Bruce Mau manifesto

o d b

from latest Icon issue on manifestos (thanks to anarchitecture for pointing this out as a good one):

You probably don’t want to hear this, but it is time we stopped talking about architecture. We need to get out of the gilded box we built ourselves into. We should be thinking about educating, training and celebrating developers. The challenges of the future are so much more complex and systems-based than the object culture architecture currently embraces. We need a new culture of responsibility and comprehensive engagement with long-term implications that can only come from broadening the base of architecture to include the design of the business models that generate most of the qualities we live with in our cities. So long as architects self-marginalise by purposely excluding the business of development and its real burden of complexity and decision making from their education, from their business, architecture will remain a gentleman’s weekend culture, unwilling or unable to take on the heavy lifting and big problems, happy to polish fancy baubles for our urban entertainment.

The business model for architecture is singularly unsuccessful. One in a thousand architects can afford to enjoy the pleasures that they are capable of producing for others. Architects accept enormous risks without the commensurate rewards. It is time, in this new millennium, to get dirty, to take on more of the scope of urban projects, to contribute more to a sustainable future and to participate in more of the wealth architects create. The world would be a better place if more of what we built in our cities was determined by people educated and trained with culture, civic awareness, aesthetic sensitivity and historical knowledge. I look forward to the first school of architectural development!

please discuss

Aug 14, 07 7:30 am

in thread central on 8/11/07 11:41, i wrote:

"something i found via bldgblog, published as part of a manifesto in icon mag, from bruce mau, who should know better:

so long as architects self-marginalise by purposely excluding the business of development and its real burden of complexity and decision making from their education, from their business, architecture will remain a gentleman’s weekend culture, unwilling or unable to take on the heavy lifting and big problems, happy to polish fancy baubles for our urban entertainment.

i don't know a single firm in my little city that ...exclud[es] the business of development - even from its daily conversations. whether or not we have the money to get involved in developing on our own, we are an integral part of the development team when working with developers in commercial construction.

i admire bruce mau and have loved his writings in the past. but this statement simply shows his ignorance of what architects do. or the fact that his only experience with architects is with star designers who have little relationship to the profession at large."

Aug 14, 07 8:44 am  · 

Well... That's true I guess. Architectural education might serve our urban realities best by being "embedded" in the operations of developers. But leaders/money can not be educated by a change in national/disciplinary change in educational aims. Money takes its own course.


"The business model for architecture is singularly unsuccessful. One in a thousand architects can afford to enjoy the pleasures that they are capable of producing for others."

Here we are just confusing two things that are of some odd reason named similarly: the architect (worker) and the architect (boss) - the boss actually makes good money by selling the work that the worker architect produces with minimum cost. Marx 101.

The same applies to quite a few other fields, surprisingly enough.

And not all "developers" are succesfull, eventhough just the term entails the idea of power-to-invest -> money.

The school of architectural development is an awesome name - it should be able to describe any school of architecture (but sadly, doesn't).


On a more serious note, I agree that bussiness considerations should be inscribed more forcefully in the problems architects are taught to tackle, and alternative models of practice should be presented not as "special cases" but as viable and often more rewarding than the basic office-type. I mean collaborative offices, dispersed practices and practices encompassing much more than just the "design phase".

But a lot of professors are educating a new army of workers, unconsciously or not, as they themselves are principals of architecture firms and employers.

Aug 14, 07 9:18 am  · 

And I second also Stevens response.

Aug 14, 07 9:22 am  · 

the problem is that once we start business training then we'll be in school for 12 years

Aug 14, 07 9:24 am  · 

That's a little exaggerated evilplatypus; the average architect has seven years of school, and the average masters in real estate is one year.

On the other hand Mao only has two years of school, which shows when he says "it's time we stop talking about architecture." As Tanto would say, "what's this 'we' white man?"

I'm sure he doesn't mean developers should stop talking about architecture. "Architecture" is a good value-add on the right development project, and when it's not, well, developers don't talk about the project much.

He seems to mean that architects should stop talking about architecture and start talking about business. This idea shows how poorly he knows the architecture community: do you know an architect or architecture student who will shut up about architecture for five seconds? I don't. People don't study architecture to get rich, they study it to make the world a more iteresting place.

He really ought to know better by now than to pretend that he is an architect.

What he really means it that artists should start talking about business; and that is what he thinks design is: some basic art skills and some business acumen. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that he doesn't understand business much better than he understands architecture. If he did, he wouldn't be running his firm out of a closet at an art school.

Aug 14, 07 11:37 am  · 

Bruce Mau's a pretentious douche of the highest order. I can't believe that there are people who pay attention to his inane ramblings anymore.

