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Built Memories July 1, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.

I’m halfway through the book The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War by Robert Bevan. In it, he establishes the relation between repressing a people’s physical memory (their buildings in this case) and death itself. Cultural repressions is a tool of war in itself: to the risk of sounding too Jung-ian, since buildings are meant to outlast us, then their destruction is a loss of a people’s collective identity. Whether by means of actual conquests, revolutions or ethnic strife, Bevan builds his case quite clearly through his examples: Bosnia, Dresden in 1945, Ireland, Palestine, etc…

And in fact, the strength of the book lies in the breadth of the examples that are given. Bevan focuses on deliberate attacks to architecture, which he claims are a means of cultural annihilation and repression. A few of the examples given: the Mostar bridge, the World Trade Center or the Taliban’s destruction of the 1500 year-old buddhas.

However, I think a case can also be made for wars’ collateral damage to architecture. Though not intended as acts of “proto-genocide”, the result is nevertheless a modification, granted not an erasure, of the collective memory associated to a place. Of course, these changes also occur in peacetime, progress and development alter cities. But as Bevan notes, the focus is on brutal change linked to societal “collapses and upheavals”.

Both of these lines of thought (intentional and collateral damage) lead to some important questions with regards to, among other things, reconstruction. Since the memory has been altered, what is the effect of rebuilding the destroyed or damaged structure? If in theory we were to posses all the plans of every single building destroyed in Bosnia for example, should they be rebuilt in replicas?

As a final note, here’s a picture I took a few years ago in Beirut. This house was still inhabited, probably by refugees, when the shot was taken.

Ghost House



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