One day not long ago, I went to meet a friend and mentor at the ‘Ion Mincu School of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest.’ But he wasn’t there. The door to his office was closed. But another door opened. Dan Coma was waiting in front of the closed door… Without any further introduction, here are the answers to the questions I posed to Dan about his work at ICARCH, International Competitions in Architecture. I hope they speak for themselves about the erudition, sincerity, passion and creativity of a man that practiced architecture in the most varied environments: from Rome under Paolo Portoghesi, all the way to New York where he became friends with Lebbeus Woods.
To begin with, how did the idea of the ICARCH competitions occur to you? It seems like the competitions all have something in common, yet are clearly distinguishable from one another. Why the recurrent title: ‘A house for…’? What does the notion of ‘the house’ signify to you?
I always had, somehow, a more intense interest in “fictional” characters than in the “real” ones… this is why when I was in my 20s I designed A House for Hamlet and A House for The Brothers Karamazov… among others… and I remember Gaston Bachelard saying that the mollusc does not build a house to live in, but it lives to build its house… that is, the house is the expression of a consummated life, of an EARNED life, as I like to put it… it is the sum product of a biography… it tells a story… essentially it is a quest for a narrative architecture… after all, what does Fallingwater say about its inhabitant, Mr. Kaufmann…? Almost nothing, except that he chose Mr. Wright to build it. And what does Villa Savoye say about the Savoye family…? Not much, except that they commissioned Le Corbusier to conceive it. But a house that expresses the life and specificities of its inhabitant is richer… and not only on a psychological level.
I started to launch the A HOUSE FOR… competitions with A HOUSE FOR ALBRECHT DURER, when an exhibition with his engravings took place at the Bruckenthal Museum in Sibiu, Romania. And because I love Durer. So I launched it, and we received some beautiful entries.
We will soon touch on your intense passion for architecture, a key component of your work. But before that, let us clarify another point: I find it interesting that you do not impose a specific format on the entries. Is this lack of normative constraints a manifestation of freedom of expression understood in the most literal way?
I use the word “house” in the most generic sense… in a way, all buildings are “houses”… a bank is the house of money, a church is the house of god, a home is the house of man… perhaps I am an essentialist, although Kenneth Frampton described me once as an existentialist.
Why “ANY works, ANY size, ANY format…?” I fluctuate… but I am polemic against the excessive descriptiveness and thus restrictiveness of today’s world… giving “total freedom,” I expect unexpected responses. I like to be surprised. I also try to avoid “the tyranny of numbers”… there are too many numbers, I feel, in today’s world. And too much so-called “objectivity”… too much “reason”, and too much “cerebrality.”