A Cynical Manifesto: Tschumi’s Advertisements for Architecture Revisited
The world is massive and minuscule simultaneously. We are as close to Northern Africa as we are to Italy, but the former is far more foreign. So many places are not on our radar, yet the same image constantly reoccurs of the cutting- edge technical skin or radical new form. The social agenda of the modern movement died an embarrassing death. While many academic journals and the minority of practices operate on the fringe, theorizing or building in the truly problematic environs, the majority of architecture is status quo, developer driven, or simply a one liner in the form of the glossy image. Academia continues to skirt the edges of the war-torn territory of the ethical and problematic, but the bulk of student projects are formal and material exploits on pristine sites under the best circumstances. Real quandaries persist, but the valorization of the new or the perpetuation of a star’s work seems more valued and rewarded. Fashion and fad often determine interest while we often complain of the coming foreclosures that could spell the bankruptcy of the profession. We live in an age where we can do anything but instead squander millions on spectacles that with all things considered, are meaningless.
Bernard Tschumi’s “Advertisements for Architecture” from 1975 sought to express latent desires as propaganda about our true values related to architecture. Be it passion or program, they were done in a time where form, meaning and the role of architecture in our lives was being questioned. Through a more current lens, what if we asked similar questions, but this time as they relate to the notion of an ethical responsibility for architecture to respond to obstacles and dilemmas? An objective examination of our practices may awaken concern, or horrify us as many of our exploits may be insignificant as related to real pressing issues in the built environment.
As a provocation, what if these were revisited in both satirical and ironic fashion as a candid statement of a reality whether we choose to accept it or not? Advertisements exist to sell by creating a potential reality; they are how the masses view entities. So how are we perceived? If we were to advertise our true values, motives and inclinations as we are seen by the culture we serve, would we simply tell them what they want to hear? As designers we are caught between our own megalomaniacal intent and the need to be wanted. We walk a dangerous line of knowing better, but better to not reveal this fact, as it would make things infinitely harder for us to continue on as we have done for countless years. The critic in all of us must exact a severe and discerning investigation into our reason for existing, and thus contribute to the stage set that is our world. Is it all an act, or can our works overcome the signal to noise ratio and communicate, contribute and foster an ethical way of operating while still maintaining the validity of our profession?
These are daunting tasks indeed, but they should start with a cynical self- appraisal. This project is the propaganda campaign for the architects none of us want to be, and the buildings and situations we hate but use or abuse daily to our advantage. We have crafted beautiful submarines, but how long will they stay afloat? Maybe by poking fun at ourselves we can find that we are either taking ourselves too seriously, or not looking seriously enough at our role as a profession and the values we instill in young designers.