Do you think that
architectural manifestos are useful tools for architects?
Why or why not? Be specific.
When questioning the
usefulness of manifestos as a tool for architects, we must first define one. A manifesto
can be defined as a written statement of the beliefs, aims, and policies of an
organization, especially a political party1.
An architectural manifesto, on the other hand, can be much harder to categorise
and place. As Charles Jencks argues in the introduction to his ‘Theories and
Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture’, the Ten Commandments were the original
architectural manifesto, or at the least they set an outline based on their tone
and form. Taking the teleological argument, God is the architect of each and every
thing, with architects playing God when making both subjective decisions, and when
adopting one theory over another. More recent manifestos of the 20th
century have ranged heavily on both form and tone. ‘Complexity and
Contradiction in Architecture’ by Robert Venturi works as a form of anti-manifesto
manifesto and even subtitles itself as ‘A Gentle Manifesto2’.
It can be placed against Antonio Sant’Elia’s ‘Manifesto of Futurist
Architecture’ that is far more forceful in its views and tries to be far more
persuasive, using much wilder rhetoric. These vary in tone, whilst both vary
heavily in form to Bernard Tschumi’s ‘Advertisements for Architecturei’ –
often not accepted as a manifesto – that take the form of graphic posters
showing quotes and famous buildings. It is this varying form that makes it
difficult to measure manifestos as tools. You cannot quantify ‘usefulness’
unless perhaps in such a case where you could look at publication or sales
figures. Manifestos have differing values to each individual author and reader.
Success of the manifesto may be measured as a form of support or prerequisite
for an architectural movement, as a look into history to document the past and hint
at what is to come. They can be used as a way of profiling architects and their
work and as a way for the architect to gain self-justification for his/her work
and writing. Architects use them as a way of advertising, of reaching a wider
audience, and in some cases, of making money. They are a way of helping people
understand buildings and to communicate the theory behind them.
A manifesto which successfully
manages to be a useful tool within each of these categories is Rem Koolhaas’ ‘Delirious
New York’. In the form of a three-hundred-plus page book, Koolhaas has written a
retroactive manifesto on Manhattan’s architectural endeavours and the complexities
of its ‘Grid’ system. He sets out the symbiotic relationship between the city’s
alien urban philosophy and the distinctive architecture that was built up
around it. Koolhaas narrates it in such a way to the extent that he describes
the architecture itself having given rise to the culture and society it holds
1 Cambridge English Dictionary
2 Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in
Archictecture, Pg 40.
i. Tschumi’s ‘Advertisements for Architecture’