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ΜΑΚΆΡΙΟΙ (blessed) are the “poor” architects

Makarius (aka Marco) Frascari

Beati pauperes architecti: quoniam ipsorum est regnum cælorum.


Blessed are destitute architects,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

estis cum maledixerint vobis, et persecuti vos fuerint, et dixerint omne


malum adversum vos mentientes, propter architecturae: gaudete, et
exsultate, quoniam merces vestra copiosa est in cælis. Sic enim persecuti
sunt veri architecti, qui fuerunt ante vos.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of
architecture. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your
reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted
the real architects who were before you.

Incipit feliciter benevole lector …, well-intended reader start


felicitously to read these short reflections on architects’
beatific life. The aim is not to erect a doctrinal sanctuary, but
it is to dwell in wonder within the land of architectural
cosmopoiesis. It is a heterodox approach to architectural
theory by the way of poetic formations and fabrications sited within a promising land full of “humors.”
These humors if properly distilled into the glassy alembic of the quotidian, can return the spirit of the
profession to its fundamental role of making the inhabitants of architecture beati (blessed), by first
making architects themselves truly beati,

The reach of an objective blessed condition rather than a subjective happiness in the conceiving of
buildings should be an important goal for many architects. However, surprisingly little effort has focused
on the question of how architectural blessedness can be achieved, increased and then sustained, probably
because of serious self-interest—the concealed dreams of being one of the starchitects--engendered by
concepts of desolate business determinism and hedonic adaptations.

Is the pursuit of a blessed condition futile? I believe not and, in a nutshell, the very simple question: “are
you having fun?” reveals the emotional key that fits nearly every blessed architectural occasion and
foundation to a sustainable blessedness of architecture. The desperate search for a truly chronic
epicurean blessedness is based on “making  it  fun.”    Instead of attempting to find an answer to what
architects’ joyful delight does, this paper looks what is the non-so-evident nature of it and at the unique
role that plays in the final cause of architects’ pursuit of their architectural heaven. 1
The essential goal for architecture is to foster a vita beata and it is impossible to achieve such an outcome
if the architects conceiving such dwellings do not have themselves a vita beata. Nevertheless, within the
devastating memory loss generated by the project of modernity, too many architects sadly regard the
making of architecture as occasions of economic greed, but not as generator of their blessed life.

In many urban bodies, the devising and nurturing of architectural delight has been prevented by the
fusion of fashionable elations with financial gratifications. Regrettably this fusion has changed the ethical
contemplations of many architects. They do not assume merrily an ethical making of a city and its
buildings, but simply they sense financial and esthetic equations of possible buildings that they are going
to compile within cities and architectural magazines restlessly.

Richard and Suzanne Frank tell us an appalling tale of unhappiness as the unfortunate clients for
whom an unhappy Peter Eisenman designed House VI (1975).22 At the time, Eisenman was
undergoing intense psychoanalysis and the Frank’s own rehabilitation surfaced in a book that
they wrote entitled Peter Eisenman’s House VI: the Client’s Response. The slot in the floor
between the two beds, repeated on the wall and in the roof is the best-known example of the
many miseries that Eisenman imposed on his clients. “This forced us to sleep in separate beds,
which was not our custom”, wrote Mrs. Frank. She also pointed out that the architect “…was
somewhat cynical about practical construction matters in general.” By 1987, the house was in a
ghastly state with the deterioration of the main wall and an extensive and expensive two-year
renovation had to take place. A series of photographs by Mr. Frank (a professional photographer)
before and after reconstruction show the unhappy constructive and construing nature of the
architectural details. After the renovation, the notorious gap was bridged by a double bed.

