Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture. Ed. by Ch. Jenks and K. Kropf. Academy Edition. 1997. P.312

 

Charles Jencks

The Volcano and the Tablet

 

Why do politicians and architects write manifestoes? When Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto he was not trying to produce a piece of literature - nor interpret the world, as he said, but change it. Our century, as Ulrich Conrads has shown in his book Programmes and Manifestoes on Twentieth-Century Architecнture (1964) has turned the architectural manifesto into a predictable event. Unнable or unwilling to advertise, an architect must become well known in other media besides buildings. Other professionals use the manifesto for the same reaнson and the surprising thing is that, although politicians, theologians and artists all write them - constantly - they do not give the genre much thought. It is a curious art form, like the haiku, with its own rules of brevity, wit and le mot juste.

The first architectural manifesto, or rules for decorum, was God's Ten Commandments. Plato called God 'the architect of all things', and architects play God when they make arbitrary decisions and adopt one theory rather than another. In the Bible the ultimate creator had several distinct personalities which He used effectively, in opposition to each other: abstract creator, warrior-Lord, law-giver and personal friend. As Jack Miles shows in his psycho-history, God, A Biography (1995), the warrior type, the Lord, inspires fear and awe, like a cosmic force, a hurricane or flood. He does this as a prelude, just before he shows compassion and tells people what kind of buildings they should construct. The good manifesto mixes a bit of terror, runaway emotion and charisma with a lot of common sense.

In Exodus, when Moses is leading the Israelites out of Egypt, He is full of genocidal declarations which are meant to frighten followers into monotheism. 'I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven', He predicts, and also announces a scorched earth policy against the unfortunate Canaanites, who worship other gods. As Nietzsche and then Le Corbusier quoting Nietzsche were later to proclaim in their manifestoes: 'burn what you love, love what you burn'. The genre demands blood - although you will find that Robert Venturi writes 'a gentle manifesto'.

The motives for destruction - to inspire fear in order to create unity and orthoнdoxy - are fairly transparent and they lead to the first declaration of architectural Minimalism in the famous Decalogue of Commandments. Moses, braving much cosmic terror of lightening and thunder, takes his tablets up Mount Sinai, on which

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are inscribed the rules against representation. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in earth beneath . . . ' Why this injunction against icons and images? Because Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God . . . 7 Just to prove the point He destroys the architecture and cities of those who fall into idolatry, even those of the Israelites.

Enforcing purity and orthodoxy, we will see, is still a tactic of Modernists, Late Modernists and Prince Charles, with his Decalogue of Ten Principles. These were delivered, as a religious leader might do, in a manifesto called A Vision of Britain. Those who write manifestoes are jealous prophets who call the class to order by damning other teachers. If God first appears to Moses in fire and thunder as He lays down the great moral code of 'thou shalt and shalt not', then his final presence in architecture is equally threatening. Moses gives the laws a monumenнtal setting and puts the tablets in 'the ark of the covenant'. Then, 'When Moses had finished his work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle . . . Over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journey'.

The image of God is arresting. What is a cloud by day and fire by night? A volcano. It is this irresistible display of violence and strength which makes the manifesto memorable and psychologically impressive. There is one more important aspect to the genre: the personal element. 'The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend', and there are many other passages which personнalise the message, to both Moses and the chosen people. The most effective maniнfestoes, such as Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture (1923) constantly address the reader as 'you' and reiterates the joint 'we' until an implied pact is built up betнween author and convert. A manifesto must manifest its message to you, personally.

The volcano (the explosion of emotion), the tablet (the laws and theories) and the personal voice; to these three tropes and strategies have been added a few more. AWN Pugin, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, gave architecture the good/bad comparative drawings in his Contrasts and, ever since the lecture with two slide projectors caught on in the 1920s, it has been the stock-in-trade of polemicists. All four strategies are evident in Coop Himmelblau's Architecture Must Blaze, a New Modern manifesto of 1980. Here we find The Bad - Biedermeier -versus The Good - an architecture that 'lights up' - and the two are distinguished in the first person plural ('We are tired of seeing Palladio and other historical

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masks')- Here is the Tablet of Virtues - architecture that is 'fiery, smooth, hard, angular' etc. And the volcanic violence - 'architecture must blaze' and 'bleed, whirl, even break'.

