My Dear Friend

By Juan Muñoz
In reaction to the design of the Garden Pavilion in Vosselare, Juan Muñoz addressed his letter “Estimado Amigo...” to the architects. The text was translated into Dutch and English for their monograph Works in Architecture (Werk in Architectuur), while the hand-drawn drawings of the pavilion façade decorated the cover. The design and the letter occupy a special place in the work of Robbrecht en Daem.
Maarten Van Den Driessche

My dear friend, 

London 1881. Robert Louis Stevenson, just thirty-one years of age, was already thinking of a Treasure Island as he looked at a small school map on the wall in his room and wrote: 'I don't want to give the impression of being a poet, but just of man who speaks, not someone who sings. I regret apologising like this, but I would not like to find myself in front of people with a knowledge of music, and give them the impression that I know not the difference.' Hoping that the above will safeguard me from any misunderstandings, I wish to add that I am writing as the client, and perhaps the future owner of a house which I can intuitively see in my mind's eye. From where I am sitting here at the table, while I write this letter to you, I can see quite clearly the little plot of garden where the new pavilion will be built. Between the trees, almost at the bottom of the garden. I can almost imagine the two storeys of the building. I am writing because over the years, the next few years, that house, your house, will be mine. Because this is where I shall spend a part of my life, and I do not wish to have to tell myself some day that I failed to write this letter. In this note I would like to write down some of the impressions which I have felt over recent days - ordinary days, just like today.

Please allow me to talk about my house and your house, and please excuse me if at a given moment I speak of my rage. Your pavilion. A building, a structure, a dwelling, a house, a pavilion. Call it what you will. What matters is my rage. The rage which I am feeling now. Right now. Looking through this window. Between the trees, at the bottom of the garden. I remember at this moment the words I used when I tried to explain just what I imagined the house would be like. I remember that what I actually said was, 'If I am bored with life in my house, I may retire to the pavilion and stay there for a while.' I did not say to you, 'If I am bored with my life in my house' - I must have thought at that moment, and perhaps I still think so, like bored lovers trusting hotel rooms, that changing house is the same thing as changing your life. I remember reading in some book now long forgotten that the most memorable places do not refer back to themselves, nor do they represent anything outside themselves, but they are seeking an encounter with some other individual entity. Perhaps my memory has betrayed me and I am the one who thought of this image of an encounter, and I have now mixed it up with many such images. A pavilion. A place. A dwelling. An encounter. I tell you this because I would not wish to appear indifferent to the plans and drawings which I received from you this morning. I do appreciate the complex ground floor described by this single, seamless French window which recurs over the whole perimeter. I also thank you for the subtle interplay with memories. 

Am I asking you, with this letter, to build me a house as an allegory? If you think this is so, then I am sorry about the misunderstanding. I am not concerned whether this house, this place, this building is modern or not, or is new or old compared with other buildings, or whether its shapes have existed before or never have been brought together in this way, or whether constructing windows is so very difficult, or whether their unending circular repetition is a reflection of their opening and closing. What does matter to me, and what seems to me essential, is that this house - for me in the same way as my rage - is necessary. Mock not. I shall repeat in case I have been misunderstood, or in case I have not expressed myself well: I do not want to go out of my house and go across the garden to find there what I did not have here. When I go out of this drawing room, where I am now seated, and I walk through the garden to reach the pavilion, then I do not expect to leave my house like an old man dithering between desire and impossibility - you do understand me, don't you - I don't want you to decorate my imagination, or give me what I don't have. I don't want a house which is an idiotic hiding-place to take cover in. I want to cross this garden at night, and walking between the trees, approach your building and put the lights on, and there: come across it myself.

Over the last few months with its endless succession of hours, we have talked as much about this project as about my work as a businessman, or about Flemish history. And about money, politics, and Schubert's music. And I have learned that houses do not reflect the client's thoughts. I remember how we spoke of how best to keep the floors together by the intertwining of rooms. I pointed out the functional relationships, and you talked about the ceiling as a drawing and a floating volume. And at that moment I could see the gap between the drawn and the built. We jointly assessed the details of the interior. We talked about a simple bed and one bathroom. A kitchen with one table. You said: 'Not a single wardrobe. Nothing there where nothing is stored. A house like a suitcase.' And then you said: 'Any act, however short-lived, is an escape.' I remember this well because at that moment I thought... of escaping. I would like to ask you not to build me a space to escape. Like a suitcase, yes. Like a hideaway, no. 

I think you understand me. Like an ironic comment on what can be seen, I want a house which is everything but a house. Somewhat like a house built by a cartographer. Where each shape finds its counterpart somewhere else. At a distance. I think you will understand me if I say that this pavilion finds its true sense somewhere outside itself. Precisely: right opposite itself. Precisely in this window which I am looking out from. From the very place I write. 
So let me briefly summarize what I have said. I do not want you to build me a pavilion I can retire to 'when I am bored with life in my house.' As Stevenson said, 'Excuse this apology' - but I would like to rectify something in this house. Not an addition, but a change. I want a house that inspires me, not one that accommodates my cowardice. One that, as I walk among the trees at the end of the garden, explains my desire to move from one house to the other, as a necessary change, not as an escape from myself. 

I would very much appreciate it if you would modify the original project and build me an encounter. Call it a pavilion, a house, a building, a dwelling, a presence, an encounter, whatever you like.
Excuse the length of this letter and thank you for the Alfred Schnittke recording.
I hope to be able to listen to it over the week-end.
Original Publication: Juan Muñoz, “My Dear Friend”, in Steven Jacobs, ed., Works in Architecture: Paul Robbrecht & Hilde Daem (Ghent, 1998), pp. 138–9; Other Literature: Juan Muñoz, Louise Neri and James Lingwood, eds, Silence Please! Stories after the Works of Juan Muñoz (Berlin, 1996).