In Latin, the all Beatitudes begin with “Beati…(Blessed…).” The Greek word for “blessed” used in the
Beatitudes is makarios (plural: makaroioi). The supremely blissful or blessed person is described
alternatively by two different Greek adjectives: makarios and eudaimonia. The notion of eudaimonia
(eudemonia) as pure mental condition has generally dominated the Cartesian discourse of philosophy,3
whereas, the notion of makarios has dominated the emotional realm of the union of mind and body.4

Following the biblical model (Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-26 and similar sayings that are in a few of the
Dead Sea Scrolls and in Jewish sources predating the Christian era), any list of beatitudes results written
in unconditional performative language.5 As eschatological blessings, the beatitudes are not entrance
requirements for outsiders, but a declaration about the responsibility of insiders. They do not merely
describe something that already is, but by bringing into being reality they declare who are the objectively
blessed ones instead of the subjectively happy one.

The opposite of eudaimonia is kakodaimon–‘unhappy’ (kako=bad), or more colorfully, “in the shit,” a
Greek word play on kakka (shit/turds). Happiness, in a word, is what happens to us. If we no longer say
that we are the influence of kakodaimon when things don’t go our way, we still sometimes acknowledge,
rather more prosaically, that “merde” materializes or hits the fan. 6 Karl Kraus, a Viennese Journalist who
lived in the “happy” kaiserlich und a königlich,(imperial and royal) Habsburg’ kingdom, the “Felix
Austria” before the First World War, know also as Kakania points out:

Adolf Loos and I - he literally and I grammatically - have done nothing more than show that there
is a distinction between an urn and a chamber pot and that it is this distinction above all that
provides culture with elbow room. The others, those who fail to make this distinction, are divided
into those who use the urn as a chamber pot and those who use the chamber pot as an urn.6
And while it goes without saying that Kakania needs good chamber pots, unhappy architect needs those
vessels too although they keep on using urns ‘7

The opposite of makarios, blessed, is not unhappy, but cursed because there is an ethical dimension to
the beatitudes. Beatitude is not independently true, but dependent on architects and their understanding
that they are doing the right thing even if it goes against the market driven and advertised definitions of
happiness … “happiness is … a fashionable market driven building.”

The vita beata results from, and is embodied in, an architectural landscape conceived for a “beatific
existence. When makarios was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament it referred to the
consequences of right living or righteousness. If you lived right, you were blessed. Being blessed meant
you received earthly, material things: a good wife, many children, abundant crops, riches, honor, wisdom,
beauty, good health, etc. A blessed person had more things and better things than an ordinary person. To
be blessed, you had to have great and fine-looking things, but above all you had to have fun.

A 16th century Padovano, who knew how to have fun, Angelo Beolco, better known under his art name,
Ruzante, poetically describes searches for a vita beata in his tragicomic plays.8 For him, a virtuous and

beatific existence is a way of life with no temporary impairment caused by psychic and physical
commotions even if everything goes wrong. Reasoning by analogy one of his theatrical piece can give us a
clear understanding of two contrary conditions of architects: on the one hand there are the beautiful
object makers that impose architectural knowledge and on the other hand the makers and doers of
architectural factures that by a prudent of exercise architectural intelligence suggest a proper
architecture. Architectural knowledge deals with the imposition the persuasive power of forms and it does
not matter if the final result causes mental or physical misery to its inhabitants as long as it looks good in
glossy magazines or Internet sites. The application of architectural intelligence achieves systematically
architectural artifacts for a vita beata, even if it not possible to take good pictures of them, as Adolf Loos
as pointed out cynically.

Written to entrain Alvise Cornaro and his circle of friends, Ruzante’s amazing play is presented in the
form of dialogue. One of the most amazing figures of the Venetian culture, Cornaro is a well known for
his epicurean book describing how to conduce a sober life with the aim to reach a very advanced age, but
he also was a well esteemed dilettante of architecture, who employed a very valuable but prudent
architectural intelligence. 9 In other words, this Venetian nobleman dealt with architecture by having fun,
i.e. in a proper beatific way. Cornaro, as stated in his architectural writing, praised buildings “which are
honestly beautiful and perfectly commodious rather than the ones which are awfully beautiful and
incommodious.”10