Violence and the irrational are hallmarks of the New Modern manifesto, as one can see with the writings of Tschumi, Kipnis, Wigley, Woods and others. Often critical of Modernist humanism as too anthropomorphic, it proffers a type of anti-humanism. This was Peter Eisenman's reading of Foucault and the new paradigm coming out of France, and in 1976 he ushered in the break from Late Modernism. His article 'Post-Functionalism' was also opposed to the incipient Post-Modernism. So, again, polemical positions have to be jealously asserted in opposition to each other, in order to keep the tribe pure, and it is no accident that Eisenman - the master theorist and polemicist - inscribed his tablets in the pages of his magazine, called significantly, Oppositions.

Eisenman is the Le Corbusier of the late twentieth century, at least with respect to formulating new theories. Theory is a kind of congealed manifesto, its violence subtracted to become acceptable in the groves of academe. Since there are more academic architects alive than ever before, there is more theory produced, much of it written in a turgid and impenetrable style. Still, as Le Corbusier and Eisenman prove, theory is an engine of architecture and, like the concetto in the sixteenth century, the machine which invents new types of building, new responses to the city. Ours is an age of theories responding to a changing world, to the global economy, ecological crises and cultural confusions. In effect, these are a second type of volcano and they disrupt normal architecture and provoke the response of Rem Koolhaas, Ian McHarg and Christian Norberg-Schulz, to mention only three of the theorists reprinted here. Eisenman, with his 'Cardboard Architecture' of 1972, and his work, also shows that theory can keep architecture honest as well as inventive. This is no small matter in a period which has seen most architects sucнcumb to the comfort industry.

The fact that Eisenman should write a Late Modern manifesto in 1972, defending the autonomy of form, and then four years later jump to a New Modernism that 'displaces man away from the centre of his world' brings out a surprising aspect of contemporary architecture. At least it surprised me, after Karl Kropf and I forced the contributors into the four main pigeonholes you will find. The classification system we used reveals that a few architects jump between traditions. For instance, sometime after 1980, Leon Krier slid from Post-Modern to Traditional; Kenneth Frampton, usually attacking Post-Modernism, produced his highly influential essay supporting it - 'Critical Regionalism' - in 1983, before jumping back to

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Late Modernism, with his writings on tectonics in 1989. From the seventies to (he eighties, Robert Stern moved from Post-Modernism to Traditional, Christopher Alexander from Late to Post-Modernism, and so it goes. There are interesting reasons for these jumps which may tell us something important about the period.

First of all, the protean creator, like Michelangelo, may go through four periods simply because he is so creative - in his case from Early to High Renaissance and then from Mannerism to Baroque. Eisenman is an example of this restless self-transformation. Secondly, the maverick, like Philip Johnson, may jump back and forth because, as Johnson says, he and his audience get bored. Third, and most important, a change may signify a shift in culture and the development of an architect. It often represents a response to new pressures, explosive non-architecнtural growths: in short, the second type of volcano.

The fact that most architects stay loyal to one approach is quite obvious and it allows traditions to grow in opposition to each other - dialectically - and thus produce a varied environment, a maximum choice for society. Yet there are a few architects who not only cut across categories in time but do not fit happily into any tradition. With these, the more unclassifiable ones, there is always the tempнtation, as with those such as Frank Gehry and Eric Moss, to invent sui generis labels. Here the strategy would become unwieldy and lead to confusion. Hence we have limited ourselves to four major approaches, classified by the most prevaнlent definer, and placed the fifth, the ecologists, within the expansive Post-Modнern tradition. Why? Because their attacks on overdevelopment, the mechanistic paradigm and economism are all critical of Late Modernism.

 

Capsule Definitions

It is always reductive to define growing, complex movements, always foolhardy because it can never be done satisfactorily, and always necessary - in order to clarify the issues at stake. Thus the following four:

Traditional architecture, whose greatest exponents here are Leon Krier, Demetri Porphyrios and Prince Charles. This movement backwards quite obviously builds on past models, often classical, which are modified piecemeal with an attention to context and the elaboration of construction and the vernacular. The ideals of tradiнtional architecture are a classical proportion that reflects an ordered cosmos, harнmony, a seamless integration of past and present and the use of timeless, Platonic forms. Traditional architecture, although it never completely died, reasserted itнself in the mid-seventies as it, like Post-Modernism, reacted to urban dissolution and the housing failures of Modernism.

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Late Modern architecture is pragmatic or technocratic in its social ideology and, from about 1960, takes many of the stylistic ideas and values of Modernism to an extreme in order to resuscitate a dull (or cliched) language. A pronounced emphasis on technology and the autonomy of form, the exaggeration of a previнous rhetoric, characterises the architecture, as often happens in 'Late' periods. Late Modern architecture, also facing the popular rejection of the 'dumb box', developed after 1965 in a sculptural direction - the articulated box - and towards an elaboration of structure, services and joints: High Tech.

