The Reconstruction of Heritage Sites – Johnathon Phillips

Johnathon Phillips

The Reconstruction of Heritage Sites

Every major civilization has and will continue to have architecture linked to its core cultural identity. The massive, the monolithic; these things that do not change but stand as a testament to the idea of a nation lead to a reverential awe. And so it passes, just like the great nations before them, that these gems of architecture become a wreck and ruin of their former glory. But what is the proper response to the insult of time? When confronted with such a task, that being the rebuilding of the old, destroyed or damaged, we must prove ourselves to be above the historical reconstructionist that merely mirrors the past. We must understand that what happens to a thing throughout its lifetime shapes and molds it into what it is now. To take a building and “restore” it to what someone’s idea of what it once was is an insult not only to the building itself, but to those who live in its presence and call it their own.  To deny history from being read in a building is to have that building lie and deceive its observer. No, the building should be an exemplar of its environment and show, through its architecture, the history it encountered and made.

Sermon’s in stone: perhaps one of the best ways to understand almost every aspect of the Frauenkirche. This Protestant Church in Dresden, Germany was a grand Baroque church, once Roman Catholic, fell victim of an Allied bombing campaign of WWII, resulting in the leveling of Dresden and the church herself. But it was the reconstruction and how that influenced the building post war that is of importance. The burnt mason bricks from her destroyed walls that were baked into a charcoal black by the fires of incendiary bombs once again held the weight of its dome. By incorporating this small nod into the rebuilt plans of the church, we understand that something traumatic and devastating happed here. But the key here is that we can see these tragedies through the lens of reconstruction which is the hope of the future, that great confidence we obtain in the thought of a better day to come. This is only the result of struggle and hardship – this idea of reaching a level of peace. And how appropriate that it so matches with our own human condition in that we only find the peace after the hard day is over.

However, this pristine case of historic and modern day relevance is not always captured in other facets of architecture throughout the world. If we take for instance Los Angelis Times Bombing of 1910, can we see any hint at the history that occurred in what is the new building now? In the short essay by John Hayden and Christopher Walker we can see that, while there was immediate reconstruction over the site, no recognition was given to the event that had preceded it. In fact, if we look at the current LA Times building we can see it has undergone several periods of construction, all of which have not addressed any of the buildings past. In contrast to the above proposal this design strategy ignores site context in such a malevolent way as to not acknowledge those lives lost in that tragic act of violence. Instead we see that by choosing to ignore this, they intend to ride themselves of this awful scene and instead return to business as usual.  By turning backs on this event, the architects responsible chose not to take the value from this experience and use at as a space-making design strategy but instead ignore it and take the easy way out. Massey diagram

Figure1: A diagram of The Frauenkirche before, during, and after its reconstruction.


               If we look at the strategy employed by the architect, however, can begin to see that it is not for the sake of incompetence that he designs in the way he does, instead it is to supply a sense of security into a recently afflicted space. While this approach is noble, it is worth asking the question as to whether a space can be designed in such a way and still meet the above criteria for rebuilding on deviated sites. As Mr. Hayden and Mr. Walker put it, there goal was of course to find an architecture that might “become part of a safe society.” But it is interesting to think if its implementation be brought forward without neglecting the past.

In their short essay Safety and Architecture, Jake Copich and Victor Abreu take on this aspect of the defense of the Civilization through Architecture and Technology. However, it is easy to see that overreaction and emotion can be blown out of proportion after site destruction occurs. While dealing with building a new structure in order to repel invading forces we can see that this idea of defense has become the stereotype of “safety.” What’s interesting is what constitutes safety in our modern day. Surely thick walls that surround the perimeter of a city protect it from today’s modern threats of war. Nonetheless this idea of what is safe and strong has and previses architecture into becoming an art of mimicry and not of originality.

If we take the point of this essay and give it life within the subject of reconstruction it becomes clear that a choice must be made. First, buy admitting to rebuild in a way that satisfies the idea of preserving all historic we have set a goal to allow site information to help us develop our designs. Now, by adding this new piece of criteria it begins to seem difficult as to how one should proceed. We run the dangerous path of ignoring the context of history in our sites if we sway too closely to creating the “idea” of safety. I say “idea” to reiterate the vast difference between how architecture can look esthetically safe and how architecture can act preformatively safe. Only now, after these two issues have been addressed can the full architectural benefit to society come into play.

While there are many thoughts as to how buildings should be reconstructed. It seems clear that if we have any desire to acknowledge former historical context including the events that led up to the cause of the buildings ruin we should approach from the view of all history being important to display in a building. Surely this is how we should approach architecture. By putting history into the eyes of our society we can keep so many other ideals alive as well. Just by our one gesture toward the past, we can display national pride, cultural identity, and a reverential respect for all that has occurred in the area of our site. Truly, if we can acknowledge these few things in our designs, we can perpetuate that which inspires us. We can continue to be moved and motivated by simple facts of educational identity solving architecture. By showing the history of a place in bricks and mortar, by the way in which walls are made transparent or kept opaque, in the way we address an entrance, this is how we can become effective. It is not the scale of the project that can determine its impact. While it is massive, The Frauenkirche symbolizes a new birth out of the ashes of war. It does this not in its size but brick by brick. It is our detailing that matters. How we confront these social issues in years to come will shape our society and its beliefs. For, just as you become like the people you are around most, so also the buildings you inhabit.



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