From the Fundación Arquia Blog, architect José Ramón Hernandez brings us an article that reflects on projects that can only be appreciated because of who they were created by. If it weren’t for the fact that they bear the signature of their illustrious creator, they most likely would have gone completely unnoticed or even despised.
The French writer Claude Simon, one of the fathers of the nouveau roman, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1985 for his novels “that combine the creativity of the poet and the painter in giving profound testimony to the complexity of the human condition”. As a bet, a great admirer of his, Serge Volle, sent fifty pages of a novel written by Simon—Le Palace (1962)—to twenty publishers without telling them that the text was actually from the Nobel laureate. He received twenty rejections; no one wanted to publish the work. Some of these rejections were without justification, whereas others said that the sentences ran on or that the characters were not well designed.
If Volle had presented that same text as an unpublished one by Simon, it would have aroused the interest of all (or almost all) of the publishers. They would have valued those endless sentences as belonging to that vision of human complexity, and the characters would not have been viewed as badly designed, but rather labyrinthine, abundant and profound. However, when presented anonymously— naked, without a well-known author, without a history, and without prestige—they thought it was bad.
Would the Cabanon be worthy of a distracted glance of more than thirty seconds if we did not know it designed by Le Corbusier? Would we be interested (beyond some fun and even burlesque comments) in the work Frank Lloyd Wright’s last era if they were not Frank Lloyd Wright projects? Would anyone have dared to publish them?
Often our ignorant criticism is such that when we see a building we do not know what to say about it until we find out who its creator is; then, the biography and the background provides us a foundation that complements the alleged qualities of the work in question. So the question arises of whether or not certain works are only appreciated for their association with their creator. Can we surmise that if it weren’t part of the oeuvre of an illustrious creator, the project would have gone completely unnoticed or unappreciated?
But first, we have two things to say: The first is from Julio Cano Lasso, from who I have read that a good architect can do some bad projects, but a bad architect will never do a good one. And that is true. A project can go wrong for many reasons: a bad approach, a drop in the architects productivity, a lack of attention to a detail, staying in a comfort zone, a bit of laziness or carelessness … and also for some reasons not attributable to the architect. However, a good project is not a matter of luck. Never. It’s all so difficult … And therefore, we should always maintain our appreciation for the good consideration that each architect deserves for their best projects.
The second thing is that, on the other hand, we must try to always keep a critical and independent spirit, and if an architect that we admire produces something that we don’t like, we should not deceive ourselves or try to hide. Instead, we should look at it inquisitively.
Therefore, now that I have declared my respect and admiration for the creators, as well as my criticism of some of their works, I propose that you do the same and that you contradict me in one of the examples that follow (or in all), that you lean on others (or none) and leave comments proposing more. In the end, we could even rank the projects that are not up to the standards of architects that we consider great.
For example, I am thinking of Adolf Loos’ project for the Chicago Tribune competition. Does it really have anything to do with Adolf Loos? It is no longer about it being bad (which it is), but about having no idea where it came from. In Avilés, Oscar Niemeyer was by then a very old man who had a bit of fun with a sketch that he made without thinking, without measuring, without evaluating, without proportions, without adjustments, without anything. A pre-sketch. Just fun. And so it was. Then a series of technicians made it viable, but the creative talent of the project remained a silly caricature.
The great Sáenz de Oíza sadly left us with only a few projects. He was a man of extremes and so passionate that when he did it badly, he did it very badly. For example, this brings to mind the Casa Fabriciano. We so rely on the history and past of architects that we use this background as a crutch to access their works. Many times if it were not for that reason, we would not pay the slightest attention to those projects.
What matters is the association of a renowned author. The author’s signature. Is this work by Aalto, by Borges, by Joyce, by Picasso? Then it’s good. It has to be because these authors have already produced very good works that have promoted them to the highest levels and made them sublime at everything. Let’s see who dares contradict that. Everyone, even the most revered, can have a bad project (“everyone can have a bad day”), or create a minor or inconsequential project. But, apparently, if you have a “good signature” you are safe from everything and you can only produce sublime things.