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Comment on Retroactive Manifestos

HelloAlexCL Thu, Oct 8, 2009
First of all, this is really great stuff, Rene. After taking two courses in architecture I was thoroughly fed up with the presumptuousness of the architectural manifesto and the "starchitect." Koolhaas was excluded from this fed-upness, in part. The whole idea of the retroactive manifesto really puts the starchitect in his place, although, as you observed, he is somewhat elevated by it. Lets leave this paradox aside, though. Here, the starchitect is no architect. He is emptied of authorship. The illusory starchitect stands as a placeholder for an impossible authorship. There is no identifiable author, and surely not an individual author. The author is the process itself, which is to say there is not author. Manuel De Landa, a big fan of (dynamical) processes, describes the birth of the skyscraper as part of a process:

New York and Chicago in particular experienced an intense electrification and metallization, which resulted in the birth of the skyscraper, an original urban form unique to the United States…The iron frame, which allowed masonry walls to be replaced with glass, had been pioneered in European cities such as London and Paris. But it was in America that this metallic endoskeleton evolved into the skyscraper. Electric motors in turn allowed elevators to transport people vertically through these huge towers. Chicago pioneered the use of steel and electricity in the construction industry, catalyzed by the great fire of 1871, which destroyed the city’s commercial center and literally cleared the way for innovative building techniques to be applied. By the 1890s, Chicago was the world capital of the skyscraper, with New York a close second. (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History 91)


To think a fire had a bigger part in creating the vertical city than Le Corbusier’s grand ideas… The skyscraper is a "delirious" synergy between the steel endoskeleton, which provided structural stability, and the electric motor, which allowed the vertical rapid transport of people and material information throughout the structure.

The architectonic form is topologically derived within the world of materials and energy, where it is constrained and channelled through concepts, which are ultimately nondeterministic. The retroactive manifesto thus superposes conscious intention over natural process. Most importantly, it is only readable after-the-fact. What is the genotype without the phenotype? What is DNA without the organism it participates in creating? DNA achieves its iterability, the privileged position of language, only through the relation between genotype and phenotype. One might even say it is this relation.

As Koolhaas observes, the result that is Manhattan occurred spontaneously and naturally. New York, as Le Corbusier observed decades earlier, is “hot jazz in stone and steel.”