Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beyond Pritzker...

Book signed by Denise & Bob
Oct. 30, 2014. Philadelphia.
Photo: Nacym Baghli
Letter to Martha Thorne, Executive Director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

For Denise Scott Brown

Dear Martha,
I hesitated for a long time before writing you this letter.
At this time, you are the first and the only person I tell this story, except my wife, Sihem.
Why you?
I met Denise & Bob in last october at their home in Philadelphia. It was a long and exciting trip (*).
A great honor for me.
When I returned back to Algiers, I had these mixed feelings on the life of this 'famous duo' in architecture.
All that remains from their amazing life, not only as architects, is this simple life they have today, somehow into oblivion, even I sensed some kind of bitterness. That was my deep sentiment. May be I am wrong?
We were at that café, not far from the Venturi-Scott-Brown house. Her eyes were shining of that kindness and humility. Coffee and lemon cake for me, light tea and a special crêpe for her. Everybody knows her and respect her in the neighborhood. We talked about everything, except architecture. We understood each other, in a simple way.
Bob, as she confessed to me, does not want to hear anymore about architecture. Nevermore, she said.
She, was very humble and modest. She was also forthright.
[Pritzker Architecture Prize]
Just like me, she was reserved and embarrassed about 'the subject' despite she knew my 'engagement', with Sihem, for quite some time now. An engagement for me that is still strong today and definitely selfless, and I think she well understood it.
We have not addressed the issue. We have never talked about before. We will not do it either today. Nor tomorrow.
Taboo? No. I felt that it seems to be a sensitive and painful issue for Denise, and I had no desire to talk about. It was better this way, and once again, I think we understood each other.
[Golden Lion]
A fortiori, after this summer event. I had hoped and expected so much for her from the 2014 Venice Biennale...
On the way back (by walk), from the café to home, Denise asked me to hold her hand. By certain places, the way was a bit steep. As her life, I thought. It was so touching for me. I was upset. It reminded me of my grandmother who had just left us.
Grandma Denise...
We did not talke a lot. Rather, it was the chance to get together, have a walk, exchange some few words, and indulge in small talk under the sun. It was a fresh and sunny day of October. Bob, for some reason, had stayed at home.
Once back, I discovered their universe, their cocoon. This beautiful living room, steeped in history and full of memories... Disturbing and surreal for me. Bob was in another room nearby, watching television. Denise invited me to join him. I kept handy a french edition of "Learning From Las Vegas". He offered kindly to sign to me the book (Denise already did it). Just the time to take a photo souvenir (I hesitated a moment before do it) and I left the room. I did not want to take much of his time... "Nevermore architecture" said Denise.
My taxi was already back and it was time for me to quit the legendary couple (I had already missed my first, then my second train!).
I was moved, saddened and proud at the same time by this beautiful and unexpected encounter.
I was 41, she was the double. I was 41, she published "Learning From Las Vegas" with Bob and Izenour at 41.
Of course, these are just numbers and coincidences.
I am a 'perfect stranger' architect, she is a great figure of architecture.
Dear Martha,
Why me? Why her? Why I do this trip? Why? I still do not know.
Why you?
I think it is the only thing I know, and I know now (after reading these lines) that you know.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon about this 'beyond-architecture' story.
All the best,

Algiers, Feb. 27, 2015

(*) PCM = Personnal Critical Marathon (Oct. 22 - Oct. 31, 2014)
Algiers, Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C. & Philadelphia.

Following is the answer of Martha Thorne, who kindly agreed that I publish this letter on my blog, and to which she spontaneously responded, with these beautiful words. Thank you, Martha.

Many thanks for writing to me and for explaining your encounter with Bob Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown. It is wonderful to realize that life is full of unexpected coincidences. Clearly the moments you shared were very special.
I am always amazed at how difficult the architecture profession​ i​s, and yet how many ​talented and committed people devote their lives to the field.​ Of course you should feel free to publish you lovely story about meeting Bob and Denise.
Sending you my best wishes,

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