It is said that a piece of art is the true reflection of its creator’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and architecture, being probably the truest embodiment of art, must undoubtedly confirm the veracity of this adage.
What happens then if somebody whose work we are very familiar with were to design a building? Could we gauge correctly the kind of building that person would design? It is an interesting question!
One of the most-read authors of our time is Dan Brown. His books have garnered an enormous fan base comprising readers of all ages. Indeed, it was his books that helped me graduate from being a Blyton-reading kid to a teenager obsessed with conspiracy theories. His fast-paced, intricately woven books have created a furor in the literary world and readers’ minds alike. Having pored over all of his books diligently and repeatedly, I can only hope (tentatively) to have gleaned some knowledge about his personality and taste, through his writing. So what then, if Dan Brown suddenly started designing buildings? What kind of architect would he be? What type of buildings would he design?
I think we can start by figuring out the kind of architect he would NOT be. His dynamic and straightforward writing style helps us weed out structures that are laden with ornamentation and unnecessary flourishes. His structured plot lines would probably not translate into structures that develop organically, and naturally. His love for historic cities brimming with classical architecture rules out the sleek, sophisticated skyscrapers and high rises we are growing so familiar with.
Dan Brown often incorporates scientific theorems and mathematical formulas into his books. From the Fibonacci sequence in the Da Vinci Code to DNA Sequencing in the Inferno, his books have never lacked scientific frills and furbelows. With this in mind, his approach to design could also be mathematical! Perhaps even be compared to some renowned architects of this era. Architect Walter Netsch who designed the tetrahedral-shaped church in Colorado or even Piet Blom who designed the fascinating Cube Village in the Netherlands. Surely any building designed by Dan Brown would fit right in with these masterpieces of modernist architecture!
His style might also be similar to the famed Antoni Gaudi’s whose Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (where Dan Brown’s Origin is set incidentally) features complex hyperbolic paraboloid structures and catenary arches. The cathedral also contains a magic square-an arrangement where the figures in each vertical, horizontal, and diagonal row add up to the same value. I can imagine this is a concept being included in one of Brown’s books and possibly in a building he designs? However, this is not the only Gaudi building we can pair with Dan Brown’s style. There’s Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, even Park Guell! The dramatic facades of these structures (which hide relatively staid interiors) seem like a manifestation of the twists and turn in Brown’s books, up one moment down the next.
With his aptitude for unanticipated pathways in his narrative, Dan Brown would surely try to endow any building he designs with the same features. He was enchanted with the Louvre Pyramid in the Da Vinci Code and with good reason too. This famous structure by I. M. Pei, which acts as an alternative entrance for visitors to the Louvre Palace, appears almost like a mesmerizing installation, but its dual purpose and controversial history make it seem like a structure Brown would have been proud to design. We also know that Brown loves to merge the best of both worlds. His books jump in and out of medieval settings while his protagonists are armed with the latest innovative gadgets. If he were to combine his fondness for classical architecture and the latest technology, his design trajectory would probably be similar to Daniel Libeskind’s. Yes, old is indeed gold, but then new is undoubtedly bold. Libeskind’s buildings like the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal prove that dissimilar styles can co-exist in harmony. Just how Dan Brown traverses between the past and the present in his books with almost nonchalant ease.
The jaw-dropping revelations in Brown’s books could also translate physically into convoluted and labyrinthine structures like China’s Changsha Meixihu International Culture & Art Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. Or even the multi-faceted and futuristic Kinemax by Denis Laming. His books are all about expecting the unexpected, maybe his architectural ideology would follow the same pattern?
Any ardent Dan Brown fan knows that the author often bases his books in and around some of the oldest cities in the world like Barcelona, Rome, and Paris. And in these cities, a portion of the book is inevitably centered within a religious building such as a cathedral or a church. This does seem to signify a predilection towards buildings with religious intent. His books keep a reader hooked with their heart-pounding cliffhangers which could indicate a penchant for drama. This would certainly be an interesting factor in any building. For me, there is one building that combines the author’s interests. This building is The Church of the Light, also called the Church with Light in Ibaraki, Japan. This religious structure is one of master architect Tadao Ando’s signature architectural works. Light plays a significant role in this structure and creates a space with that elusive ‘wow factor’ that Brown has a propensity for. Tadao Ando created this church to exhibit the dual nature of existence. He plays with solids and voids, light and shadow, and last but not the least merges the seeming starkness of the structure with its serenity of purpose. The materials used require no adornment or explanation. The austere demeanor of the building manages to exude peace and purity. It is a building meant to cleanse the soul and provide if not comfort, then acceptance. A true example of minimalist architecture, the cruciform shaped void in one of the walls is the only dominant religious symbol present in the church. The reinforced concrete used to build the structure can elicit mixed emotions in an occupant’s mind, almost how Brown’s books play with his readers’ minds. This building, according to me, is an externalization of Dan Brown’s writing style. Its purpose or reason for existing transcends the barrier between physical and spiritual. It cannot fail to educate a strong response in a visitor’s heart. This response is nothing as simple as joy or comfort. Just like Brown’s books make us dig deeper for the often unpalatable truth, The Church of the Light makes visitors look within themselves, turn inwards and confront their inner truth when they face the church’s uncompromising walls.