Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Death by Design

Andrea Palladio (1508 - 1580)

"Since a drawing in perspective necessarily involves distortion causing relationships between elements to be hidden, fifteenth-century architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti and later Raphael in the sixteenth century drew distinctions between perspective depiction of architecture as pertaining to artists and orthogonal depictions as pertaining to architects. Acknowledging this distinction, Palladio later chose to redraw his earlier perspectives in the form of orthogonal elevations or facades."
-The Villas of Palladio By Kim Williams, Giovanni Giaconi

(First image: Photo of Palladio's Villa Rotonda, Veneto, Italy photographed by Stefan Bauer, second image: plan and section sourced from wikipedia)
So the story goes, that at the age of 70 and almost on his death bed Andrea Palladio started to redraw all his drawing, not only of buildings he was commissioned to build but the buildings that he had already built as well. Maybe he wanted to assert that the tool of drawing architecture goes beyond its obvious usage of facilitating construction...or maybe it was his personal struggle to re-conceptualize all his work within The Four Books of Architecture.He died in Maser in 1580, while he had just begun working on the fifth volume that his sons planned to expand after his death, but the project never completed.
Antoni Gaudi (1852 - 1926)

There can be no better example than Antoni Gaudi, of an architect who knew the materials he worked with, to their smallest behavioural property. This dust of construction materials within which he often worked hazed the boundary between art and architecture, with Gaudi till date being classified and reclassified somewhere between being an architect, artisan, artist etc. But it was exactly this construction dust and attire of an artisan that proved fatal.

(Photo of Casa Mila, Barcelona, Spain by David Iliff sourced from here)
On 7 June 1926 Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. He was eventually taken to a paupers' hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day. When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor." He died three days later.
Carlo Scarpa (1906 - 1978)

In 1978, while in Sendai, Japan, Scarpa died after falling down a flight of concrete stairs. He survived for ten days in a hospital before succumbing to the injuries of his fall. We don't really know Scarpa's true purpose of his last journey to Japan and we dont even know what was he doing so far away from the traditional places of interest...some speculate he was following the itinerary of a journey by Basho, a 16th century Haiku poet.

(Photo of Scarpa's Castelvecchio Museum, Verona, Italy sourced from here which has some more nice photographs of his work)
Scarpa is buried standing up, in the outside corner (that was once a spot where dead flowers used to be thrown away) of his L-shaped Brion family cemetery.
"If there was an elegant way to die, it was his: he died in Japan in the land he had loved most, after Veneto where he first saw the light. He was wrapped in a great Kimono, an honour the people of that far off land reserve for their greatest sons and laid in a wooden box, a bed, a cradle, as the poet Ungaretti called it- not a coffin- sealed with flowing white ribbons. For five years there was only earth over his body..."
-Francesco Dal Co and Giuseppe Mazzariol - 1984, Carlo Scarpa, The complete works, Electa/Rizzoli
Project Cost
Louis Kahn (1901 - 1974)
Maybe it was him being a great architect that made him a bad businessman. His dislike to compromise his design ideas to satisfy his client's wishes and frequent change of design made him unpopular with the clients. For this reason Kahn did not make many buildings. His design company did not always have many jobs or much money.

(image of the Dhaka National Assembly building by Louis Kahn from Nathaniel Kahn's film My Architect sourced from here)
In the year 1974, Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in a men's restroom in Pennsylvania Station in New York City. He was not identified for three days, as he had crossed out the home address on his passport. He had just returned from a work trip, and despite his long career,spanning through design of some of the most beautiful buildings, he was deeply in debt ($500,000) when he died.
In today's context where architecture is not so much about design but management of it, where client satisfaction, timely completion, finishing specifications and budgeting precedes the need to design something that shall push the narrative of architectural history a little further, we don't commit the follies that the masters committed, but neither do we design buildings that form history.

...Architects no longer die by Design, but by the stress of Managing it.

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