Aug 14, 07 12:24 pm  · 

the 'manifesto' is kind of ironic seeing as his institute without boundaries is spending the next year designing the 'house of the future'.

You could replace the word architect with graphic designer or industrial designer or even actor - the manifesto works for all creative professions.

Aug 14, 07 12:34 pm  · 
vado retro

the problem with people who aren't architects who write manifestos about architecture is that they don't realize that most architecture firms do have business plans, they do deal with clients as businesses rather than as primadonnas, they do work with developers, they do celebrate developers. so, maybe if the manifesto writers would hit the street rather than assuming the old cliches of what architects do in their black turtlenecks and visions for the future we could get past all this.

one other thing my manifesto to the bruce mau graphic designers of the world: why doncha quit making fugly and unreadable books.

Aug 14, 07 12:39 pm  · 

i think bruce should stick with making picture books

Aug 14, 07 12:53 pm  · 

Clearly, an architect needs to have a basic understanding of the economics involved and the developer's underlying motivations, but even the most "enlightened" developer's prime concern is profitability and the bottom line: squeezing the maximum amount of leasable or saleable square footage from his site. The architect's role is largely to promote and defend urbanism and other intangibles that generally--let's face it--reduce profitability. In that sense, the roles of the developer and architect are diametrically opposed. If you don't believe me, try proposing to one of your clients that he step back the massing of his tower so that more sunlight gets to the sidewalk, or that he exceed a setback requirement in order to provide a broader sidewalk, or that he buy the brushed stainless steel P-trap instead of the chrome-plated plastic one.

Developers, generally speaking, look down their noses at architects as much as architects look down their noses at developers. I'm ok with that. A little opposition is healthy. Besides, the whole idea that architects need to "educate, train, and celebrate developers" is patronizing and undermines Mau's own argument that we need to be more complicit in their undertakings.

Amen to architects not making enough money, though.

Aug 14, 07 12:58 pm  · 
vado retro

actually most architects are concerned with profitiblility and the bottom line too. hey bruce can you do a boma calc for me???

Aug 14, 07 1:24 pm  · 
el jeffe

"The architect's role is largely to promote and defend urbanism and other intangibles that generally--let's face it--reduce profitability"

i'm not buying that good design reduces profitability for a second.

Aug 14, 07 1:30 pm  · 

Architects have to be concerned with profitability if they want to attract and retain clients, it's just usually not priority #1. If it is, it's just because the client says so. The most profitable solution is usually not the best architectural solution. If my goal was just to help developers make a lot of money, I would have just been a developer myself and forgotten about all this architecture poopoo. I'm all for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but these should not be overriding concerns. Our role should involve making it uncomfortable for the developer to view his project strictly as a money-making enterprise.

Aug 14, 07 1:42 pm  · 
o d b

while most of you see mau's remarks as negative, i see them as a positive affirmation of architecture and the role he would like to see it take in the forming of our future cities.

while it's true that, as many of you have pointed out, architects have to think about business and work well w/ developers, etc, I hear so many architects bitch about being marginalized in the development process--only coming in at the end to provide a marketable style without being involved in developing the substance--such as the program, the size, the amount of public/open space which are typically developed by financing guys working it all out on spreadsheets.

'We need a new culture of responsibility and comprehensive engagement with long-term implications that can only come from broadening the base of architecture to include the design of the business models that generate most of the qualities we live with in our cities.'

he's not saying that architects should come up w/ business models in general, but that we should be developing the process by which cities are provided. we know how to conceive the form and spaces of the buildings and cities we inhabit, but have we developed mental faculties that allow us to reconceive the means and methods for how they are produced?

and if this isn't a positive statement about architects, i don't know what is:
"The world would be a better place if more of what we built in our cities was determined by people educated and trained with culture, civic awareness, aesthetic sensitivity and historical knowledge."


a few questions:

should we reconsider our role in the process of development, as people like SHoP and John Portman are doing or have done?

or-does good architecture require a strong client (developer/patron) as well as a good designer for accountability reasons?

why don't small to medium size firms join up to create LLC development corporations to compete w/ traditional developers for development projects? has this been done, and if so, by whom?

Aug 14, 07 2:38 pm  · 

I actually had a very different take on Mau's comment than most of you.

I appreciate his candor. I think architects imagine themselves (and what they do) too narrowly. We are mostly owned by developers. I often feel like a pet.

I think what's Mau is saying is that developers tend not to be visionary but they generate the capital for projects, while architects not to generate capital but they create vision. The result is mega-projects without vision, or visionary projects without the right resources.

