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Get it right first time,they say, but in the case of these four architects it didn’t go quite like this. So, let’s try again: you have to start somewhere. Better, much better.
It may be a consolation to know that nobody’s ever come up with the perfect design first time round, not even those who go on to have successful careers. In spite of their difficult beginnings, these architects didn’t give up: and we can learn from their perseverance and admit our mistakes.
Of course, if you’re really not convinced, you can always get a couple of bulldozers in.
Designer and architect Alvar Aalto, one of the leading lights in Scandinavian style, began his career by fixing up…his parents’ house.
While still a student, in 1918 he decided to renovate a cottage in the small town of Alajärvi. He refurbished the interior, but it was in an extension to the house that he showed his first divergence from the norms of conventional architecture. For the roof of the veranda, he created a pediment supported by columns towards the rear, giving an extreme overhang effect.
Sadly, neither photos nor preliminary plans remain of this initial project. The house was demolished in 1950 when the Alajärvi authorities wanted to build on the site, and asked permission to move the cottage to another location in order to preserve it. But Aalto was in favour of demolition - a veritable damnatio memoriae. Could it really have been so ugly?
The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright also began his career by building a house - his own.
Aged 22 and without qualifications, he signed a five-year contract with Louis Sullivan’s studio. He immediately asked his boss for a loan of 5,000 dollars to set up home with his wife.
In fact he decided to build it from scratch, having never built a house before. He chose the Oak Park area just outside Chicago, and bought a plot at the crossroads of two streets. And here he raised a bizarre-looking house, clad in wooden shingles and with a steeply sloping roof that appeared to hang over the base, just like the Aalto family’s cottage.
A design that’s a far cry from Wright’s later iconic style, and a building he continued to extend, work on and fill with six children.
Nobody knows how Kahn got the job, there’s no official document referring to the commission, there are no photos to immortalise its execution until maintenance was carried out later.
The building in question is the Ahavath Israel synagogue, built for the eastern European communities in a northern suburb of Philadelphia, where Kahn had emigrated five years previously with his Estonian family.
It was the first project he executed entirely on his own: the design of the synagogue materialises (sic) in an austere rectangular block of industrial-style brick, devoid of adornment apart from a few windows. The only sure thing? The budget was tiny. You do what you can.
Fortunately Le Corbusier’s first project is hidden somewhere in the Swiss Alps: I don’t think he was very proud of it.
One of his teachers, L’Eplattenier, suggested to his colleague Louis-Edouard Fallet, who wanted a house-retreat in the mountains, that he should ask the seventeen-year-old Jeanneret (later known as Le Corbusier) to design it.
In conjunction with Chapallaz, who had recently opened a studio in Chaux-de-Fonds, Jeanneret embarked on the construction of the house. The idea was his (including the multi-coloured exterior decoration that aimed to evoke…pine cones) and he was in charge of the work; he involved some fellow-students in the interior decor - but he wasn’t paid even one franc by Chapallaz, who grabbed the commission for himself.
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