The Case of Architect Ivan Crnković


 Architect and professor Ivan Crnković has died. Probably, the way he wanted and planned. It has been years, decades even, since he created something new; he repeated always the same jokes and aphorisms on architecture and life, prob¬ably already boring himself and others. It does not take an astronaut to understand the space stands in the text On the education of architects, the last Crnković’s text. I wrote the text, as editor of the Yearbook of the Zagreb faculty of Ar¬chitecture and, judging from a few conversations, Crnković was not too enthusiastic with the result so he inserted this poetical and banal piece of wisdom as a conclusion. Although the outlines of Crnković’s ideas can be detected: his wish that architecture is taught and practised as an autonomous intel¬lectual discipline, and not as a synthesis of art and technol¬ogy or any other discipline; that education, but also architec¬ture on the whole, opens to the field of the disciplinary, but free research. The text, however, lacks Crnković’s authentic intensity, intellectual provocation, density of free associa¬tions and references, such as those in the text he wrote on his project of the House with Six Equal Rooms published in Arhitektura magazine, most extensive and maybe the only really relevant Crnković’s text that I am familiar with. In the end, in this somewhat forced text published in the first of the series of the new issues of the Yearbook, Crnković’s authentic words may only be astronaut and Picasso, the rest being my retelling and deciphering of his attitudes and ideas, with some extra information necessary to shape the text in a coherent unity. The method of retelling Crnković’s words was not ideal. The idea may be rather preserved, but it leaves the impres¬sion of inauthenticity, which raises the question of Crnković’s legacy. Has anyone written what makes Crnković a really im¬portant architect? Adolescent memories, photographs taken from private photo albums and texts put together from the fragments of one, intellectually speaking, already a posthu¬mous interview, copy paste of the official biography from the web pages of the Faculty of Architecture – this is more or less everything that our scene had to say about Ivan Crnković who, to be honest, decided to create and live the myth that usually surrounds the deceased. Incomplete aphorisms and riddles can be used to construct a romantic myth on a self-de¬structive genius, but systematic and transferable knowledge cannot be built; it is hard to decipher the method that dies with the physical body of an intellectual. Most of Crnković’s knowledge, his authentic intellectual coordinates, have not been left to future generations and it is hard to accept that he will continue to live through the lives of his students. We can so read provincial stories on the native of Zagreb born and bred on web portals, his former students recall his charisma and anecdotes on the Facebook (the introduction to this text also almost falls into the same trap), saying how only one of his sentences would change their view of architecture and the world…. But, what kind of an identity or architectural founda¬tions can one have if only one sentence can make such a radi¬cal change? What was their education like when a charismatic professor allegedly determined their further intellectual growth through a pseudo-Zen koan? And can anyone point to the lessons of Ivan Crnković in the projects of recent Croatian architecture? (The told anecdotes are also narcissistic: many use Crnković for a trip down the memory lane of their own, to recall what he did for them, which was also a very efficient way to destroy the charisma since his fragile ego was fed with unhealthy worship.) Yes, Crnković enjoyed the admiration of his environment, but did he really enjoy it? There is only one published article about his work that is really relevant and shows dedication, hard work and intellectual empathy – the one Dragomir Maji Vlahović published in Ljubljana-based magazine Sinteza on the project of the House with Six Equal Rooms. What was the critical reaction, interpretation or the feedback that Crnković could have relied on? Who was there with whom he could have engaged in a dialogue? Who was supposed to realise that, in the project of the Kindergarten in Samobor, Crnković relativized Kahn’s model of served and servant spaces by introducing a third element on the trace of the in-between concept of Aldo van Eyck and developed an authentic, mathematically precise configuration that is both an open system and the series of precisely defined places? Who was to read the layers of Loos and (post)mod¬ern Japanese architecture in Dropuljić House in Imotski? Who detected his transition from reflexive modernism to reflexive postmodernism, a uniquely interesting intellectual adventure yet to be deciphered, if at all possible? Crnković did not do much for the understanding of his ideas, slightly due to self-ishness, some laziness or, to put it more nicely, demotivation, but maybe insecurity the most. Will magic disappear if the thought is written down, if it is tried to be articulated? Will it become petrified, dead when it stops moving in the physical activity of speech and becomes a static text? Learning from the experience of the text on education, we might wonder if Crnković’s idea was even writable. I am convinced that it was – if such a precise drawing as the one of the Kindergarten in Samobor could have been articulated, the idea is so clear that it could be articulated in the textual form as well. The Samo¬bor project is a minor problem: we will interpret and analyse it and learn from it. But what about all the ideas and concepts that are in sketches or sketches of sketches, in fragments we have no interpretations of? Will all of Crnković’s students and associates meet and, in a collective mega séance, reconstruct the thoughts of the great teacher? With a certain amount of cynicism, I dare say that Crnković’s work, as a consequence of the narrowness of scope and sources, will probably resist the scientific analysis. Crnković is not a tragic character; his fate is the product of our environment, which seems to value the charisma of the native of Zagreb born and bred more than intellectual work, but he chose his path. A valuable repository of ideas, potentially important contribution to architectural culture, not only Croatian, but international – in absolute val¬ues, however, may have been lost due to the joint indolence of Crnković and the milieu in which he lived and worked. This contribution and knowledge did not only belong to Crnković and were not only the privilege of his and his students. Future generations were also entitled to use Crnković’s insights and knowledge that were supposed to have been built into the development of our architectural thought, as a part of our, unfortunately, untold or unestablished continuity; they were supposed to build new architecture that should not be always designed anew. That is why the case of Ivan Crnković, one of the best architects we have ever had, provides a good lesson on the milieu that contents stories talk and myths, on the cul¬ture that lacks reflection, on the continuous discontinuities, on the Zagreb school of architecture that is always intuiting, elusive, inconclusive, untold.
Maroje Mrduljaš