Why can't architects also be developers? Shouldn't we? Wouldn't that give us all our own means of realizing our designs? I've never understood why architects toil away on designs that can so easily be flicked away by others. Why not be able to control our own designs?

Aug 14, 07 4:41 pm  · 
Be your own developer-in-a-day.
Aug 14, 07 4:59 pm  · 

He must be talking about Sir Edwin Lutyens.
I don't know any architects he is refering to.
You, Mau Mau, are living in an uninformed architectural dream world.

Aug 14, 07 5:00 pm  · 
(IN) Theory

do we really need (more) celebrity developers?

Aug 14, 07 5:14 pm  · 

Just curious: how many of you are currently working on a project paid for by a developer?

If that developer walked into your office tomorrow and said, "we need to reduce window square footage by 50%" how many of you would have to do it? Most architects are owned by developers. Architects, I've often thought, actually have the LEAST power in the development process. City planners control us, developers control us, public opinion controls us, even engineers control us.

Mau's comment (if you'd read it again) is actually very pro-architect. He's basically saying that architects need to expand their repertoire—we need to be developers AND visionaries. We need to take over some of the territory currently controlled by developers.

But to do that, we have to have a better understanding of economics, financing, etc.

Aug 14, 07 5:19 pm  · 

i'm beginning to think that the more you know (whether that's about software, codes, economics, financing, culture, whatever) the less valuable your skills and knowledge become.

i'm going to think about that on my way home. more later.

Aug 14, 07 5:44 pm  · 

yes, that is the age old question in everything related to working--to be your own boss or work for “the man," go it alone or slave to the system, to be the developer or be "part of the team." but isn’t mau eluding or saying more then that?

the something more from master mau's manifesto, i think, speaks directly to the recent trend to collude schools of architecture into this third-way position of think-tanks for business interests, so that “we” can “educate developers”--and then later “celebrate” them for their good works. or create the vaulted architect-developer model? should that be the new territory for education?

the problem with this collusion becomes where is the line of separation between the academy and business. here business enters the equation as a trojan horse for the invasion of the ivory tower. this creates a very dangerous precedent for the future insulation of thought and education from business interests…something we should not take lightly nor accept with open arms. where is the urgency here against this planned massive change, which is already taking place...

Aug 14, 07 6:37 pm  · 

Seems like typical Chairman Mau to me: Design Everything

Design the business model, design the role of the architect in the process, design the process ... why is this pissing people off?

Aug 14, 07 6:53 pm  · 
vado retro

declaring that architects should be developers is easy to say and difficult to do. even for those who want to do it. not every architect wants to be a developer for christ's sake. and the discussion between architects and developers(those beyond the strip mall that is) is seldom one sided. there is give and take on both sides and believe it or not there are actual conversations that take place and the conversation/education goes both ways. i'm not pissed off about it but i don't think this guy has a clue about how most architecture firms operate. gentleman's club...yeah right.

Aug 14, 07 7:55 pm  · 

No, I agree with you and Steven about the disparity between Mau's idea of an 'architect' and the experience the rest of us have ... but it's a manifesto! Not a detailed, ten point plan. We need more manifestos, not less!

Aug 14, 07 8:05 pm  · 
vado retro

there was a manifesto contest last year. here is my manifesto...

the barry mani(fest)low

i write the manifestos (to be sung to "i write the songs"

i have been around forever
and i penned the very first manifest-o
sure there may have been others
but undoubtedly mine is the best-o.

i decreed those passionate convictions
and condemned the decadent bourgeiousie
so when you think manifesto
i am the best
so think of me.

i write the manifests that make the architect geeks weep
i write the manifests that put a normal person to sleep
i write the manifests read by those who wear all black
those who chain smoke and develop that hack
i write the manifests that are just so unfun
but you got to read them for arch theory 101
i write the manifestos that make the young girls cry

i write the manifestos
i write the manifestos...

Aug 14, 07 8:25 pm  · 


mau is curious bloke, isn't he...

my partner is developer in other life.

developing has logic beyond design that is very very hard to deny. the market we look at is middle high end rental residential (2500ft2 flats in central tokyo), which means we have so-so budgets (but never enough) and can do interesting things sometimes, but then our market also demands that we don't do anything too obviously architectural most of the time too cuz bankrs don't like that shit in general (this is seriously true). and we know form the start that we can't make a glass building cuz that is seriously expensive. only way to do that is to go for much higher end projects, but then we need to do other things on finance side that make this difficult, at least right now, and things just get more and more complicated.

