos. “We” remains a tricky type of plural expression; its exact referent often remains ambiguous, capable of referring to a defined group, but also to a larger, unspecified collectivity the reader is invited to join. “We” can mobilize a powerful provisional constituency, proposing forms of solidarity that can allow an individual to appear to be many, yet it is also a pronoun that can disable disagreement and run roughshod over differences.
The earliest texts to bear the name “manifesto” appear in the sixteenth century and are closely allied with power—printed declarations by princes and kings that manifested the sovereign’s power to make decisions about war, defense, and other matters of consequence. Early religious tracts also left an enduring stamp on the form, the most famous being the ninety-five theses of Martin Luther’s 1517 Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum, which recodified elements from traditions of scholarly debate and religious revelation into a new type of militant document. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s 1848 Communist Manifesto effected the transformation of the modern manifesto into a tool of political struggle, consolidating and recasting the form in ways that later political and artistic manifestos would continue to echo and rework. The modern genre of the manifesto could thus be seen to occupy and take hold of a particular rupture in authority, one associated both with the breakdown of royal control over the reproduction of the printed word and royal entitlement to the form itself. The royal manifesto was a document that confirmed word as deed, publicly displaying the power of the sovereign’s declaration. The rise of the modern political and revolutionary manifesto in the nineteenth century reverses these dynamics, such that the manifesto becomes a form for challenging rather than confirming the legitimacy of a particular authority. As Martin Puchner has insightfully argued, revolutionary manifestos like that of Marx and Engels can be seen as speech acts that lacked the authority to sanction their words as deed, and thus necessarily projected this union into a revolutionary future.8 On the one hand such projection called forth of a subject, party, group, or class, which would emerge to realize the authority of the manifesto. Yet such a notion could also help to think about the performativity of much of the twentieth-century’s manifesto architecture. From Antonio Sant’Elia’s drawings of Futurist transport stations in 1914 to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1921 Glass Skyscraper photomontages, and beyond, manifesto projects are projects cast toward the future, figures that the architectural imagination will chase for years before they will be realized in built form.
If the projective capacities of the manifesto are undoubtedly powerful, to read manifestos only as declarations of polemical confidence and law-like clarity would be to miss their often intimate connection to uncertainty, to overlook those moments in which they point us to sources of doubt and objects of concern. Manifestos, after all, have flourished in times of trouble; in the lead-up to World War I and in its aftermath, amid the rubble after World War II, and again from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, a period marked by the wars of decolonization and Vietnam, the rise of terrorism, and environmental and energy crises. In this sense, the manifesto remains a more ambivalent genre that one might expect. As Puchner reminds us, on the one hand, the writer of the manifesto could never summon the courage to seize the authority that he or she does not yet possess without a type of theatrical confidence. At the same time, such claims are haunted by their own theatricality, afraid that the necessary illusions sustaining a belief in the forward thrust of modernity will turn out to be an empty promise.9 As the manifesto is relayed more intensely in our own time, we might ask what new performative figures will it call onto the scene? By the same token, we might ask, what types of authority, existing or yet to be realized, are being appealed to?
One source of the manifesto’s renewed appeal may be a recognition of the important role it has played in making claims upon the discipline. The contributions compiled here highlight a wide spectrum of such claims, to which can be added a selection of examples drawn from manifestos that have, to greater or lesser extent, marked the course of architectural culture over the last half-century. While by no means exhaustive or exclusive, these brief examples can be grouped into four broad types of recurring claims: claims upon history, claims upon hierarchies within the field, claims on forms of collective identity, and claims on the very media that circulate manifestos.
For a genre so often associated with the future, manifestos frequently ground their claims in attacks on prevailing ideas about history, provoking by means of condensed, biased, and often extreme forms of historical revision. The opening line of Antonio Sant’Elia and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1914 “Futurist Architecture (L’architettura Futurista)” set a high bar: “Since the Eighteenth century there has been no more architecture.”10
As José Manuel Pozo reminds us, not all postwar manifestos spoke the language of rupture; the form was equally taken up to advance more conservative agendas. In Spain under General Franco’s dictatorship, the Manifiesto de la Alhambra (1953) reinterpreted this monument as an urgent and timely manifesto for contemporary Spanish architecture at the very moment that the country was beginning to reopen to the winds of international culture. And as Enrique Walker argues, in the aftermath of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s the manifesto was not rejected outright, but rather its relationship to history underwent a radical reversal, most emblematically in what Rem Koolhaas has dubbed the “retroactive manifesto.” Whereas manifestos typically announce an agenda in advance of any evidence that might sustain their claims, the retroactive genre proceeds by deducing a manifesto from assembled historical evidence. Walker’s assessment of the current situation remains pessimistic; if the genre of the retroactive manifesto has increasingly become a cliché, and the classic manifesto has been subjected to a revival, both forms have largely absconded from their original task: advancing arguments within the field.
