People of Prague

Martin Barry: The Man behind Manifesto

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It’s just a few days before Christmas and we’ve found ourselves at the airport with the mastermind behind Manifesto Market, Martin Barry. As the Founder and Chairman of reSITE, a nonprofit that fosters the exchange of ideas for more lovable and livable cities, Barry is constantly flying to projects around the world. This time however, he’s on his way to NYC to spend some quality time with his family. Before he jets off for a much-needed holiday after an incredibly busy year, we talked with Barry about his past successes and the ones still to come.

Your projects at W Architecture won many awards and you recently received the national community service award from the prestigious American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Growing up, did you always want to become an architect? 

I think that every kid wants to be an architect at some point. In 2nd grade I drew a picture of myself as a construction worker. My teacher said “maybe you want to be an architect instead?” I shrugged my shoulders and said “okay.” I never looked back.

Favorite past projects you’ve worked on?

Manifesto, which started as a relatively simple design and culture project with a real estatebusiness model, but in the last 7 months as I’ve pursued a bigger vision for the project, I’ve also had to study and learn more about proptech and fintech and the gastro industry. reSITE is my nonprofit project and organization, it’s a constant learning process to identify hot topics and the most effective ways to impart real change to use design to improve the way we live. We
organized over 160 culture events, mostly music, at Manifesto this year, all for free and paid for by my company. We want to expand that and develop the model more this year.

Your Fulbright Scholarship brought you to Prague, what about the city drew you in and inspired you to stay and found reSITE?

I’m most interested in solving challenges. Initially, I saw a huge opportunity to help solve issues associated with development of the city, to make Prague more sustainable and livable. Improve parks, and the riverfront. Prague is big enough to be an influential European city, but small enough where you can get to know the right people fairly quickly. I love that. Inherently, the city also offers a pretty high quality of life, right?

Favorite spaces in Prague?

Franciscan Monastery Gardens in New Town. Or, Manifesto Market near Florenc. (Laughs)

How has Prague evolved since you’ve been here? What do you hope to see in the coming years?

We are now partially in the gastro concepts. I established Manifesto because I saw a need for higher quality and a more diverse food offer with good service. That said – since 2011 when I first came to Prague temporarily, the food scene was still really basic, with only Ambiente and Aromi Group setting new standards. That’s totally changed now, which made it the perfect time to open Manifesto.

In a previous interview you said you’d like to see more partnerships between the public and private sector as a way to improve public space in Prague – has this been realized at all?

Not really. I think the municipality and private sector have learned a lot from reSITE events, essays, advisory and our expert partners about this – but there’s a long way to go for both sides to be able to trust win-win partnerships. There is a lot of mistrust, and folks work too hard to identify problems. We will keep going to identify solutions. That said, at Manifesto we have succeeded to bring together many diametrically different types of partners and collaborators to make it possible.

What projects are you working on now, with reSITE, City Crew, or otherwise?

reSITE is working on new event formats with Meyer Sound that we aim to kick-off in San Francisco in the middle of 2019. The creative team is also working on new series for The Atlantic Citylab about cities of course that will kick-off in the US or Western Europe in late 2019. We have a surprise in store for Prague, because we decided to completely rethink our flagship conference here and transform it into a different event format. We will announce that soon. Manifesto is expanding abroad and in Prague. We are building a new digital loyalty and payment system, integrating a new point of sale system, app and website, and in pre- development for two new locations. So, I hope to transform the company from a food market to a global proptech player in 2019, working with interesting new investors to do it.

How do you choose your projects, what inspires you to get involved or to encourage others to take part?

It’s a secret.

Manifesto was designed by students who won a competition – what do you look for in your architects and designers, anything specific?

Ability to be flexible while also having a strong value system. I want people around me who are smarter than I am, and who think quickly, react to changes, and aren’t afraid to fail.

Manifesto has been a massive success, were you expecting such an amazing reaction? How
was the alternative Christmas Market?

We didn’t know what to expect. I knew we had a good idea and we’ve executed exactly what we promised. The public reaction has been overwhelming, honestly. We are so humbled and have a high bar to pass in the coming years!

In Fujimoto’s talk at reSITE he mentioned the “fundamental similarity between nature and the messy city” and that Tokyo and nature are structurally the same… What is the structure of Prague? How would you describe Prague’s mix of deeply historical and sleekly modern spaces?

My answer will be insanely boring for your readers! But who wants to think in depth of how the cities are created, organized, planned and designed should check our library of talks including Fujimoto’s lecture. We have produced more than 150 videos with thought-leaders involved in different ways and on different levels in urban design. You can find them as an open resource on reSITE.org. Warning: it’s fascinating! You can spend quite some time watching them.

You’ve defended the future Zaha Hadid project and commented on how Czechs refuse anything new, especially in the historic centre – how do you propose architects and designers branch this gap of paying homage to the incredible history of the area while also taking the city forward into the modern future?

It’s such a critical but difficult balancing act. A city – by nature – is about moving forward and development. We must continue to build if we are to provide and improve the quality of life and affordability of the city. To build, is to advance. Developers and architects should ask themselves “have I listened to the concerns of my public? Is this of a quality and density of other buildings or cities I admire? Does this add any significant value to the city?”

What can we look forward to at next year’s reSITE conference on Urban Regeneration?

You’ll likely have to come to Lisbon for that as we are finalizing a license agreement with the City for our main event. However, we will announce a surprise new reSITE project early in 2019 here in Prague.

What is your overall philosophy, the core of what you hope to accomplish in all that you do?

My mission is to solve challenges with design and high-quality experience. I collaborate to do that. I like working with people who understand the value of a win-win. I try to do it all by being a good person and asking myself, did I add any real value to the conversation or world this year? If I am not running businesses that help solve a quality of life or quality of a city problem, I am doing something wrong.

About Martin Barry:

Founder & Chairman, reSITE
Founder, Manifesto Market
Martin is a landscape architect and the Founder and Chairman of reSITE, a nonprofit organization operating globally to exchange ideas for more lovable and livable cities. Martin is the founder of Manifesto Market, a culture and gastro market designed from shipping containers in the center of Prague on a formerly abandoned site. The project was published globally and covered by The New York Times. Martin has led multi-disciplinary teams on complex urban projects in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He recently won a national community service award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 2016 and his projects at W Architecture have received dozens of design awards in North America. He is a Fulbright Scholar and a Fellow with the Design Trust for Public Space in New York. He lives in Prague with his wife and son.

 

Interview and story by Brooke Sloan

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