"I consider this work, if you permit me, to be rather good and which will get better over time," wrote architect Carlo Scarpa of his Brion Cemetery in San Vito D'Avitole. (Liao Yusheng © photo)
"It’s a commonly known secret among those who work in architecture that the poetic justifications for a design is all talk and sometimes descends to embarrassing levels of schmaltziness," writes blogger corbusier of Architecture and Morality [via bluemerle via Technorati] in that rare thing, an aesthetically aware cogitation on the Flight 93 Memorial debate of recent days:
I’ve been part of teams designing tall high-rises with multiple uses and amazing structural and mechanical systems . . . It’s for that reason the unveiling for the design of memorials does little to engage my interest . . . The most highly revered architects in history are never associated with memorials. We don’t study memorials much in architecture school, probably because it’s less about making buildings than it is glorified landscape architecture.
"It is subordinate already -- to the woods," said Gunnar Asplund of his Woodland Chapel at Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm. "The situation did not permit a building volume large enough to stand out monumentally against the natural setting. And so -- for the avoidance of half-measures -- the building was compressed until it modestly subordinated itself, insinuated itself into the woods, surrounded by spruce and pine trees towering to double its own height."
Ahem. Glorified landscape architecture indeed. Whatever the title on their shingle, some of the most highly revered designers are, indeed, associated with memorial design. Still, as a veteran of the Harvard Design School's Department of Landscape Architecture, we can vouch for the "embarrassing levels of schmaltziness" to which designers are prone in presenting their work to the public, and we suspect architect Paul Murdoch's choice of the widely misinterpreted title "Crescent of Embrace" for the curved allee of maples at the heart of the Flight 93 Memorial was just another example of flighty prose.
At the end of an allee of ancient spruce and pines cut through the forest at Stockholm's Woodland Cemetery lies the Chapel of Resurrection by S. Lewerentz.
To understand a landscape, you have to inhabit the site, if not in person, at least with your mind's eye. A cursory glance at an architect's plan isn't going to do it. As the widow of Flight 93's pilot, Sandy Dahl, put it, "No one was thinking of Islam when they were making this memorial. I would love for Mr. Tancredo to visit the site and not look at an aerial photo of it."