Alongside such polemical claims on history, manifestos have also taken aim at reigning hierarchies, provoking doubt about the ways in which the field separates the central from the marginal, and the consequential from the trivial. The brief, eight-point “Doorn Manifesto” (1954)—by a group of young architects who would form the kernel of Team Ten—begins with a strident embrace of the larger complexities of human association and community: “It is useless to consider the house except as a part of a community owing to the interaction of these on each other.”14
In each case, she highlights how environmental concerns not normally seen as central to the discipline—from building regulations to gender norms and communications media— were mobilized tactically by these manifestos in order to highlight, challenge, and temporarily evade forms of control embedded in architecture’s more mundane juridical codes and institutional procedures. It was also during the second half of the 1970s that Bernard Tschumi reappropriated the manifesto form at the very moment when it seemed to be falling out of favor. As he reminds us here, his series of architectural manifestos exhibited in New York and London were crucial early links in a project he has pursued ever since: the identification of architecture with the making of concepts, rather than forms, contexts, or materials. In these manifestos Tschumi went beyond the marginal to stake a claim on the repressed and the taboo. Calling attention to perversity, transgression, and excess was a bid to reveal, and thus open to question, the ever-shifting dynamics around the definition of rules in architecture, together with the moral economies subtending such definitions.
If manifestos have been a platform for challenging established hierarchies of knowledge, they have also served to support the formation of new identities. As Mark Wigley suggests, the “we” in a manifesto is less the designation of the group authoring the statement than a pact of complicity the author seeks with the reader. The condition of possibility for the formation of such new groups often depends on how compellingly a manifesto constructs the image of an older group or existing situation. The “real art” of the manifesto, he continues, lies less in commotion or uproar than in “making it seem that the world is still—waiting for the manifesto.” Some of the starkest examples can be found in the militant documents that issued from the occupations and strikes of architectural students in the years around 1968.
It remains a historical irony that perhaps the most widely read manifesto to emerge from postwar Spain—José Antonio Coderch’s “It Is Not Geniuses We Need Now” (1961)—began as a letter circulated through this epistolary network, only acquiring the status of a manifesto through subsequent publication, reprintings, and copies.
Such an example draws attention to the important role of mechanical reproduction; indeed, the history of the manifesto is inextricable from efforts to create new spaces of operation by means of changing media forms. Rubén Alcolea and Héctor García-Diego trace the growing role of photographic reproductions in print media during the 1920s, which was of central importance to architectural manifestos. Proposing the category of the “photo-manifesto” to cover a range of seminal publications by figures such as Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn, and El Lisstizky, they highlight how the process of collecting, organizing, and captioning photographic images overtakes the older linguistic conventions of the genre. As Beatriz Colomina reminds us, the manifesto cannot be separated from the little magazines, journals, and newspapers in which they were published, nor from the role such documents played in creating the very identities of many architects and avant-garde groups. Even a figure like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who is often thought of as an architect of few words, completely transforms himself in the early 1920s by forging a link between manifesto texts and manifesto projects, radically redefining the course of his work, and of modern architecture, in ways that continue to be revisited and rewritten. Citing SANAA’s 2008 project for Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion, she proposes the emergence of a new genre—the soft manifesto—an endgame to the long sequence of buildings, journals, and texts through which the twentieth century’s manifesto architecture evolved. Such an endgame can also be seen as a moment of transition. As communications media in our own day continue to transform our sense of space and time in ways as drastic as those of the 1920s or the 1960s, what changed forms might the manifesto inhabit, and what new experiences might it claim for architectural thinking?
