There is a form of architecture that aims at not getting built. An architecture on paper that should not be confused with paper architecture. An architecture based on pure statements in which real brick, mortar, and poured concrete are substituted by cut-and-pasted paper and narrative prose. An architecture about the failed and accomplished ambitions of buildings and master plans. An architecture that although focused on the critique of this ambition, is not concerned with just any form of critique. An architecture not preoccupied with the expert’s view in newspapers, nor the common man’s comments on populist design blogs, nor the propaganda centrefolds of glossy magazines. An architecture that talks directly to architecture about architecture. An architecture of disciplinary struggle. This form of architecture focuses on the critique of ideology, after recognizing that ideology – in its multiple incarnations – has infiltrated all spheres of architectural production, including the sphere of criticism itself. An architecture that through narrative texts and a vast repertoire of images (collages, photomontages, drawings, storyboards, comic strips, animations) – creates allegorical stories that aim to expose the impasse and misfires of architecture in theory and practice. This form of architecture is simultaneously both theory and practice. It is theory as practice; critique as architectural project. This form of architecture is called Narrative Architecture and this is its manifesto.
In order to be an effective tool against the seriousness of architectural discourse, Narrative Architecture relies on the subversive power of humor. It paints cheeky portraits that parody through irony and sarcasm the shortcomings of ideology. Narrative Architecture turns disillusion into mockery, disappointment into subversive critique, pessimism into kynical reason.1 It drills the sharpness of critique into the ossified shell of hegemonic architectural discourse. Narrative Architecture is made out of blown-up impostures. Its components are exaggerated characteristics innate to architecture. Architectural ambition freed from the pragmatic distortions of selective inhibition.
Although ostensibly heroic, Narrative Architecture is not utopian. Its colossal monuments, impossible landscapes, and allegoric texts are real depictions mirroring the absurd scenarios imagined by architectural discourse. Narrative Architecture implies the sublime autonomy of theory. Narrative Architecture is pure theory under a magnifying glass. It is architecture as ‘endless supermarket’,’ continuous monument’ and ‘voluntary imprisonment’. Narrative Architecture is the product of failed struggles and lost wars. It recognizes its inability to ‘win’ the fight. It feeds from past, present, and future failures. Because it learned that Team 10, Yona Friedman, and even artist-turned-urbanist Constant failed to break from the modernist discourse and the tools of its ideology, Narrative Architecture turns the tools of ideology against themselves.
If Modernism used every medium available – publications, architecture, urban plans, even CIAM as a platform to project its ideology– to shoot down the opposition, Narrative Architecture points the ideological guns back at Modernism. When an architectural position tries to consolidate itself as a hegemonic discourse and avoids “coming voluntarily to the table of negotiation” with its opponents, Narrative Architecture provokes “the polemical continuation of the miscarried dialogue through other means”.2 Narrative Architecture summons the dialectic properties of narrative in order to reestablish the conversation and expose the lies. If architecture promises a city made of glittering white concrete, Narrative Architecture casts the whole world in cement. If architecture renders buildings behind curtains of dense green foliages, Narrative Architecture depicts a universe contained in a forest of skyscraping trees. If architecture decides to surf the waves of economic and social indifference, Narrative Architecture projects a world washed away by a neoliberal tsunami.
Narrative Architecture tackles every form of ‘enlightened false consciousness’ and reveals what lies behind the disguising masks of social impromptu and urban reconstruction; of the intoxicating greenery of certified sustainability and neoliberalist social philanthropy, of the aesthetic fantasies-turned urban oversimplifications of parametricism and other momentary aesthetic trends; of the perverse reductionism of cartoonish diagrams and immaculate renders.3 Narrative Architecture doesn’t shoot down the banners and slogans of architectural discourse, it reads them aloud against the ideological wind so as to reveal their absurdity.
Because ideology presents concepts as their opposite – lies as truth, opportunism as responsibility, self-consciousness as social consciousness – it has condemned Narrative Architecture to the sterile indifference of the museum wall, to the anesthetizing beauty of the art book. However, Narrative Architecture belongs on the drawing board, on the computer screen, in the architectural discussion. Narrative Architecture belongs to the present, to the schools, to the practices. Narrative Architecture reveals the condition of the zeitgeist, now. If Ideology is doublethink, Narrative Architecture screams “down with Big Brother”. While ideology is watching you, Narrative Architecture watches it back. In a world driven by nonsensical statements, the most absurd of positions then becomes the clearest path. When everything seems to stagnate, Narrative Architecture keeps moving.
1 The concept of ideology critique applied here is borrowed from Peter Sloterdijk Critique of Cynical Reason (1983). According to Sloterdijk Kynicism, as opposed to modern cynicism (enlightened false consciousness), could be used as a strategy to destabilize the hegemomic powers of the establishment. Kynicism consists often of humor (through satire or irony) that attempts to highlight the impasse of absurd intellectual postures in order to carry out an ideology critique. For more see Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. Michael Eldred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
2 “Enlightenment is reminded how easily speaking openly can lead to camps and prisoners. Hegemonic powers cannot be addressed so easily; they do not come voluntarily to the negotiating table with their opponents, whom they would prefer to have behind bars.” (…) “Ideology critique means the polemical continuation of the miscarried dialogue through other means. It declares a war on consciousness, even when it pretends to be so serious and ‘nonpolemical’”. Ibid
3 Thus, we come to our first definition: “Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness.” Ibid.