New Modern architecture is deconstructive of Modern forms and ideas, herнmetic in coding, often fragmented and dissonant in form, self-contradictory by inнtention, anti-humanist and, spatially, explosive. Often the intention is to weave opposites together and deconstruct traditions from the inside, in order to highнlight difference, otherness and our alienation from the cosmos. Beginning in the late 1970s as a reaction to both Modernism and Post-Modernism, it has been inнfluenced by the philosophy of Derrida and the formal language of the Constructi vists - hence its most visible manifestation, Deconstructivism.

Post-Modern architecture is doubly-coded - the combination of modern techнniques and methods with something else (often traditional building) in order for architecture to communicate with both the public and a concerned minority, usuнally other architects. Since post-modernists wish to restitch the fragmenting city, without being traditional, and communicate across the classes and professional divides, they adopt a hybrid language - even foreground architecture as a lanнguage itself. Post-Modern ecologists also adopt a double-agenda which criticises Modernism and Traditionalism while, at the same time, selecting elements from both of them. Post-Modernism as a rainbow coalition of those who resist or critiнcise Modernism started in the 1960s; as a movement it only came together in the mid-1970s with my article, reprinted herein.

 

Manifesto Logic

Those definitions, however, are academic, theoretical, bloodless - not something to leave home for (the ultimate aim of a good manifesto). They are necessary for cool ratiocination and comparison, which is why they are included, but I defy you to repeat them verbatim, without looking. Manifestoes, however, are jack-hammered into the mind, like a painful experience (and only recently have neurologists found the painful mechanisms that cement old horrors into our brains). They are repetiнtive, incantatory, responding to the imperatives of history, hoping to ward off catasнtrophe with magic or logic. They are like first grade recitation, responses in church:

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Post-Modern is paradox - After Now, Post-Present

Post-Modern is 'posteriority', after all time

Post-Modern is the desire to live outside, beyond, after

Post-Modern is time-binding of past, present, future

Post-Modern is the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence. If they scanned and rhymed, such verses could be set to music and be more memoнrable. At best, the propositions of a manifesto verge on self-parody and are funnier when serious.

Post-Modernism is crossing boundaries, crossing species

Post-Modernism is operating in the gap between art and life

Post-Modernism is Cambozola Cheese (illicit hybrid with the best genes of Mrs Camembert and Mr Gorgonzola)

Post-Modernism is the rabbi's advice to his son: 'Whenever faced with two extremes, always pick a third'.

Post-Modernism revisits the past - with quotation marks

Post-Modernism revisits the future - with irony

Post-Modernism is acknowledging the already said, as Eco has already said, in an age of lost innocence.

 

Manifestoes use any rhetorical tools available-rhymes, bad jokes, puns, outraнgeous untruths (think of Baudrillard) - and they always mint new metaphors, in an attempt to persuade. When the Cathedrals were White, Le Corbusier's poнlemical book of the 1930s, was meant to instil the new white spirit into the 'land of the timid', that is, Americans, New Yorkers - but a moment's cogitation would have revealed that the cathedrals were never white. Like the Parthenon, and Greek temples which always looked white to the purist's wishful gaze, they were, originally, painted (which does not sound right to the Minimalists and the jealous God).

Manifestoes are poetry written by someone on the run (like Trotsky's polemic after the Revolution written while fighting the Whites, jumping on and off his militarised train). They have an hysterical, telegraphic quality (or today an Internet truncation) as if the sender did not want to pay for extra syllables. Architects, such as Aldo van Eyck, are adept at these gnomic utterances, wordtruncks that collapse space-time into neologisms such as 'builtform'. These are directed at other architects, to hypnotise them. The general public would stop reading - but that does not deter the polemicist, who is looking to tantalise a sect. To read a polemic, you already have to want the expected outcome since the manifesto is made more to keep an audience united than to convert the heathen.

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As you read the following manifestoes and theories, note this logic and the way ideas unfold in time, as if there were a Zeitgeist at work. The section on Post-Modernism reveals an impending sense of crisis within Modernism, or within the environment due to Modernism, and each of the following traditions also shows a similar mood. Crisis, or the feeling of imminent catastrophe, is one more reason why the 'volcano' is as deep a metaphor as the 'tablet' - pure theory - for without the motive to change the world the manifesto would not be written. In our time, we might reflect with irony, as opposed to the Christian or Modernist time, that a collection of manifestoes and theories must show difference: ie, show the pluralнism and dialectic between manifestoes which each one denies. This is why a puriнfied, Modernist collection, such as that of Ulrich Conrads, mentioned at the outset, is no longer possible.

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