The question returns us to the initial impetus for this collection— what does the longer history of the manifesto enable one to think as it undergoes its present resurgence? From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the manifesto emerged as a mode for capturing attention amid the growing flood of documents and information unleashed by mass print culture. If it took its impetus from the urgencies of the day, the manifesto also took its measure from the most immediate, cheap, and ephemeral media available—the pamphlet, the newspaper, the little magazine, the broadsheet, the poster—media that could reduce the amount of time separating the creation of a message from its transmission to a mass public. Its visual cues have been drawn more often from the world of advertising and mass communication than from the book. The book, Alphonse de Lamartine pointed out as early as 1830, was already too slow to keep up with the rapid changes of the nineteenth century; the future of writing lay with the newspaper.17 When Marshall McLuhan repeated Lamartine’s words, some 120 years later, newspapers and magazines had long secured their dominance, and were in turn becoming acutely aware of competition from the more instantaneous media of radio and television.18 In our own time, the gap between writer and public has been compressed even more radically. And while none are the same, all of these media forms continue to exist, however tenuously, today. Once separate media are undergoing a massive convergence and recombination through online forms of distribution, channeling a vastly expanded stream of changeable information, filtered by interfaces that appear and disappear, mutate and reconfigure at a rate only slightly slower than the things they convey. The modern genre of the manifesto crystallized within this same historical horizon, and it, too, remains with us—its history a set of landmarks on the battleground for attention. This struggle for attention may have a special meaning for architects, whose intellectual work must operate across a remarkably broad spectrum of time, from the extremely fast to the agonizingly slow. In an era that prizes instantaneity, the materialization of buildings remains a time-consuming affair. Architectural thinking is stretched between the actuality of the present—the temporality of drawing and writing, of journals and books, of emails and faxes, of blogs and tweets—and the schedules of builders, the production times of manufacturers, the deliberations of competitions and commissions, the credit lines of clients, and the crises and cycles of the broader economy. Paradoxically, might the most urgent message of past manifestos today be not to move faster, but rather to claim more time in a period when it seems in ever-shorter supply? Not to think quicker, but to think longer and harder? Architectural thought, subject as it is to immediate demands and incessant delays, may be in a unique position to reexamine the dynamics of attention in our present era. If the manifesto has long sought to capture and communicate the urgency of the actual, it is also one of those few forms that can be traced across the longer history of architectural modernity. In this, it might even be seen as a special type of relay, one that transmits such urgent signals forward in time, but which also encapsulates the past’s claims on the future, in words and forms that aim to be the barometer against which some future present will take its measure.
Let me begin with a modest inquiry into the etymology of the word “manifesto.” “Manifest” comes from the Old French word manifeste, which in turn comes from the Latin manifestus, meaning “struck by the hand, palpable, evident, made clear.” Manifestus itself comes from the conjoining of two words: manus, or “hand,” and festus, “struck”—which itself derives from infestare, “to attack” or “to trouble,” and is closely related to infestus, “to be hostile, to be bold, attack, to overrun in large numbers, to be harmful or bothersome, to swarm over, to be parasitic in or on a host.” Countering this set of negatives, the Latin festum also means “feast,” or “celebration.” In short, this means that at the same time as manifestos make trouble they also celebrate the fact.
It is well established that the first modern manifesto—indeed the first of its kind to form the modern form of the manifesto in its most complete guise —was The Manifesto of the Communist Party, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1847 and published the next year. What they invented was an entire genre, brilliantly concocted from a wide range of previous genres and eloquently rolled into a single form that continued to operate not only in politics but also in poetics for more than a century. Nevertheless, it is a form that, despite attempts to revive it from time to time, has for all intents and purposes now fallen into disuse, or rather, has seemed to outlive its use.
Now this is a contentious statement, especially for those artistic, architectural, poetic, and literary movements that have couched their post-World War II statements of principle in the form of manifestos, but it will, I hope, become clear that I define “use” not in terms of intention—that of the writer—but in terms of context—that of the audience. And I would hold that from the high times of manifesto writing—i.e., from 1848, through 1945—there has been a significant shift in the forms through which any cultural revolution is parsed, and a corresponding shift against the manifesto as the defining genre of the trade.