my partner is good with money. he was also taught and trained by starchitects (including one pritzker winner, and of course good ol remmmy k), so he knows the capital A stuff down cold. mixing those two threads is not easy. from the problems we are having, and in a global finance city to boot, i really do wonder how realistic it is to presume an architect can overcome the biases of any market to impose his/her own manifest-ic concepts...maybe rem can, or gehry, but that is because they are brands. which is ironic cuz if they had gone finance route to start with they never would have become icons and would have no image to market...but for most of us? i dunno. sounds dodgy. does bruce have any ideas about how this might happen in reality?

as far as dealing with the monetary requirements of development in general as a designer i don't see so much conflict. reducing window area to address budget concerns, as farwest offers as example, is not a big deal. i have done it before. didn't like it usually, but that is reality of construction in this world. constraints, financial or otherwise are jus that. constraints. they do not make good architecture or urbanism impossible...more difficult is to convince developer that good architeture will actually lead to more money, or at very least not lose money. that is harder to do. in most scenarios when architects are developers too mostly we just end up making better looking schlock. blandness is in the end a valid goal in the developer world, unless one is going for funkyness cuz of branding (but how much of that is reasonable?)...

what we actually need is to get a patron who will allow/support eccentric (in good sense) architecture to take place. which is the real dream not spoken aloud in bruce's ideas.

so i think perhaps what he is writing about is slightly off, for reason's steven and others talk about, but also because he is not, in the end being honest. He wants architects to take on developers and convert them into patrons. and that is not going to happen.

Aug 14, 07 9:20 pm  · 

Why should architect's stop talking about architecture? Does this lead to better architecture or cities? I think not.

We are supposed to talk about architecture and architecture culture amongst our friends and our developer colleagues. Are not Bruce's books for architects and architecture culture prima facie evidence of the very gilded box he now wants to get out of? Why I find this statement ironic is that he has a career that came through architects and while this may be limiting him as an individual at this point it is tautological to suggest that architecture needs to change because of one individuals need to change. It is also hardly radical, in fact more like banal at this point for him to suggest that one of the architect's jobs is to educate. If anything progressive architecture practice, based upon case study models taught in business schools for the last thirty years, long ago stopped assuming that the architect was the lead and has been emphasizing team building models and contributory models of practice that have been adopted widely. It's only at the most extreme levels of design practice where, as others have pointed out a branded architecture is already assumed, that the architect star model is accepted.

As for celebrating developers, there are plenty of serious organizations that do this already including ULI. There are also already plenty of architect's attending their meetings and contributing to their dialogs. Is this the key to the good city? Perhaps Bruce should attend these meetings and report back.

I also do not know what Bruce has been looking at for the past twenty years but systems-based architecture has permeated large and small offices. Take a look at Gensler's model of the life-cycle of design and facility services which closely mesh architecture services with the entire development continuum. This was proposed in the 80's if not before by this firm and constituted a radical break with previous corporate practices such as SOM's which eschewed, at least at that time, this service based model for a purer design model.

With regard to responsibility, practice acts clearly define where our responsibility as licensed professionals lies and these areas, life-safety and general welfare are not subjects that most architects, particularly younger architects are adept at, but curiously, in these issue's connection to design craft, probably they are the areas where we as designers are most distinct and valuable. I think as a profession we would probably be better paid if we hewed more closely to this nexus. Interestingly, this has always been an area that architects like Foster and Rogers and Piano have excelled at (and Gehry) and they are well paid for their efforts.

With regard to designing businesss models, for sure there are some architects who will do this and that is fine but designing business models is also new speak for business strategy that attracts consumers and I while I would want to be at the table as these ideas are generated I do not think I need to lead these efforts in order to lead with regard to design and to lead with regard to the integration of design culture into business issues at large. Another way of saying this is that all the best architects I have seen practice and many of the best designers in this era have all been adept at working alongside business interests and few are marginalized by doing this. And if there are happy baubles of entertainment that result, my hypothesis is that they have more to do with the outcomes of the very business models that Bruce is celebrating as opposed to the architecture models that are at times complicit.

it is true that architects do not get paid in proportion to the value or risk that they take but I wonder if this is truly a problem that the starchitects have generated or more a symptom of the general profession's clumsiness at taking deep responsibility for the full panoply of issues for which we are in fact legally responsible. I am a great admirer of Bruce's ability to organize the identity and communicate the creative possibilities of architects. If he wants to create a window for the improvement of the profession, I think he needs to take a deeper look at what architects actually do and can do well rather then suggest they devote their energies to that in which they are typically dilettantes.

Aug 15, 07 2:15 am  · 

There is some real interesting things happening in instances where architects act in a more integrated way with their clients - collecting inhabitant/investors and then building - without the developer/middle-man - quality, value for money and in some cases... Architecture. The case of the unmediated client/patron -architect relationship but on a bigger scale.


