At times clear-cut and programmatic, at times poetic, the language of the manifesto is making a comeback: dissensus, loudness, persuasion, and provocation are once again in vogue. What are the current social, cultural and political functions of the manifesto? Where does its impact lie? In order to answer these questions, the Copenhagen Architecture Festival (CAFx) has compiled 45 manifestos from around the world that explore the role of architecture in envisioning and constructing a sustainable future. In this interview, we talked with CAFx Curatorial team about the first iteration of the Manifesto Relay, the overlaps between radical visions and institutional frameworks and the role of the manifesto in inspiring radical change.
KOOZ The 2023 International Manifesto Relay (IMR) is the second iteration of a project that seeks to engage architectural practice and thought in relation to contemporary, pressing issues. How did the 2019 Manifesto Relay in Denmark contribute to the discussion on architecture's societal role?
CAFx The 2019 Manifesto Relay was catalysed by the centenary of the Bauhaus and aimed to revive the radical interdisciplinarity and strong utopian impulse that the school characterised, as well as the avant-garde movements it inspired. Looking back, one might say that the objective of the Danish edition was to summon up the courage and re-engage with utopian thinking. The process of collecting manifestos in 2019 was a sort of dream machine, revealing discursive clusters in the collective imaginaries of a diverse array of creative minds spanning art, technology, literature, and poetics. Each author invited another author, resulting in a cascade of texts.
This project has contributed to strengthening the vital pathways that connect architectural concepts with the political imagination.
While mapping the impact of this project is a challenge, we believe that it has contributed to strengthening the vital pathways that connect architectural concepts with the political imagination. Much has happened since 2019 (war, Covid 19, energy crisis, inflation, the worsening of the ecological crisis, etc.) and the urgency of reflecting on the role of architecture and the values underpinning it have continued to grow.
KOOZ What inspired the curatorial team to broaden the conversation to an international scale?
CAFx The “manifesto relay” format underwent an internationalisation in response to the forthcoming convening of the UIA in Copenhagen this year. The UIA presented an opportunity to test the concept on a broader scale, incorporating a more diverse range of cultural traditions and geographical zones. The ethos is to provide a platform for voices that are typically marginalised or overlooked in contexts like the UIA Congress. By featuring grassroots organisations and locally based practitioners, we aimed to introduce new perspectives and foster a more inclusive dialogue.
The UIA presented an opportunity to test the concept on a broader scale, incorporating a more diverse range of cultural traditions and geographical zones.
Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature, book by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 1912.
KOOZ “The language of the manifesto is making a comeback as a means of stirring up utopian impulses and desires for historical ruptures." How can the polyphonic voice of 45 different manifestos challenge the status quo and provoke change in the built environment? Is it something to do with words, drawings, imagination, ambition, technology, techniques?
CAFx Due to the abundance of manifestos produced by influential cultural institutions and commercial actors, it's easy to dismiss the genre as a vehicle of empty promises strategically injected into the public realm. However, the manifesto's ability to provoke intense emotions and polarise audiences makes it a valuable tool for capturing awareness in a highly competitive attention economy.The prevalence of the manifesto as a genre could mean that the frustration is seeping into the mental ecologies of the institutions upholding the status quo and that the inadequacy of current solutions in addressing the complexity of our societal problems is slowly being recognized. If we stick to this idea, we can interpret the resurgence of manifestos as a part of a larger change driven by the newer generations. The author David Foster Wallace has referred to this as the "new sincerity". Certain critics attribute the shift to the political aftermath of 9/11, while others associate it with the 2008 global financial crisis. Yet, despite different historiographical models, there is undoubtedly a new political commitment in the artistic production of those generations born after the mid-1980s. This is also the case within the realm of architecture.
The manifesto's ability to provoke intense emotions and polarise audiences makes it a valuable tool for capturing awareness in a highly competitive attention economy.
The manifesto came into being as a means of publicly expressing opposition to the discourse of liberal politics, which claimed to champion universal rights but frequently failed to deliver on its promises. In other words, the manifesto emerged as a rhetoric of broken promises and a medium for contesting the underlying assumptions and partial implementations of universal political subjecthood. This is what Janet Lyon, a historian of the manifesto genre, has proposed about the origin of the manifesto. We could postulate something similar about our contemporary context.
We are transitioning from a politics of implementation to a politics of struggle, establishing viable conditions for the manifesto to thrive.