Let me return for a moment to the genre itself as cooked up by Marx and Engels. Where did this astoundingly influential model come from? How did this text—one that Martin Puchner in his brilliant study Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos and the Avant-Gardes counted as influencing “the course of history more directly and lastingly that almost any other text” —come into being, so to speak, seemingly out of whole cloth and ready to be adopted, as it was from 1909 on, as a genre equally effective in cultural realms as in political arenas? “The answer to this question,” Puchner writes, “must be sought not so much in the history of revolutions but in the Manifesto itself, and must be sought not only in its content but also in its form.”1
As a form it was indeed a strange hybrid: for traditionally what was called a manifest was not at all revolutionary, but rather a dictate—the declaration of the will of a sovereign, a state, or its military. But it was also connected to a potentially more subversive act, the religious act of revelation, or, manifestation—the tradition of the apocalyptic revelations of Saint John—and this link to the apocalypse was folded into the Marxian genre, too. Thus the manifesto becomes both a call to action (military or otherwise) and a revelation (religious or otherwise). Historically, this amalgam was first adopted by Luther on behalf of the Reformation (the Ninety-five Theses), and then used against him by Thomas Müntzer for the Swabian peasant revolt, and by the Diggers and Gerrard Winstanley in their radical revolt against the Puritan Revolution in England. In each case the tracts of the more violent revolutionaries were couched in apocalyptic formulations. Indeed the radical Puritans, the Levellers, were the first to call their statement a “manifesto” (1648)—coincidentally exactly two centuries before Marx and Engels—thence to be inscribed in the history of radical revolutions traced by Marx himself. If we add to this the fundamental Declaration of Independence, and the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, the genre is ready to be completed. But, however, with one significant difference.
The “manifestos” that preceded Marx’s were all founded within a sense that history formed a continuity out of which would be born reform or revolution. For Marx and Engels, however, as described in their correspondence, the aim was to rewrite history itself, reframe it entirely, so as to conceive it as a continuous process of evolving revolution, toward a new and imminent revolution—“history-as-revolution,” as Puchner has noted.2 The Communist Manifesto was something more however; it was a special kind of what J. L. Austin would call a speech act—the transformation of words into actions. As Puchner has it, Marx and Engels achieved the performative content of their manifesto by combining a sense of total authority drawn from history, a challenge to the present to recognize this history, as a brilliantly theatrical gesture, and a clear position from which, they, as authors channeling this history, spoke. All these attributes will, as we will see, be taken over by the cultural avant-gardes of the twentieth century.
Thus we get the “haunting” of the “specter of communism,” a reference to the ghost of Hamlet’s father; or the famous phrase “All that is solid melts into air,” echoing the last lines of The Tempest. (It is an irony of history, as Puchner points out, that both these phrases come not from the original manifesto, but from the literary traditions of the second translator of the Manifesto into English, Samuel Moore. In German the literal translations of these phrases would be more like “a frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe,” or “Everything feudal and fixed evaporates.”)3
This, however, does not detract from the importance of the position from which the speaker speaks—and the importance for manifestos to possess an oral, theatrical ring to them in order to assert the backing of history, or its entire revision; the deep structure of a quasi-religious credo; the anticipation of apocalypse in the present; and the assumption of the possibility, if not the immediate inevitability, of a revolution. All make a genre, ready for the picking.
And, we remember, it was so picked—by F. T. Marinetti and his friends in Milan as proclaimed in “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” in 1909, on the front page no less, of the French daily newspaper Le Figaro. Not even Marx was given that spread. The structure of this earl foray into the aesthetic manifesto instantly became a classic. Frist the location was sketched: “We have been up all night my friends and I;” then the back story—in the claustrophobic surroundings of their parents’ over-decorated and decadent apartment; then the revolutionary gesture—racing from the past into the future in their new automobiles; then the apocalyptic revelation or rather baptism—immersion in and emerging out of the canal-side mud, as if new born and sucking on the teats of his Sudanese nurse (a primitive rebirth indeed); and then finally the credo: “we believe,” “we call,” “we deny,” “we … etc. etc. The rest is, so to speak, history—the history of a genre, reformulated, readopted for new purposes, reinterpreted, and rewritten on behalf of artistic and cultural revolution; an effective genre for almost every avant-garde movement in the period 1909 to 1968.
In this sense, the title of the first anthology of such statements, Ulrich Conrads’s Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture, published in 1964, was apt enough.5 In this little volume, which formed the basis for “theory” courses over the next two decades, Conrads published some 60 “programs,” from Henri van der Velde’s “Programme” of 1903 to Yona Friedman’s 1962 “Ten Principles of Space Town Planning,” but very few that were truly “manifestos.” Here the difference between a program and a manifesto became specific, and the reluctance of architects to join with their artist friends was patent, and an intimation of what was to come in the 1960s and ‘70s, when, despite the revolutionary affect of the era, the manifesto became almost extinct, at least in architecture.
