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Education: Rotterdam Conservatory, Cambridge University // Activities: composition, writing

Tuesday 17 November 2020

The revenge of the authentic

 In 2016, visionary architect and theorist Léon Krier held a lecture at the international seminar 'Architecture and Traditional Building Crafts', in which he explored the concept of 'fake'.

Creation is personal expression through imitation. What? This seems to be a nonsensical paradox: creation is supposed to be an original expression, while imitation reflects lack of ideas, so: no expression, let alone personal expression, but 'fake', something inauthentic because lacking the personal signature. But the process of creativity is much more complex than such simplistic assumptions suggest.

The creative mind uses available means to turn them into personal instruments of expression. It is impossible to develop a craft, without the necessary imitation of means. In the process of absorbtion, the means are transformed because the context within which they will reappear, will be determined by the creative mind. This changes the meaning of the means, and they become 'new' in the process, in the sense that they themselves are 'old' but their function within their new context turns the whole into a new creation. This is the secret of the great creators, including the great innovators: artists, composers, architects, writers, poets, philosophers.

Krier explains that the artifice of modernist buildings simply erode in the course of relatively short time because of structural flaws, while the authentic remains of ancient architecture still stand high, in spite of the ravages of time. Here is his lecture - rather sketchy at places, but it all hangs together:


 What would be the lesson for classical music, for contemporary music?

Clearly, the fear of imitation would have to go, and be replaced by a better understanding of the creative process in terms of originality, personal signature, expression, mimetic mindset. Ages of practical knowledge of how to write meaningfuol music offer a wealth of means to learn from, and to turn them into authentic instruments of personal expression, for whatever expressive purpose.

Knowing the craft of the past is necessary for any future development of the art form. This goes beyond style: under the surface, the musical dynamics (including psychodynamics) of Lassus, Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, etc. etc. are the same - it is only the surface level which takes-on a different character in every period, in the hands of every composer. So it is with architects, painters, poets, writers, etc. It is a fundamental process profoundly embedded in our human nature.

Krier is a pioneer and a visionary, and in the same time a very practical, rational man. His project design for the quarter Tor Bella Monaca, in the Roman suburb of Alessandria, is of a stunning beauty, and entirely designed according to the practical needs of modern humans, and on a welcoming human scale, using the local Italian traditional style but translated into a contemporary idiom which is also timeless, universal, demonstrating the relationship between tradition and interpretation.

The design was sabotaged by the Roman administration and then boycotted by the media, no one image of the presentation has been published in Italy, and this video is the only visual information to be found on the web, published by Krier himself: