A Conversation between Wael Al Awar, Annie Pedret, and Christian Schweitzer
Annie Pedret: I just spent time looking at manifestos and making a list of all the things that the “10 Questions” are not. It was just by reading what other people are saying a manifesto is, and I am thinking this is not us. It is not critical; it is not revolutionary; it is not pointing to a direction; it is not political; it is not a pronouncement or a proclamation; it is not a radical idea; there are no answers; there is no complaint; it is not a list of tenets; it is not a movement or a set or core believes or statement of aims; it is not even common anymore, in fact manifestos in the last ten years have almost disappeared compared to other periods; it is not lucid thinking; it is not an opinion that is coherently stated; it is not principles that motivate work or polemical notion; it is not against something; it is not a list of demands or declarations; it doesn’t antagonize a group, that is us against them; it is not a prelude to problems. And here are the two important things: it is not a rejection of anything; and it is not a demand, and manifestos have these two qualities. It is not a meaningful concept; it is not a vehicle for criticism; it is not an assertive concept; it is not an idea. It is not a vehicle that controls reception; and it is not a declaration of an intention.
And then I started to look at some more current architectural manifestos to see what they were for and against. And that was kind of interesting because it is really different from the things we get back from our “10 Questions”. If a manifesto is a ‘for’ and ‘against’, some of the things that they are against are: against a discipline that makes absurd claims; against offering a concrete alternative; against an ideological impasse, like in the architecture of Le Corbusier and Mies; against even writing manifestos at all, or critical thinking; and against racism. And what they are for, the Design Museum calls them “the manifesto of the new generation”: for social responsibility; telling stories; and having a narrative about architecture rather than having a concrete alternative; for or in favor of evoking imaginative responses; for subversive stories about architecture in the city; for what architecture could or should be. They are for inclusivity; identity, race; readdressing inequalities; decarbonizing; ecological regeneration; cultural transformation; hybrid identity; social, performative, and physical playfulness as part of architecture; for multifaceted things; cross-collaborative; caring; political; inclusive; imaginative; future scenarios; expressions of personal ideology, scale, and working methods.
The fundamental is: there is a prelude, and then they are saying ‘we are really against certain things’, and this is what we are proposing. That is the basic juristic of a manifesto. And there are no “manifestos” right now; there is a kind of a lack of questioning what the discipline is, or could be. I love this one line as it is consistent with what we came up with: “what the discipline could or should be”. And that is true to its history, it is what CIAM did too; they said: We are about being of our time”.
Wael Al Awar: What initially drew me to this group was actually the very first question: is a manifesto relevant to our times; is a manifesto relevant today in the 21st century; and if it was, what would it be, how it would be, what is the form of it. In the beginning we were very aware, we wanted a democratic, a different way to the 20st century. Today we are on this stepping point between the 20th and the 21st century, I am a practicing architect, you tell me what is a 20th century architect, there are a hundred of images in my mind of who these architects are and what architecture they produced. But today I question my role, I question my responsibility, and I start questioning ‘who is this new architect’, how should we be, what should we be doing. And it’s just also a result of a lot of problems that have been created due to the 20th century approach: not only the climate crisis, but also the social injustice and inequality of architecture. And I remember when we said ‘it is about questions’, we didn’t come here to make proclamations or bold statements, we came here in search of a truth, or in search of a path. And I feel very critical of calling this a manifesto or the manifesto group. From the beginning I was very vocal about this. And I am still pro ‘conversation’; this is about conversations, this is about dialog, this is about bringing people together. In Star Wars there is the Mos Eisley Cantina, where aliens from all over come together to have drinks and conversations and Hashim actually in the beginning said: “I am going to bring the Mos Eisley Cantina to Venice”, which was what he wanted to do. And today [in this meeting] this is the Mos Eisley Cantina, where aliens from all over the world come together, the time differences between us, the cultural differences. The 20th century architect, I practiced under a lot of them, we know we don’t want to be that. This [20th century architect] is a kind of act we are rebelling against; this image of who the architect is. And Hashim by himself is excellent for us, because Hashim is also not that image that we don’t want to be; he comes from a completely different school. It is really important to always look back and really realize, know, and acknowledge what we are not, much more than what we want to be. And to continue these conversations and these dialogs, maybe one year later we will have these bold statements but today I don’t think we should start with these, because I don’t think there is an attempt in history to bring such a diverse group together to write something common. And we know we don’t want to say ‘hallo’ only, and in order to not just say ‘halo’ there should be so much in depth conversations, so much understanding, and so much synergy to reach a point where we can say: we are ready now to put out a list of critical declarations.
Annie Pedret: You just already started with the first step of a manifesto, which is: what are you against.
Wael Al Awar: Why do we have [in the end] one design [as in ‘one manifesto’]? It might be ‘yes’ it might be ‘not’ but I would ask myself that question. We have a brief and we are discussing something, and each one of us reads data differently. I love how Ryul and Christian organized it, how Filipe organized it very differently, Maurizio last time organized it differently, Oriselle differently. But now we are trying to force one kind of artwork that is a result of this conversation and these works. It might be good but again: do we want to take that approach or do we want to explore different avenues? Maybe we call one architect, one artist, and one whatever [Annie: philosopher] to come and join us, and we say: listen, this is what we are doing, you come and each one of you represent or react to this and give us something as an outcome. That I think is more relevant today. Again my concern is that the people, that are us, that are asking these questions and trying to organize these questions are again enforcing a design onto the whole system. Maybe that’s what we want to do differently. It is maybe about collaborations and conversations. It might be great to have a syntax model, yes, but it would be great to have a different model too: Not only limit ourselves to one visual outcome. And we might have a book too; some people might want to read data that way. Maybe this is far-fetched having 20 projects instead of one, but we are not working towards May, we are working maybe towards the end of this year or maybe next year, and we could continue this and it grows organically, and more people start coming in. The diversity of the phases is very important in this conversation, not only in culture and nationality, but also in background and understanding and reading data.
Annie Pedret: I think that is really an interesting idea in that there is a statement in just that: in how we all read the data differently and represent it differently, and how they all give us a different aspect of the reality of which we are all part of, but none of them is complete onto itself, but each shows a different facet of what that data is. And even just the different methods of cutting pieces of paper and gluing them together to the digital, having both options, the extreme ends of materiality and immateriality: what to do with this data, with these questions, if we are not going to propose an ‘answer’.
Christian Schweitzer: What you both are saying entails a clear path forward, and a very promising one. For example reading the “glued manifesto” collaged out of the “10 Questions” everything that “the new generation” stands for is addressed; except maybe future scenarios, but even this is insinuated in the sub-text. So there definitely is something true to our time in these questions. And with an individual transformation of the “10 Questions” we go deliberately against what the 20th century manifesto was. I still like the idea of calling it a “manifesto”, even if it’s in the end many manifestations, as it consciously subverts what a manifesto is or is perceived to be; as I like to do things that are deliberately not architecture and call it ‘architecture’ in order to transform what architecture is or is perceived to be. The manifesto group in itself is a merging of two ideas: ‘proposing a manifesto’ by the Dominican Republic and ‘proposing written manifestations’ by Korea, Lebanon, and Great Britain. Too bad Hala Warde never joined; I would have loved her to be in this group. I feel we just hit the nail on the head of how a ‘manifesto’ has to ‘manifest’ in this time of paradigm shift. As Wael pointed out from the start we were more interested in ‘questioning’ in order to create a ‘different’ path towards knowledge or representation. And we should follow the path that for the first time was just clearly phrased, bringing all what we felt the entire time into actionable words: Extending the collection of the questions, transforming them individually, asking others to transform them, piling multiple expressions of the same relevant base; making the questions searchable, visible, arranged and re-arranged, tangible, feel-able, subjectively understandable, respond-able to, in a multitude of ways. Not the specific results are the manifesto but the confrontation with the process is the manifesto. Which again isn’t a manifesto, but I would call it that way so that in some time from now someone other than Annie will look into what manifestos ‘are’ and the term ‘a process’ is among them.
Partial transcript of the CC Manifesto Group meeting on February 11, 2021