But before becoming extinct, of course, the manifesto had to be historicized. For Conrads’s book was the direct heir and result of Banham’s research in the late 1950s into the origins and history of the Modern Movement. It was after all Banham who had publicized the Futurist manifestos of Marinetti and Sant’Elia in the Architectural Review in the mid-1950s, and his history was in effect a way of relegating the manifesto culture of the first half of the century to its proper, if covert, academic home, all the while trying to associate himself with a new manifesto culture based on technological progressivism; hence his 1955 essay “The New Brutalism,” which called for an “architecture autre,” and his “Taking Stock” articles of 1960.6 As a result, it was Conrads’ anthology that we read in school in the late 1960s, in tandem with Banham’s Theory and Design in the First Machine Age of 1960.
If we take a glance at the contents of the next few anthologies of architectural theory statements, the decline of the manifesto becomes clear. Joan Ockman’s unsurpassed collection of 1993 abandoned the words “manifesto” and “program” altogether in Architecture Culture 1943-1968, a collection consisting almost entirely of longer statements or excerpts from essays.7 Out of over seventy selections, only one retained the title “manifesto” and, indeed, that one might be counted as the last of its modern genre: the Doorn Manifesto of 1954, composed by Team Ten’s Jaap Bakema, Aldo van Eyck, Blanche van Ginkel, Hans Hovens Greve, Alison and Peter Smithson, and John Voelcker.
Later compilations were even more discursive: Kate Nesbitt’s 1996 book, called Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, was subtitled “An Anthology of Architectural Theory,” and contained long selections from even longer books.8 Michael Hays’s follow-up collection to Ockman, Architecture Theory since 1968, published in 2000, was equally if not more discursive, taking whole long articles and chapters from books.9 Interpretation, historical examination, analysis, and quasi-philosophical exploration replace the short and sharp manifesto. Revolutionary stridency has given place to a worry about the right way to do architecture not seen since the late nineteenth century.
Indeed, it was a worry that produced not a few attempts to write new treatises for the discipline, a discipline that, threatened by science, technology, and economics, had resorted since the 1960s to a search for (quasi)-autonomy and new guiding principles that would authorize its role in a newly heterogeneous world. Unlike previous treatises, however, these new versions revealed a deep sense of inferiority to adjoining disciplines—to science of course, but also to psychology, and above all to philosophy. Thus Peter Eisenman’s claims for the autonomy of formal principles were heavily reliant on the “formal” principles of Gestalt psychology; Christian Norberg-Schulz’s Intentions in Architecture were derived, despite an apparent neutrality of approach, from his misreading of Heidegger as defining a phenomenological comfort zone rather than the abyssal implications of the author of Being and Time.10 Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture was more a reflection on modes of interpretation and compositional strategies than a polemic for a new way of designing, despite Vincent Scully’s claim that it was the most powerful call to arms since Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture.11
My use of the word “discursive” in relation to these treatises is not innocent, however. For I would note that it was symptomatic of this shift from manifesto to discourse that Michel Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in 1971 was entitled L’Ordre du discours, taking the form of a lengthy elaboration on how to conduct “discourse analysis,” as a way of unpacking the analysis-resistant “discourses” of the traditionally hegemonic disciplines and ideologies.12 As interpreted by social and even architectural historians and theorists, this was an open invitation to identify the “discourse” of architecture, which was revealed as not only hegemonic with respect to design ideology but also deeply ramified within a spreading network of relations with other discursive formations, from law to religion to medicine and the like. The brilliance of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir (Discipline and Punish) in selecting Jeremy Bentham and the Panopticon as a trope for the installation of social order for the bourgeois throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries relied not so much in its picking on architecture as a tool of such order, but in revealing the complex complicity of architecture in this order—a complicity to be historicized and theorized by Manfredo Tafuri after 1968.13
Thus by a strange twist of fate, critical architectural thought that stood for architectural theory in the 1970s and ‘80s found itself fundamentally against architecture, or at least against the very discipline that the new treatises were trying to reinstate and support. Architecture against itself was at once meta-historical and meta-disciplinary, and thus left very little in the way of principles or rules of composition for the students of these years. If there were any manifesto-like statements, from Guy Debord to Hundertwasser, to R. Buckminster Fuller, to Archizoom or Superstudio, they were statements against architecture—dystopian or techno-Futurist—or, as in the case of Ant Farm, of the innumerable claims for “architecture without architects,” proposing simple “returns” to a supposed prelapsarian state of preindustrial, or vernacular self-building.
