Is genius loci a fashion?

V i  n c e n t   M a n g e a t 

The scene took place at Arc-et-Senans, Saturday, March 9th, 2002,when Francois Chaslin had brought here the microphones from the “France Culture” channel and those of his “Metropolitain” show for a live broadcast. Claude Nicolas Ledoux is the host of a Swiss architects gathering, reunited at the initiative of the producer who is eager to find out more about Swiss architecture.

 

Around the table, with all the microphones open, one can hear some architects recognizing each other against the noisy and talkative background. Following the line of the questions brought up by Francois Chaslin, each one of them says something and they express themselves as if, given a few definitely good Swiss architects, one could substantiate the concept of "Swiss architecture". Or, to paraphrase, as if there were such a thing as Swiss cheese in the absence of high quality standards for the overwhelming majority of Swiss cheese producers. First of all, one of the guests, Martin Steinmann, aloof and seeming above everything, sets the reference beyond the level of the discussion. Francois Chaslin, intrigued by the silence of one guest, gives him the floor. There he is, Livio Vacchini! He is present and he speaks. Or rather he is silent for a long moment and then he speaks, raising the temperature in the room: “Man is born multiple…He dies as one. I am surrounded by noise. I don’t want to hear the noise(any longer). I am searching for the one. To become one. To make a building that is one, where space, light matter, structure become united as one."

 

Silence follows which he then interrupts to tell the story of the architecture and of the architect: “Formerly the architect was king. Imhotep was king, god and architect. Later, the architect became adviser to the king. Ledoux for example. And then the architect raised against the king/politics. He became a rebel. Today, the architect is the one who won. Politics needs architects, celebrated architects, powerful… rich and travelling by helicopter. Success is easy. The architect has won. Everything is possible”.

 

But in the end of the day what is the architect's concern? The architect is understood here as Livio Vacchini saw him: free and responsible. He concludes then the story of the architecture and of the architect “Today, what are the architects’concerns? What really? Not the noise, smells, minimalism, fashion/trends. What is it that he should be concerned with if not beauty, eternity, the monument… everything that is difficult."

 

Without arrogance, but driven by those questions which have determined his life, Livio Vacchini, who never wanted to teach, defined what it means to be a professor, what teaching means: basically being elsewhere, different, thus defying the establishment, the convenient, the prince. Opposing silence to noise. He knows, without doubt, that his work is a word he wanted to cross with those of his peers who put out this question: ”What is architecture? What is architecture about?” and that it is always about growing. Growing a masterpiece.

 

A masterpiece of thought which he fortunately produced in the thirteen sections of Capolavori (Linteau publishers), from which I extracted this short conclusion: architecture is made by its own history and at Stonhenge it opens by a masterpiece. What is a masterpiece? It is what all great buildings erected after Stonehenge wanted to be: an approach always closer to perfection.

 

Farewell, architect! Hello, my friend!