I am surprised by both the announcement and the manifesto, Not because of its arrogant point of view but because it came so late. It has clearly taken some time for those architects to find out that we live in a democratic society and that a democratic society endangers the survival of any and all authority based professions and institutions. Have those architects been sleeping when physicians had to share decision making with their patients and their research with other scientists and the pharmaceutical industry? Were these architects blind for the fact that engineers and accountants had to share their authority with simple computers? Did these architects ignored what happened to their industrial design colleagues, who had to choose between serving the needs as perceived by the population and the industry or, as many did take refuge in a new art form of “one of a kind products” for a ever so greedy elite? Even royalty, unless firmly supported by oil rich sands has to charm the public in order to preserve its rather symbolic position and diminishing authority. Has it really taken them eight years into the new millennium to find out that their latest tactics of creating architectural idols did not work? Do they really ignore that they are as effective as all previous tentatives to hold on to a self proclaimed authority? It is hard to believe that after failing for almost a century in every attempt to avoid the inevitable democratisation of their trade, they still feel a need to cry out for “Architecture for architecture’s sake. The so called Manifesto sound more like the first roar of a bear after hibernation than a self-proclaimed “optimistic” outcry for more freedom. As recently came up in the discussion around accepting architectural projects from China, architects have a long history of sympathy for authority and even for dictatorships. I am not only referring to Albert Speer, Marcello Piacentini or Giuseppe Terragni, but also to Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and many others who used their close relationship with authority to promote their personal vision and ignore public input or interference. Some of us, who were amused by the stubborn efforts to keep architects that reached out to the population like Lucien Kroll, out of the magazines, and surprised by the vigorous attempts to invent new artificial post- and neo- styles, knew that it was a lost battle for a dominant position and forcing upon us a man-made environment that was not the result of a search for the common good but a patchwork of ego centered self glorification. Architects should, and some have, understand that the space they occupy with their works is an environment that belongs not to them individually, not to their profession in general, not even to the promoters they so willingly serve, but to all those who inhabit the space over long or shorter periods of time. To take the wishes of those users into account is not an attempt to destroy their creativity, it is not an attempt to restrain their individual goals and ambitions it is just the assertion of a basic right which is that we are all stakeholders in the man-made spaces we use and inhabit. I have to agree that some authority based professions are still alive. Car mechanics are still up there. Ever so complicated combinations of mechanics and electronics are an excellent breeding ground for cryptical descriptions for real or non existing problems. Unfortunately, architects have abandoned any interest for the technical aspect of their trade long time ago and have lost that area of expertise and authority in the process. I wish them well in proclaiming that they will feel free to use any material, regardless of its origins and environmental impact. They should have added toxicity just to make sure we understand that they do not give a damn, as long as they can do whatever pleases them, but most of us I think have understood the message. I suspect we have always known that there would be a certain nostalgia for past authority. It is unfortunate, but we have not found any other way in a democratic society than to legislate whatever is not done by our own sense of responsibility. I have to agree that it is not an elegant way of doing things. It is far better to be able to develop ones creativity within certain self-imposed limits, not unlike accepting gravity, the twenty four hours cycle of day and night, the year long cycle of four seasons and all these other limitations that in most cases ignite and stimulate creativity. It would be far better to build on professional responsibility than on legislation, but if the authors of this manifesto and the ones that sympathize with it prefer legislation, we as a democratic society will have to understand that talent and or education is not a pre-condition for having the right to participate in important decision making.
In response to ManTowNHuman: Toward a New Humanism in Architecture., posted by Kate Andrews,
in the thread ManTowNHuman: Toward a New Humanism in Architecture.
Posted July 13, 2008
By Koen De Winter
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