Ruzante’s play was performed at the usual Cornaro’s January hunting party, in 1525. Ruzante’s short play
entitled “An Extraordinarily Witty and Extremely Ridiculous Dialogue” (Dialogo Facetissimo et
Ridicolissimo) is an epiphanic piece.11 The tale takes place during the famine that had followed after the
War of the League of Cambrai. Having attempted suicide after losing his beloved Gnua to a rival who
offered her bread, Menego, a Pavan peasant, is cured by Diana’s Ragomant (Diana’s High-Priest, a part
probably played by Cornaro himself). Conjured up by Diana’s High-Priest, a deceased friend materializes
and explains a philosophy of life and what will be the final reward for the Buoni Compagni (Good
Friends). Zaccarotto, the epiphanic deceased friend, describes two kinds of paradise, one of hunts and
fairs, but lacking a divine presence, and another where those who “took their joy in saying prayers,
fasting, abstaining, living in solitude and similar activities neither eat or drink, but spend all their time
contemplating God” (715, par. 105). Furthermore, Zaccaroto points out that of the two paradises, the
non-theistic and sensorially dominated one is the paradise reserved for the intelligent Buoni Compagni,
whereas the theistic, ruled by hegemony of visual knowledge, is for relentless mystics. The unremitting
ascetics gain their dull eudemonia from the straightforwardness of the canonical contemplation of God,
whereas the Buoni Compagni as makaroi blissfully and leisurely enjoy felicitous conversations
supplemented with excellent drinking and delicious dining in each other’s company.

Zaccarotto’s structure of a double paradise can be applied to architects. In the contemplative paradise
there are all the ascetic architects that fatalistically respond to pseudo design ideals and confuse urns and
chamber pots, whereas in the other one are the architects that know how to have delight in their work by
giving sense to their architectural factures.
A few decades after the death of Ruzzante, during his time in Venice as Ambassador, Henry Wotton an
Elizabethan polygraph wrote a famous poem, The Character of a Happy Life, and The Elements of
Architecture (1624), a book based mostly on Italian theory and practice, with Palladio and Venetian
architecture having the lion share. Probably Wotton knew of the thermal delights of casa Cornaro with its
cooling and heating structure of ventodotti, since he mentions these built in sustainable appliances in his
Elements and proudly renamed the heating ones “caliductus.” 12

The repeatedly quoted Wotton’s dictum, “well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and
delight,” is a rendition of triad of firmitas utilitas and venustas presented by Vitruvius in his Ten Books on
Architecture. The translation of venustas, a slightly venous exquisiteness, in ‘delight ‘ rather than beauty
is a curious event, but appropriate to a search of a beatific life. By the way of France, ‘delight’ derived
from the Latin word delectare, which is also the source of dilettante understood as someone who makes or
do something for honest diletto (pleasure) and not for profit.

In Architecture, working to achieve personal delight and others delight, is not based on the solving
problems. Nevertheless the official voices of the profession stress that the solving of architectural
problems is the efficacious role of architects. Enlightened by their market promotions and by having
awarded to themselves prices and recognitions for having solved architectural problems that most of the
times create bigger problems that is the role taken by many architects. Nevertheless solving problems and
setting problems is how the architects of the contemplative paradise perpetuate, legitimate and justify
their professional presence.

In 1951, Architectural Forum praised MinoruYamasaki's original proposal for the Pruitt-Igoe large urban
housing project as "the best high apartments" of the year. A few years after its completion, living
conditions in Pruitt-Igoe began to decay to the point that to solve the problems it was causing had to be
demolished in 1972, event selected by happy critics to mark the beginning of Post-Modern architecture.
Team Ten members, Alison and Peter Smithson designed their famous “streets in the sky” for a housing
complex in Robin Hood Garden (London) however the configuration selected generated a high crime
rate. The project has been often mocked as an example of modernist architectural idiocy rather than a
progressive model for solving the problems of social housing that the Smithsons had hoped.

