Belgian poet Charlotte Van den Broeck (Chameleon) has written a lively, deeply engrossing exploration into the nature of architectural creation. She "developed a personal interest in architectural failures--especially in failures that cost the architects their lives," when, in the early 2000s, her Flemish hometown swimming pool was beleaguered by a multitude of problems. Mechanical flaws and technical glitches peaked when the pool started to sink into marshy ground, raising the possibility of swimmer electrocution. The growing list of dangers eventually led to rumors that the disgraced pool architect, left publicly unnamed, had taken his own life.
This led Van den Broeck to consider: "What makes a mistake larger than life, so all-encompassing that your life itself becomes a failure? Where is the line between creator and creation?" Van den Broeck examines this and 12 other doomed architectural structures--churches, theaters, libraries, post offices, galleries, gardens and golf courses in Europe and the U.S.--researching their creators, some plagued by hubris and haste. This includes the Church of Saint Omer in Verchin, France, designed in the 1600s by architect Jean Porc. It took nearly 70 years to build the gothic structure, whose tower became crooked and twisted due to a lack of proper support and the use of unseasoned elm wood that warped. Legend has it that, in defeat, Porc jumped to his death from the "exceptional" spire.
The sad tragedy of suicide resides at the heart of each historically framed, vividly written chapter. The narrative, translated from the Dutch by David McKay, is buoyed by Van den Broeck's meditative insights into all aspects of the creative life. -- Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines