At its roots, the manifesto is a public declaration of intent presented plainly so that it can be easily understood. It’s a fascinating document because it encourages the author to state their convictions (past, present and future) in a solitary statement. Equally important is that the author projects this declaration to the world as a strategy for practice—it is a roadmap, publicly announced. In its advanced forms, the manifesto becomes a call to change, often rallying against common conventions, criticizing earlier movements and, if effective, proposing an alternative trajectory. Throughout history, the infectious manifestos have enrolled advocates, sparked further manifestos and rallied the like-minded into tribe-like cultures. Traditionally, the manifesto addressed political or artistic issues, with architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design and graphic design as subcategories. Today, the manifesto can apply to any subject worthy of an opinion.
This study maps 110 design manifestos from 21 countries written over the last 110 years, and in order to create a manageable collection of data, several guidelines were used in the selection process. These manifestos focus specifically on architecture and are limited to documents available in English. Also, as a bar to entry, and to cope with the transient nature of Internet data, the manifestos represented also exist in physical form. As the design world proceeds further into theoretical pursuits, the manifesto can challenge a wider spectrum of ideas. It can also more easily fall victim to hyperbole, rhetoric or theater for its own sake. Admittedly, this study favors down-to-earth, practical manifestos that often relate directly to the nature of building, occasionally at the expense of excluding the academic or theoretical.
Graphically mapping this data allows for a different (and hopefully insightful) lens through which to view the nature of the architectural manifesto, distinguishing clusters and identifying outliers. There are patterns to recognize, diamonds in the rough to discover and notable world events to correlate.
With any luck, this study illustrates the significant impact the architectural manifesto has had on civilization and the built environment; it teaches us that the principles and conventions we take for granted in our present time were hard-earned victories, the outcome of social struggles fought throughout history by determined architects and designers. These manifestos propose that it is important for us to declare our beliefs in design and pledge them to the community. And they advocate for a continued effort of exploration and diversity, adding to the plurality of ideas and actions.
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