Today we have inherited all these heterogeneous texts, and despite Charles Jencks’s brave attempt to call his own anthology of 2006 Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture, only a single manifesto can be found among his 144 excerpts, and that, a brave one, by Lebbeus Woods, excerpted from his 1993 War and Architecture pamphlet and written in the true spirit of Futurism.
Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War
I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.
I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, nor firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.”
I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears.
I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength,
then “melt into air”.
I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor can you know mine.
Tomorrow we begin together the construction of a city.14
I wonder how many people in the audience have ever been to Revolution Books? Probably not many. Once upon a time, many of you would have gone there. Revolution Books has many great and important books on politics, cultural theory, avant-garde theatre, revolutionary film, and so on, but no books by Beatriz Colomina, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi, Anthony Vidler, or Mark Wigley—by virtually any of the people speaking here today. Perhaps this is because we architects do not “do” revolutions. Le Corbusier said, “It is a question of building which is at the root of the social unrest of today: architecture or revolution.” Le Corbusier thought we could solve society’s ills through architecture.
Is a question of building at the root of today’s social unrest? Could Le Corbusier be talking about the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, or the nearly 10,000 foreclosure actions taken every day? How many architects were downtown occupying Zuccotti Park with the 99 percent? Not many. And not because we are the 1 percent, either.
Could it perhaps be because we are too busy creating pretty shapes and forms? Has architecture lost its social agenda? Like everyone else on this panel, I went back to Ulrich Conrads’s famous book, Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture. I saw that almost every author in Conrads’s collection brought together the political and the social, suggesting—or rather, shouting—that there is no avant-garde without a social program. It’s important to remember the word “program” in the title of Conrads’s book. Many of these manifestos are also about a new society: Poelzig, Loos, Wright, Gropius, Mies, Le Corbusier. Some argued less about society, but still included a cultural discourse: Kiesler, Buckminster Fuller, Pichler, Hollein. And what about Louis Kahn? No social or cultural debate here. Kahn mostly talks about design, form, and order. Theo van Doesburg, too, doesn’t discuss much that is social in nature; his first point is form. He initially argues for the “elimination of all concepts of form.” I got truly excited here, but then he qualifies that as “form in the sense of fixed types,” and goes on with a lot about form. Architecture, according to van Doesburg, must be an anti-cubic, colorful synthesis of Neoplasticism.
So, here we are: we have those who speak about society but not much about architecture; those who speak about architecture but not much about society; and those—the most interesting ones—who speak about both.
When discussing manifestos, Conrads’s book always comes up. Why is that? After all, it is constructed in exactly the same manner as most other anthologies of architectural texts. Just look at the recent publishing past of this school—Architecture Culture: 1943–1968, edited by Joan Ockman; Architecture Theory since 1968, edited by Michael Hays; and The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century, which I edited with Irene Cheng, in which we asked sixty architects and critics to state their own manifestos.
Even Charles Jencks did something similar to these anthologies with his Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture. By the way, why did he choose the color green for the cover? Shouldn’t it be red when you’re talking about manifestos? And why is the announcement for this symposium green, as well? A shift from revolutionary red to peaceful green? Even among our major critical little magazines, look at the color and the titles—from the red-orange Oppositions to the white, gray, or black Assemblage, Grey Room, or Log. From a polemic to a logbook.
Where do manifestos come from? I went to Revolution Books to replace my long-lost copy of Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto. (Even the current Penguin edition has a red-orange cover.) The opening words of The Communist Manifesto are amazing: “A specter haunts Europe, the specter of Communism.” The text continues by suggesting, “There we are!” meaning that we are already there, “already acknowledged to be a Power!” Now, this is speech and strategy: we are already here. We are already “a power.” Imagine hearing, “A specter haunts the world, the specter of Parametricism.” Actually, Patrik Schumacher, who is well-schooled, says exactly that when he gives public lectures.
