A manifesto is a vision, but also a fiction. Lucid, concise, and inherently public in tone, the manifesto is by design anchored in a recognisable version of the world we inhabit while, in the same breath, capable of imagining beyond it. In and around the percolative sphere of architecture the act of imagination is, quite literally, easier said than done. For a discipline that demands considered speculation and projection, architecture calls for practitioners and collaborators to be designers, thinkers, historians, and futurologists alike – a challenge that requires far more than drawing, or modelling, or—dare I say—compromise. It more often than not needs to be articulated through words, whether they be written or spoken aloud.
If a speculation cannot be rendered in a vacuum, a manifesto cannot be shaped in thin air. Today, as before, the air is heavy and the rhetoric around our accelerated existences, existential obstacles, and looming threats to our collective stability are apparently all-pervasive. It is, therefore, all too easy to absorb a sense that darkened clouds are metaphorically forming overhead—big, cumulonimbus types—that seem to forecast only turbulence. This may be true and yet, if so, it provides an important opportunity to cruise on the fumes of history, to reflect upon what is happening, and to appraise how these might indicate possible future directions. As such, the manifesto—a paradoxical combination of a handshake and a declaration rolled into one—should be read as an attempt to slice through time, albeit taken with a pinch of salt and a healthy dollop of good faith.
There are precedents to draw upon that emphasise the potential of the ‘manifestonian’ tone. Vitruvius’s 16th Century adage firmitas, utilitas, venustas (firmness, commodity, delight) resonates, for better or for worse, to this day. In conceptualising a “retroactive manifesto” with Delirious New York (1978), Rem Koolhaas married storytelling and speculation to span the durations and histories of a single granite rock on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Both examples, scooped out from a melting pot of many than spans centuries, are characterised by being both defiant and elastic, bridging practical conditions and contexts with the understanding that in order to illuminate an intangible vision of the future one must evaluate, persuade, and take a position.
As the 2019 Copenhagen Architecture Festival and its actors grapple with a timely theme—Skiftende Idealer (Shifting Ideals)—the manifestos presented here represent a reclamation of one of the defining baselines that underpin what it means to be an architect, and what architecture can contribute to communities. They should not be read as monuments, but as capsules; defences of speculative futures, which provide lenses through which we can all consider how to forge new and configure existing avenues for action.
Whether you might subscribe to the ideas penned for these pages or not, each manifesto embodies the idealism, sincerity and self-belief that the format engenders – and that the profession, as an agent in shaping how we perform our lives, needs more now than ever. When something needs to be said—and much, we must agree, needs to be said—it is often more useful when it is put frankly.