Clearly a leader among the architects who knows how to enjoy their life was the English architect Cedric
Price, who delighted in brandy and good cigars, both habitually consumed at breakfast time. One of his
sound and appealing viewpoints was “the architectural profession has got lost. Architects are such a dull
lot - and so convinced that they matter.” He was also interested in the delight others also and he addressed
to the profession with a disquieting aphorism: “the best solution to an architectural problem is not
necessarily a building.”13 Price’s suggestion to a married couple that was interviewing him for building a
house to save their deteriorating relationship was to get a divorce.

Beside Ivo Shandor, hopefully no architect intentionally conceives buildings to cause misery and
despair.14 The predicament is the misconstrued main concerns set by the profession have distorted
completely the ethical dimension of architectural conceiving of building. As Jeremy Till points out,
“behaving according to professional ethics is not behaving ethically, indeed they [RIBA, AIA, or ARB
codes] might be actually codes of misconduct.”15

Presently, the demonstration of this multifaceted conundrum is the countenance of sustainability. As


Matthias Sanerbruch, indicates: ”Sustaining sustainability doesn’t seems fun.”16 Green worshipping does
not compensate for awful architecture. Rather the quality of architecture itself causes the longevity of the
building, the public housing built by the Venetian government in 14th century for handicapped sailors who
had served on the fleets of the republic still exists and sought after because the pleasure of space, light and
materials seduce most of people into better ways of thinking and behaving. In Augsburg Germany there is
a complex of dwellings founded in 1521 by Jakob Fugger--the most famous member of the Fugger dynasty
of German bankers--so that poor people and Catholics (both necessary entry requirements) of Augsburg
could find shelter. The annual rent it amounted to only one Rhenish guilder and three recitations of
prayers for Jakob Fugger and his family. The exceptional architectural nature of these houses had made
them an incredible long lasting housing institution. Today, living in its 140 apartments there are 150
tenants. The apartments are still funded only through the Fuggerei foundation, and the tenants are
charged annually, the equivalent nominal of a florin: 88 cents.

Sustainability and good architecture are inseparable. The buildings conceived by the blessed architects
has always been sustainable as water has been always without calories even if nowadays this information is
spelled out in large letters on the plastic bottles sold on the contemporary beverage market.

It is all a question of advertising and market exploitation. Advertising is how we are told in what and to
what extent to be happy and the “mystics” of architecture know how to do it to achieve their cheerless
eudemonia. They act only with the intention of generating a new market with the purpose of pleasing
those who believe in sustainability. However, rather than establishing that proper architecture has always
been sustainable, sadly they worked out a system of mends and self-praising rewards. From the developers
and building trades’ point of views, the attainment of this market driven sustainability was done with the
same building and financial tools that in first place created unsustainable buildings. An amazing
manifestation of this point is a press release from Libeskind’s Architecture Studio. On September 29,
2009, Daniel Libeskind, a future member of the tedious paradise, has unveiled the prototype for his
highly anticipated Libeskind Villa and as the press release states, (my italics)

“The Villa … is a German-made, sculptural living space that marries the highest
standards in design, craftsmanship and sustainability. … Sustainable materials are at
the heart of Libeskind’s design. … The Villa employs onsite renewable energy sources
for heating, electricity and water. … As a result of its high thermal insulation
capabilities and renewable energy sources, the Villa is classified as a low-energy
structure. Indeed, it complies with some of the world’s toughest energy-saving
standards, such as Germany’s KfW40 code, which indicates a thermal energy
consumption of less than 40 kWh/m²a.”17
The interiors of the Villa give the impression of being designed by a bad-taste and ungrateful interior
designer who has copied the formal appearances of the interiors of the Berlin Jewish Museum to a minor
and cozy scale, but of course, in sustainable materials.

