Bold Ventures: Thirteen Tales of Architectural Tragedy

Charlotte Van den Broeck Asks Interesting Questions

By: - Apr 02, 2023

In Bold Ventures: Thirteen Tales of Architectural Tragedy (Other Press), author Charlotte Van den Broeck asks some interesting questions: When is a mistake so all-encompassing that an individual feels he or she can’t go on? What is the line between creator and creation? If the art deconstructs, should the artist as well?

Drawing on a quirky, rabidly stream-of-consciousness style, the Belgian poet explores what some see as the literal do-or-die nature of the creative endeavor, focusing on the conflict between godlike ambition and crushing defeat through the stories of tragic buildings that were fatal to their humiliated architects. She recounts the histories and social contexts of architects who either killed themselves or are rumored to have done so because of their utter humiliation and deflated hubris. All the while, the author shares her own observations about the disgraces and adds in some of her unconventional personal experiences.

Moving from the twisted spire of a church in seventeenth-century France to the inept design of a mid-nineteenth century Vienna State Opera House and a theater roof that collapsed mid-performance in ’20s Washington D.C., Van den Broeck uses the breakdown of public structures to query how ambitious art and overweening ego intersect. After all, one needs considerable nerve to dream big – and to face disaster. What does suicide say about the relationship between creativity and public disgrace?

Each of the thirteen chapters is a short non-fiction story about a time, a place, and some very peculiar personalities. Van den Broeck descriptive powers are impressive, her ability to detail historical and social context less so. And her characterizations are disappointing. Are we supposed to have empathy for the failed designers? Or should we simply acknowledge something they didn’t — that failure is an inevitable part of achievement? Many Frank Lloyd Wright projects leaked. Van den Broeck doesn’t supply any convincing answers. The archetypal flight of Daedalus and Icarus intertwines success and failure, over-reaching and falling, creativity and suicide. That calls for a subtler approach.

Still, some readers may be intrigued by this deadly design showcase (translated by David McKay) of idiosyncratic architects and designers who couldn’t face failure.

Courtesy of The Arts Fuse.