While the 1970s and 1980s cemented universal human rights as the prevalent language for addressing global injustice and inequality, historians like Samuel Moyn have identified a recent reaction to the limitations of the discourse of human rights in addressing structural inequalities and injustices and to the ways in which human rights language has been co-opted by powerful actors to maintain the status quo. We are, in other words, as a result of the failure of liberal politics, transitioning from a politics of implementation to a politics of struggle, establishing viable conditions for the manifesto to thrive.
Whether the manifesto is still an effective technique to address the unfulfilled promises is a question that our exhibition Architecture and the Art of Agitation aims to explore. Through a series of reading club events, we will investigate some of the most influential manifestos in the history of architecture in the 20th and 21st century, seeking to identify the unique historical circumstances that contributed to their influence, ranging from Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture (1923) to Patrik Schumacher’s Parametricist Manifesto (2008).
KOOZ Manifestos are intrinsically loud, disruptive and provocative. The 45 manifestos of the 2023 IMR address six Research Panels of the UIA 2023 CPH, which are based on the relation between architecture and 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can visionary designers negotiate between urgent "techniques of agitation" and the global, often-immutable institutional frameworks currently in place?
CAFx In the present cultural landscape, there appears to be a fluid exchange of individuals, ideas, and modes of expression between grassroots movements and established institutions. It can actually be quite hard to identify a clear-cut dichotomy between the two. Thus, techniques of agitation which were traditionally used from the bottom-up are often employed within "global, immutable institutional frameworks". These frameworks also tend to endorse and support visionary designers and architects.
Techniques of agitation traditionally used from the bottom-up are often employed within "global, immutable institutional frameworks".
It would indeed, in numerous ways, be easier to know where to direct demands and criticism if the antagonisms were clearer, especially considering the current cultural landscape in fields such as architecture and urbanism, where everyone tries to conform to a certain consensus, albeit often only at a rhetorical level. Agitation, regeneration, change and crisis are some of the attractors of this current consensus.
KOOZ The 45 manifestos were developed in nineteen countries and four different continents. Which one of them better captured the spirit of the IMR project? Where do you see more potential and why?
CAFx Two of our favourite manifestos are “To build or not to build - Manifesto for a happy and creative frugality” and “Towards an Indigenous Guardianship of Resources”. Their geneses are worth mentioning as they illustrate different dimensions of this project’s potential.
The first was published in 2018 with the birth of the Frugality Movement in France, which promotes the anti-modernist value of frugality as inspiring creativity, as a form of ecology and as a means to respect the places and communities where architecture is to emerge. The manifesto has been circulating successfully around the world as the movement grows on an international scale: we love that the IMR can further enhance this process of dissemination, increasing its outreach—we are truly participating in a relay that now will continue throughout Denmark!
In the case of “Towards an Indigenous Guardianship of Resources”, the IMR functioned as a call to action, inspiring a team of architects, activists and researchers from the University of Malaysia Kelantan to collaborate with art/spatial agency No-To-Scale*. The result of that is a manifesto that brings forward a concrete vision for the role of the architect as an agent that coexists with and learns from indigenous communities, respecting their knowledge and their practices, and facilitating dialogue with authorities in the pursuit of environmental justice. It was exciting to see how the IMR triggered the collection of these ideas in a single, original, visually striking manifesto, which we are proud to relay further.
The relationship between words and buildings is a complex and unpredictable one that has sparked extensive debate and disagreement.
KOOZ Manifestos should be starting points to inspire and mobilise the architectural field in multiple directions. How do you see the 45 IMR Manifestos working as catalyzers and leaving a trace? How can they materialise or further impact the built environment? What do you envision to come after and because of them?
CAFx The relationship between words and buildings is a complex and unpredictable one that has sparked extensive debate and disagreement. Consequently, making definitive statements about the tangible effects of these manifestos is exceedingly difficult. Depending on their context, manifestos can serve as tools for truth-telling and catalysing change, or as devices of deception, ultimately contributing to the maintenance of the status quo. The key factors that determine their impact include how they relate to media of storage and dissemination, techniques of display and production, as well as habits of interpretation and communication.
Manifestos can serve as tools for truth-telling and catalysing change, or as devices of deception.
Keeping these factors in mind, we have deliberately taken steps to incorporate the manifesto into various platforms, including an exhibition, a reading club, a series of debates at the UIA and a digital publication on our website. Through these initiatives, we expect that the manifestos can encourage the development of socially and environmentally conscious architectural ideas and spark conversations about the relevance of textual media in today's culture of architecture.
CAFx Curatorial Team is a working group in charge of curating exhibitions within Copenhagen Architecture Festival's program, bringing together knowledge from architectural history, cultural theory and exhibition making.