Beatriz Colomina – Manifesto Architecture

Great talk by Beatriz Colomina at the NGV tonight. I was fortunate enough to meet Beatriz in person during dinner the night before with my current theory lecturer AnnMarie, a former phD student of Beatriz, and some other grad students. I always enjoyed history and theory subjects but have been wondering at the back of my head how to apply such theory to practice. And if the whole point of theory is to apply it and influence practice – otherwise wouldn’t it just end up being a whole bunch of archi-babble that only those in the profession can understand, or at least appear to be able to comprehend? This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of projects like Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette as his deconstructive theories do not contribute to the success of the actual built product. When I asked Beatriz if she had any experience in practice she said she didn’t work as an architect after graduating as she was already into research while still a student and was employed full-time as part of the faculty right after graduation. However she has still been highly influential and inspiring in architectural discourse by being a critic, author and historian. It is important for architects and historians to write and communicate their ideas in the most clear and relevant way similar to Beatriz which then opens up discussion for further debate and consideration.

The lecture on Manifesto Architecture was very relevant. Our end of semester assignment for our theory class is to write and produce our own architecture manifesto. Beatriz stressed the importance of the media in how architects disseminate their ideas.

5 key points put forward by Beatriz:

1) Manifesto as media

It does not exist outside other media (newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, poster, radio)

2) Design is part of the architectural manifesto

It is not just the design of the manifesto, the graphics and layout. An architectural project can be an integral part of a manifesto, part of the argument, not an illustration.

3) The manifesto precedes the work

It is a blueprint of the future

4) Every manifesto reworks other manifestos

5) New media = new manifestos

But they may not look like manifestos anymore.

The idea of the avant garde not separate from the media is exemplified by the futurist Manifesto which was conceived 3 months prior to its release on the front page of the Le Figaro – a widely read newspaper in Europe at the time. Countless other examples follow such as Adolf Loos with his polemic writings in newspaper and magazines including the well known Ornament and Crime which was first introduced in a lecture and later published. Corb also first published articles in the journal L’ Espirit nouveau before his books appeared. Apparently only after attracting enough clients through these articles Corb then focused more on practice. Mies as well known more for his craft and tectonics also wrote seven articles fo Gestaltung and also in Merz magazines. Perhaps the most striking is Archigram; who’s manifesto in the form of a little pamphlet conceived in the kitchen of Peter Cook, was the architecture itself. There was no office or such to be found. The term Archigram is a cross between architecture and telegram alluding to the emphasis on architecture as a communication system. The 1960s saw Venturi and his ‘gentle’ manifesto – itself a contradiction. Both Venturi and Koolhaas were relatively unknown, they did not exist until the publication of their manifestos; Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Delirious New York respectively.

SANAA’s intervention: Acrylic curtains reflect and distort views through the pavilion.

What I’m interested in is the type of manifestos of the more recent times. There appears to be no real manifestos lately, hence the discussion at GSAPP last year titled What happened to the architectural manifesto? However Beatriz suggests that such manifestos are not in the conventional form. With new media and technology represented by the internet, blogs, twitter,  which undoubtedly influence the way we live, theorize and basically all aspects of life, will and has indeed affected the architecture manifesto. An example Beatriz gave of a recent manifesto was SANAA’s Mies van der Rohe Pavilion installation: a  clear acrylic curtain in the form of a spiral inserted in the centre of the Barcelona Pavilion. This intervention was essentially a form of ‘soft’ manifesto from SANAA illustrating their inheritance of Miesian transparency.

The question I have is precisely these new forms of manifestos. Though we have more tools and freedom to communicate more than ever our personal manifestos and views on architecture thanks to modern-day media, why has there not been any major ground breaking manifestos in recent times? They are possibly not labelled as such, or there may be too many to notice them all? I think the key still lies with the audience whose reaction towards the manifestos determines its success, much like videos online which go viral over a short period of time. And the form of the manifesto will be more fluid than ever, reflecting the fast pace of change experienced in our everyday life.

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