RETURN OF THE MANIFESTO
(above) Front cover. More contributors are listed on the back cover.
First, a little story. In 1994, when I attended an architecture conference in Havana organized by the Museum of Applied Art (MAK) in Vienna, the director of the museum, Peter Noever, had asked the participants to write their personal manifestos of architecture in order to shake up the discussions a bit. I was the only one who did. The others, including Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Carme Pinos, and Wolf Prix, ignored the request. It was only when Peter insisted, that several of us got together to hammer out something over some Mojitos. It was quickly obvious that there was little enthusiasm for manifestos, even under the influence, and when Wolf started reciting the lyrics to Dylan’s “Desolation Row”—“…they’re selling postcards to the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown; the beauty parlor’s filled with sailors, the circus is in town….” we knew the project was hopeless.
The assembled company at this conference, set in a fabled country that had run out of patience with ideological rhetoric, knew that the manifesto as a genre was dead. No one wanted manifestos. Nobody believed in them. So, what was their point? That was twenty-five years ago.
After a long period of often frivolous form making and unprincipled egoism in architecture, which have played into the hands of the most venal interests of real-estate developers and marketers, some architects are looking for more substantial ideas to serve, more meaningful goals to strive for, and the manifesto has come back. It is probably a temporary aberration, owing to an unsustainable idealism that lurks within statements of principle, but even their brief resurgence can help to regenerate—at least for a while—our beloved, beleaguered field.
Of half a dozen new manifesto compendia, the one that seems to have attracted the most critical attention is one titled “Urban Future Manifestos,” collected and edited by—guess who?—Peter Noever, in collaboration with Kimberli Meyer. Persistence, it seems, sometimes pays off.