Bold Ventures: Thirteen Tales of Architectural Tragedy by Charlotte Van den Broeck (Translated from Dutch by David McKay) - review by Will Wiles

Will Wiles

Build ’em Up, Knock ’em Down

Bold Ventures: Thirteen Tales of Architectural Tragedy

By

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‘That hovel? That’s what you’re planning to write a book about? Absolutely no one will read it! Besides, it’s not normal for a young woman to be so obsessed with death. You shouldn’t be making up books, you should see a psychiatrist.’ This damning assessment was delivered by Giulia, Charlotte Van den Broeck’s host during a visit to Naples. The ‘hovel’ is the Villa Ebe, a home designed by the architect Lamont Young for himself. Villa Ebe – a ‘house of youth’ named after Young’s young wife, Ebe Cazzani – was completed in 1922. Seven years later, Young shot himself in the villa’s castellated tower. He was seventy-eight.

‘Killing yourself at the age of seventy-eight – is that a rejection of life or of death?’ Van den Broeck asks. Death isn’t the point, she tells Giulia; the point is to ask why. What had led Young to this extremity? Although British by parentage, he was born in Naples and lived in the city his whole life. He was enthusiastically Neapolitan, but still too much of an outsider to thrive in the city’s close-knit professional circles. He proposed a number of visionary schemes for urban improvement that were rejected. Worse, the city made some improvements that resembled his ideas but without crediting them to him.

Maybe Young was born too early, unappreciated in his own time, ‘an astronaut in the Middle Ages’ in Van den Broeck’s words. Are his disappointments enough to explain his death? Bold Ventures is an attempt to answer that question, which might be unanswerable. Van den Broeck looks at

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