A vita beata is based on gratitude and recognition of others’ merits. The emotion of thankfulness and joy
in response to the gift of architecture is one of the essential ingredients for living a good life. Architects
should count their blessing through an application of a Stoic search of balance between fame and fortune.
Gratitude is the behavior of performing an act of thanksgiving and to the cognition that one has
experienced fortune as a result of something or someone outside oneself. This the only way for them to
be beati and join the group in the second architectural paradise, the sanctuary those who are having a
delightful fun in conceiving their architectural artifacts and are grateful of regenerating architectural
artifacts under a mode of social and technological organization in which buildings can once more be a
source of communal as well as personal delight. “Poor” architects must blissfully conceive sustainable
artifacts that can give edifying sustenance. Promoting a good life, joyful architecture is the result of living
well in well-thought and well-built buildings conceived by architects satiated with a cosmospoietic
bursting of humors, i.e. having fun.
Notes
1 Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. “The cultural shaping of emotion: A conceptual framework.” In S. Kitayama & H.
R. Markus (Eds.), Emotion and Culture,Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1994, pp. 339–351.
2 Suzanne Shulof Frank, Peter Eisenman’s House VI the Makar, Eudaimon, Olbios, Eutychia: A Study of the client’s

response (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1994).


3 Comprised of the Greek eu (good) and daimon (god, spirit, demon),eudaimonia thus contains within it a notion of

fortune—for to have a good daimon on your side, a guiding spirit, is to be lucky.


4 Cornelius de Heer, Makar, Eudaimon, Olbios, Eutychia: A Study of the Semantic Field Denoting Happiness in

Ancient Greek to the End of the Fifth Century b.c. (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1969).
5 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea scrolls and Christian origins, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co. pp. 111-118.


6 Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford

University Press, 1991).


7 In The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil ironically baptized the Austro-Hungarian Empire as “Kakania”, a
title formed by taking the initial letters (ka. ka.) of the two labels adopted by that State: kaiserlich (Imperial) and
königlich (Royal) and of course playing the connection with the slang caca and the Latin verb cacare (to defecate).
8 For the vita beata theorized in Ruzante’s plays see: Franco Fino, Il Paradiso dei Buoni Compagni, Padova:

Antenore. 1988, pp. 39-51.


9 Marisa Milani, “Introduzione” in Cornaro, Alvise. Scritti sulla vita sobria : elogio e lettere, Marisa Milani ed.,

Venezia : Corbo e Fiore, 1983; Alvise Cornaro, Scritti sull’architettura, P.Carpeggiani ed., Padova:Centro Grafico
Editoriale, 1980.

10  

11 Ruzante, Dialogo Facetissimo et Ridiculossimo, reccitato a Fosson alla caccia del 1528. Published in 1561, Appresso
Domenico de Farri (In Vinegia) http://www.archive.org/details/DialogoFacetissimoEtRidiculosissimo,
Accessed September 30, 2009
12 Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, (facsimel 1624 ed.) Charlottesville, Va. The University Press of

Virginia 1968.
13 Cedric Price ‘s quotes are used in his Obituary published by, The Independent, August 14, 2003, http://

www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/cedric-price-548585.html Accessed 10-08-22


14 According to the movie Ghostbusters’ popular literature, Ivo Shandor, a Penn graduate, was the evil architect of 55

Central Park West, who by using unusual materials such as cold-riveted beams with cores of pure selenium,
magnesium-tungsten alloys, and gold plated bolts in a fashion similar to the telescopes NASA uses to identify dead
pulsars in deep space. He designed his building to bring about the end of the world.
15 Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends, Cambridge MIT Press, 2008, p. 181.

16 Matthias Saurbruch, “Sustainability or the redefinition of the pleasure principle.” Harvard Design Magazine,

Spring/Summer 2009, 30, pp.60-68


17 SDL Press Releases, http://www.daniel-libeskind.com/news/news-single-view/article/229/studio-danie-6/

Accessed on September 29, 2009. The best part of the site—click the sketch on top—is D.L. selling the villa with a
pomposity typical of car-dealers.

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