To coincide with the opening of Masterpiece London, we asked leading cultural figures to pick out some of their personal favourite masterpieces
Frederick Kiesler is a favourite historical architect who comes to mind. That’s
because he didn’t build a lot, just one building: the wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. He left a lot of models and sketches and he also designed some pieces of furniture. He didn’t churn it out, but they were masterpieces.
Architecture is a profession where most architects conform. I coined the term, ‘Architects can’t be choosers.’ Yet among contemporary architects there are people like Jean Nouvel, who manage to rise above the demands of the economy, and Herzog & de Meuron have managed to leave some masterpieces.
Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool is a masterpiece. For a long time it was the only example of contemporary, uncompromising architecture in London, but the tenants were penguins. When they had to be rehoused, the penguins were happier, but I think that tells us more about penguins than about modern architecture.
Marcel Duchamp’s found object, Hérisson, is an object I find myself going back to. It was imprinted in my brain when I was young. The beauty of it wins, plus the ideology that underpins it.
If you look at the Citroën DS, and if you read Roland Barthes’ articles about it, it’s still a masterpiece. Now the car manufacturers all seem to compete in making cars that are all similar to each other. The DS was truly different from everything else around it – and better.
My favourite building, if I can talk about one of my own projects, is the Design Museum Holon. It was my luckiest piece of architecture. You usually have your sketches and models and first renderings and then it’s a journey of compromises and shortcuts and negotiated changes, but if you look at the original renders and at the final building, there’s nothing between them. It is what it is.
One of the reasons I came to London was a film by David Mercer called Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, with David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave. I thought London would be like that…
The masterpiece I’d take to a desert island is a 6B Caran D’Ache pencil, because it’s been my most useful tool – other than talking.
Ron Arad’s Thought of Train of Thought, a Terrace Wires commission with the Royal Academy of Arts, London, will be unveiled at St Pancras International Station on 7 July.
Masterpiece London takes place on the South Grounds of the Royal
Hospital Chelsea from 30 June–6 July. This article was originally published in the Masterpiece London magazine 2016.