Actively caring for the environment, educating everyone involved in creating it and trying to weed out the predators and leeches of the building industry all aim for a better common city. It might just take more specific tactical and partial solutions than just a call for enlightened developers.

Mau's manifesto is not really worth anything.

Aug 15, 07 3:23 am  · 

jkaliski has the amazing ability to say what i want to say, but in a beautiful and clear way. this is the second thread in which i've read his response and my only reaction is 'yep!'. thanks!

his last statement gets at what i meant by saying the more we know, the less value it might have. i've noticed that we are expected to know everything about some things, but if our knowledge of things outside othe architects' purview (however the audience defines it) is too broad, we start to be seen as dilettantes who like to talk. even if we know the subject!

just thinking here, and i want to attack this from a different angle:

talk to a new developer about your experience with past developments along the same model as what the developer proposes. see what happens. the problem is, despite whatever development experiences the architect might have, even the rookie developer gets the upper hand because he/she is the one taking the risk, dropping the money, and a sour note voiced by the architect undermines the willed inner confidence that the developer has to construct in order to be able to stomach the risk.

an alternative scenario: my old employer has been pitching money into the development pot over the past several years, joining in with development teams, and two things have happened: 1. the partners were more likely to listen to his experience and instincts when his own money was in it, and 2. the projects became more lucrative.

mau's prescription misses one key component. no matter what architects knows about development and finance, if they don't have the money to risk they end up less influential in key decisions.

Aug 15, 07 7:38 am  · 

"if they don't have the money to risk they end up less influential in key decisions"

He who makes the gold, makes he rules.

Aug 15, 07 8:35 am  · 


Aug 15, 07 8:35 am  · 

Pretty much. it's strange to say "educate more developers" because having the capital to invest is not something you learn - it's like "we should educate more people to have a lot of money to invest in a wise way". no wonder he has gone bankrupt a time or two.

Aug 15, 07 9:11 am  · 

has he? din know that. interesting.

jkaliski and steve make good points.

not certain there is an answer to all of that. our pro practice prof was partner in gensler like international corporate archi-office and he described much the same thing jkaliski points out as part of our coursework...but to be honest, even though i did very well in that class i did not really believe it as model. architecture as service is more profitable i think, but the architecture (as design/social construct) tends to be more marginalised, not less, in that scenario. my training by the rest of the faculty has definitely skewed me towards believing there is more value in icon-type architecture than service based architecture...but that is entirely against the grain of reality in our business. that is not critique of education system, cuz i don't think we should train anyone to be a little gensler on graduation (ick)...but it does highlight the inner struggle my partner and i face as we try to figure out how to be iconic while also making architecture that fits into the world of finance. it is not easy (perhaps impossible), and precedents are not common (john segal is not a precedent, quite, for us). so far the banks here in tokyo are not so amenable...

it is true, the money-person is ultimately the decider (like bush). my partner goes to the bank and gets money, sometimes quite large amounts of it. but the truth of the matter is that banks are not going to finance anything they don't see evidence of success for, and that means putting up front a lot of time and effort, making plans, calculating floor areas, max buildable volume, and all the rest, just to GET TO THE TABLE. Then the banks go out and compare what similar places are getting in the area we want to build and if they like the number they MAY give us money...but that is a very long and tiresome process. so tiresome in fact that by the time you have gotten the money you think it might be time to focus on design and then realise that the rules of finance have backed you into a corner and many of the radical ideas you had at the beginning are no longer in the project. It is like studio in the sense that the design changes constantly but the scope keeps getting smaller and smaller until the bank feels the design is something that can be quantified. which means usually that someone has done it before, and the only thing left to do is coat the thing with a bit of style (john segal's model) the meantime cultural and urbanistic ambitions have nearly disappeared...

now THAT is reality for developer. the target is moving, the decider is the bank as much as a moneyed individual, a faceless collective entity that really knows less than you do, and if architects want to really get into the game they have to understand that process too. which leads us to steven's observation. and it means that there is almost zero time for architecture to take place. Ideally a developer could be found who would do all that work for us and we would focus on design, but i guarantee you most developers will not see that extra effort as worth the outcome. Even Mori (Roppongi hills fame) cowed Tadao Ando at Aomori Hills into making substandard architecture in the name of increasing yield, and by all accounts he had respect for Ando (and Ando ain't no push over teither).

maybe there is a way out of all this, but i suspect that a manifesto, cutely written, is not going to do it....

Aug 15, 07 7:40 pm  · 

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