“An architectural project is precisely where differences find an overall expression.” 

More often than not, the idea that architecture is a profound amalgamation of differences is a forgotten thought, and this concluding phrase from Bernard Tschumi’s essay, The Pleasure of Architecture draws attention to the notion in a straightforward fashion. Known around the world as the creator of Parc de la Villette and one of the pioneers in the field of deconstructivism, Bernard Tschumi is also idolized to be one of the most vocal and opinionated architectural theorists of our times.

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Bernard Tschumi_©www.wordpress.com

The Manhattan Transcripts by Bernard Tschumi can be described as a book ‘of’ architecture rather than a book ‘about’ architecture that engages with the reader in a very dynamic manner. The Manhattan Transcripts and its sister project The Pleasure of Architecture and Violence of Architecture pose as a tool intended to evoke a natural discourse regarding architecture’s very workings and practice. Propelling any average reader into an extreme state of internal debate, Bernard Tschumi had created a monumental work that makes one think about what underlies architecture when juxtaposed into a realm of unconventional architectural representation.

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Cover of The Manhattan Transcripts_©kupdf.net

The Manhattan Transcripts – A Basic Idea

The Manhattan Transcripts were conceived as a set of theoretical drawings whose purpose was to address the disjunction between spaces and their uses. While the Transcripts primarily engage in visual discourse, its sister literary pieces The Pleasure of Architecture and Violence of Architecture offers clarity to ideas depicted by the Transcripts. Bernard Tschumi argues that in the conventional architectural practice, the idea of architecture is separated from the events that are to take place within them. 

He argues that throughout history, architecture has been treated as a solid construct interwoven with various rules and dogmas that have accumulated from many historic civilizations and to this day hasn’t broken from the iron-hold of the same. The work does not openly concur with any contemporary movements or practice by name but leaves the reader pondering about the fact that the spaces as they exist in this age and time, may perhaps lack continuity and dialogue that comes from the marriage of buildings, movements, and events. 

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Events and Movements in Architecture_©emperors.kucjica.org

The Manhattan Transcripts – The Narrative

The Manhattan Transcripts by Bernard Tschumi is a peculiar book that can be likened to watching a work of filmography. Composed primarily in a diagrammatic fashion, most of these visual templates follow three key focal points – the place or the buildings, the movement through the place, and a photographic representation of the event and the people engaged in the same. 

The ‘script’ expresses ideas based on events that can be considered as contextual breaking points in their respective surroundings. This particular narrative pushes the architecture in question into a volatile or vulnerable state by juxtaposing it with a critical situation such as a murder or a lover’s quarrel that results in a grave mistake. Thereby, Bernard Tschumi urges the reader to consider such seemingly ‘impossible’ but nitty-gritty case scenarios that can render what may have been a brilliantly conceptualized architectural project as a static shell when met with something adverse.

To further drive his point home, the settings of the Manhattan Transcripts were inspired by its namesake, Manhattan, the urban core of the New York Metropolitan area. With a place that has its fair share of the limelight and international popularity, Bernard Tschumi tries to set up a fictitious adverse case scenario in a setting that can be deemed familiar by any reader.

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Aerial View of Central Park, New York_©www.reddit.com
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Plates from MT-1 The Park_©The Manhattan Transcripts
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42nd Street, New York City_©www.newyorkcitymood.com
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Plates from MT-2 The Street_©The Manhattan Transcripts

The Transcripts start in an unassuming park that has been modelled after the popular Central Park of New York City. It further carries us through the veins of 42nd Street in Manhattan along with the thrilling friction of a tumultuous relationship. 

Eventually, the book breaks its sequence to take us through the towering heights encapsulated within Manhattan whilst intermixing rigorous users such as dancers and acrobats, and army cadets that eventually break out into a flurry of colours that are well associated with the works of Bernard Tschumi.

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Manhattan Tower Block_©telegraph.co.uk
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Plates from MT-3 The Tower_©The Manhattan Transcripts
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Plates from MT-4 The Block_©The Manhattan Transcripts
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The Manhattan Transcripts – Why is it Important?

The Manhattan Transcripts provokes us to ponder in-depth about the drawbacks of modern architecture. Even to this day and age, humans and buildings have not reached a point of symbiosis. In the metaphor constructed by Bernard Tschumi himself, there exists certain violence between buildings and humans. When a building or space is not conceived optimally, what takes place is not a user inhabiting the space but rather intruding it. 

These instances of violence need not be as grave as skirmishes or murders but it can be smaller things such as a corridor that is a tight squeeze in a very public space or an extremely voluminous hall that is sparsely furnished, the list can go on. 

Bernard Tschumi, with the diagrammatic representations in the book, further goes on to question the scope of architectural representationsa dire question as to how we can trust paper spaces rendered in books and pages such as plans, sections, axonometric diagrams, etc., to determine the logistics behind any architectural project that has to convey dialogue between the living and the inanimate. 

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Bernard Tschumi, Knots from Advertisements for Architecture_©The Pleasure of Architecture

With many constraints owing to the rapid innovations in the field of architecture, rules are broken and rules are accepted. With the constant scuffle between functionality and some need for hedonism, the book leaves us wondering if at all a fine balance can ever be found to navigate the many drawbacks that are still associated with any architectural space.

References

  1. Tschumi, Bernard (1981). The Manhattan Transcripts. Available at: <kupdf.net> [Accessed 26 June 2021].
  2. Tschumi, Bernard (1976). The Pleasure of Architecture. Available at: <https://architecturesurvey.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/1/5/2815013/what_is_architecture_4.pdf > [Accessed 28 June 2021].
  3. Tschumi, Bernard (1976). Violence of Architecture. Available at: <kupdf.net> [Accessed 28 June 2021].
Author

As an eccentric ‘arch-ling’ residing in Cochin that shares a quintessential kinship with art, architecture, literature and nature. She is an individual with an ever-present urge to streamline, decode and engross herself in information from any given field.

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