MANIFEST, a new annual independent print journal on American architecture and urbanism, is requesting text, project, and photographic proposals for its first issue entitled, “Looking Inward.” Edited by Anthony Acciavatti, Justin Fowler, and Dan Handel, and supported in part by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, MANIFEST was founded to initiate a critical conversation about the state of American architecture, its cities, and its hinterland, tackling head-on what others have abandoned. While MANIFEST intends to question the assumptions behind singular constructions of America by tracing its origins and its global influence, the journal also strives to define the uniqueness of American forms of
city-building and the distinct set of material and political parameters through which these forms are shaped.
The theme of our first issue, “Looking Inward,” is broadly construed as an interrogation of a “New World” taken for granted. Rather than abandoning this new world for a newer world to the east or or circling the wagons here at home, this issue of MANIFEST speaks less to a continual rehearsal of the initial American experiment in favor of a prompt toward the active shaping of its evolution. “Looking Inward” asks how can we take the reigns of a process once deemed to be a function of destiny. Why does America merit scrutiny? Assuming America deserves scrutiny, what parts have been overlooked and are deserving of attention? Of the areas that have received attention, how can they be amended, broadened, or rendered new and unfamiliar? What are the projects of America? For this issue, MANIFEST encourages a range of narratives, from the panoramic to the miniature, so long as they recast our understanding of how America is artificial, peculiar, and intriguing.
While one measure of the issue will be to articulate the necessity of the American project (the “why”, “when”, “where”, and “why now?”), we also hope to jump right into the “how” by suggesting approaches through which to re-ignite the formal, political, economic, and perhaps even the poetic efficacy of the American built environment. The publication will act as a forum—though not a disinterested one—and in this effort, no ideological or methodological precept will be taken for granted. As withdrawal and engagement are never acceptable as ends in themselves, we ask that claims of autonomy, revolution, pragmatism, continuity, advocacy, and/or activism offer compelling narratives of the ends that inspire their means.
— For essays, please submit an abstract of 500–750 words + images, along with a brief bio or CV.
— For columns (op-eds or historical vignettes), please submit an abstract of 250–500 words + images, along with a brief bio or CV.
— For projects, speculations, graphic narratives, or photo essays, please submit relevant drawings and images, along with 250–500 words of text. Please also include a firm profile, bio, or CV.
— For reviews, please submit a 250–500 word description of the project, exhibition, or book under consideration and the critical approach to be explored. Please also include a bio or CV.
We encourage abstracts and proposals to provoke as much as describe and each should offer an insight into the narrative threads driving the work. Authorial tone can range from academic to irreverent and text lengths will vary (750–1500 words for columns and 3000–5000+ words for essays). The subject matter is wholly up to the discretion of the authors. MANIFEST encourages the submission of pieces of historical interest alongside more projective tracts and speculative arguments. Please submit all material in a single PDF (5MB maximum file size) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, 14 December 2012. Authors of selected proposals will be notified by late December and the editors will work with authors to develop their pieces.
In the ambivalent manner of our American subject, and in the spirit of negotiation which sustains this project, we present three parallel editorial strains relating to the idea of “looking inward” that we hope might offer moments of insight into the theme…
“A witty Frenchman has said of us,” noted Frank Lloyd Wright in An Autobiography (1943), “‘The United States of America is the only nation to plunge from barbarism to degeneracy with no culture in between.’” Wright cited this anonymous French quote in a section titled ‘To the Enemy,’ where he praised the merits of an education at Taliesin and warned of the dangers posed by the French Beaux Arts education on “an indigenous Usonian culture.” Wright’s turn inward to search for an indigenous and organic Usonian culture is as elementary as any of the originary stories of America’s “Founding Fathers,” like, say, Thomas Jefferson’s search for mammoth fossils in America to rebut Comte de Buffon’s claims of American degeneracy. However, Wright’s search for an indigenous natural history of America, not just in its landscape and fossils, but in its homes and cities—in its architecture and urbanism—placed American architecture, and by extension architectural history, at the frontier of American politics and geography. This is a very different thesis from Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis (1893) or the pastoralism of Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden (1964). Wright’s look inward was as much a dusting off of historical objects as it was a naturalization of American culture. Just as Wright envisioned reciprocity between the structure of architecture and the structure of government resulting in what he called “the constitution of a civilization”—a homology between nature and culture—we too are interested in such compacts, though messier no doubt, where personal experience and explication confront the architecture of historical judgment and the built environment.
Given the ascendancy of post-national and global city triumphalism the very idea of “looking inward” would at first glance appear to be little more than a line drawn in the sand, yet few would argue that the forms and scales of urbanization in America are interchangeable with that in Europe or East Asia. Against narratives of American decline, it is worth remembering that America’s urban culture remains in its infancy. Never in history has a geo-political or social body been offered so little time between birth and assumed death in which to prove its value to the world. And while one could argue that American culture has irrevocably shaped the global cultural landscape and merged itself with the world, the fact remains that the idea of “America” as a specific bounded entity has not yet dissolved. At the same time, our geographic limits are exhausted and our cities become the next frontier.
Following the example of that peculiar American gentleman-scholar Henry Adams, the act of looking inward is a path toward education. As the late architectural historian William Jordy suggests, using America as both frame and site, Adams “did not laud the inevitable superiority of the United States to every other nation as such; rather he reserved his praise for what he conceived as the superiority of certain ideas and institutions larger than the geographical boundaries of any country, but best observed in the United States. To this extent, the United States served Adams as the test tube served the scientist.” The restlessness of Adams’s experiment cannot be explained without reference to an American character that is at home with ambivalence. We set boundaries so we might exceed them. The American belief in the malleability of the present frees us from the straightjacket of history, while still permitting our entrenchment into conventions of our own making. “Looking Inward,” then, is both an examination of the character of American ideas and an opportunity to evolve our limits through the material imagination of architecture.
Looking inward is not by definition the act of the insider. In fact, what we think constitutes American-ness was frequently circumscribed from without. Foreigners Alexis de Tocqueville or Reyner Banham sketched its characteristics in relatively short trips across the country, immigrants Hannah Arendt or Rudolf Schindler highlighted its essences in relation to the Old World, new citizens Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur or Victor Gruen explored its potentials, and strangers in their own land, like Joseph Smith or those guys from Ant Farm, reflected on and finally challenged its core principles.
Even more pertinent to our subject of study, Rem Koolhaas, summoning the ghosts of Coney Island, or the entourage of Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co, historicizing urbanism in the United States as a definite source of modern architecture, both touched upon the question of the American city, or rather, American cities in the plural, as a provocative multitude of spatiosocial and economic propositions.
All of these addendums were possible because, as Michael Walzer would later write, America is, at its essence, unfinished. Being unfinished allows for outsiders to be integrated in the body politic and material culture of the land, to negotiate their positions, and offer new perspectives on what is perhaps America’s only non-ambivalent founding principle—its relentless, naïve, and practical obsession with future development.