But what interests me here are the following questions: first, do manifestos precede the event they advocate, do they accompany it, or do they follow it? Do you write the “Little Red Book” before or after you have won the revolution? Second, is the manifesto the product of a group, or can it be created by an individual? Conrads points out that the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser was the author of the first entirely subjective individual manifesto. Now, this concerns all of us: you are a young architect, you have a few friends you like to argue with, but you are really on your own.
Let me introduce a bit of self-historicizing. When I first arrived in New York over thirty-five years ago, doing one-term stints at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies or Princeton University but really spending most of my time with artist friends at the Mudd Club or at CBGB’s, my agenda was nothing less than to redefine what architecture is.
Good architecture must be conceived, erected, and burned in vain. The greatest architecture of all is the fireworks; it perfectly shows the gratuitous consumption of pleasure.
Architectural space will be defined by ideas as much by real walls. Architecture will be the tension between the concept and experience of space.
The paper representation of architecture will have the sole purpose of triggering desire for architecture.
In architecture, fiction will replace function. (“Form follows fiction.”)
Architecture will break out of its cultural isolation and expand the particular form of knowledge of its time. It will both import and export.
New books will give imaginary architecture an existence and a logic of its own. In return, architecture will give books new terms of reference.
Architecture will not be simply the expression of accepted functional and moral standards. Instead, actions, whether forbidden or not, will become an integral part of architecture. As a result, conventional plans will no longer suffice, and new types of architectural notation will be devised.
Architecture will define the places where reality meets fantasy, reason meets madness, life meets death. (Border crossing is erotic.)
Architecture will be defined as the convergence of objects, events, and places. Such convergence intensifies, reinforces, and accelerates.
Manifestoes resemble contracts that the undersigned make with themselves and with society. As with all contracts, manifestoes imply certain rules, laws, and restrictions. But they soon become independent from their authors. At this point, a masochistic relationship begins between the author and the text itself, for the manifesto-contract has been drafted by the very person who will suffer from the restrictions of its clauses. No doubt such carefully devised laws will be violated. This self-transgression of self-made laws adds a particularly perverse dimension to manifestoes. In addition, like love letters, they provide an erotic distance between fantasy and actual realization. In many respects, this aspect of manifestoes has much in common with the nature of my architectural work: each of the recent works plays on the tension between ideas and real spaces, between abstract concepts and the sensuality of an implied spatial experience.
I didn’t have to build—books were architecture, exhibitions were architecture, and advertisements were architecture.
My work was about ideas and concepts; they certainly referred to architecture that could be built, but the work could also exist without building. It established a dialogue with other disciplines—with film, literature, and so on.
My concept-based work eventually led to the Parc de la Villette, Paris (1982-1998), with its superposition of systems of points, lines, and surfaces; Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, (1997) with its facade-and-roof envelope; or the Glass Video Gallery in Groningen, The Netherlands. I considered each of these buildings to be a manifesto. Here, texts and words were okay, but the building was a manifesto on its own. Each building exists to represent an idea, to develop a concept, to be a manifesto of sorts.
What about today? Ideological manifestos are rarer and more infrequent, except perhaps for green, sustainable, or ecological endeavors, but there are still other architectural manifestos being developed—some as in-your-face as those by the Futurists, others more subtle and more perverse.
Examples include unbuilt work by Philippe Rahm, François Roche, Pier Vittorio Aureli, my own Factory 798 project, as well as several projects by other people in this room. And what about built manifestos? After all, the Barcelona Pavilion (1929) and the Villa Savoye (1931) were manifestos. And one could think of many other examples from the last ten to twelve years, in no particular order: MVRDV’s Dutch Pavilion in Hanover (2000), Foreign Office Architects’ Yokohama Terminal (2002), the CCTV building by OMA (2012), SANAA’s Rolex Center (2010), Peter Eisenman’s City of Galicia (1999-ongoing), and even MASDAR (initiated 2006), as planned and designed by Norman Foster. The list goes on and on.
Indeed, I would claim that any work that has a fresh, provocative, and clear content is a manifesto of sorts. Invent a concept, and it will become a manifesto!
Architecture is not about the conditions of design but about the design of conditions.
Architecture is not so much a knowledge of form, but a form of knowledge.
Architecture is the discourse of events as much as the discourse of spaces.
Architecture is not only what it looks like, but also what it does.
Architecture is the materialization of concepts.
Concept, not form, is what distinguishes architecture from mere building.
Architects don’t choose contexts; they choose concepts.
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