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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Conserving Ruins: Various Styles

As we have mentioned before, the preservation of ruins involves many of the same quandaries as regular preservation but is even more complicated. John Ashurst expresses this point well in the preface to his book The Conservation of Ruins:
"The more a ruin is restored, the more it loses its authenticity; the more its evocative power is diluted, the more its archaeological truth is blurred."
The ruin often has archaeological value, and preforming any act of conservation or preservation on the ruin interferes with future scientific archaeological understanding. Furthermore, what makes a ruin special is its wild quality and the way nature intertwines with it; any conventional action we take to preserve a ruin interrupts the ruin process and takes away this "evocative power." The ruin becomes inauthentic.

Ashurst continues:
"If it is impossible to restore a ruin to its original shape; if, on the other hand, the romantic idea so well described by Gilpin - 'it's time along which meliorates the ruin, which gives it the perfect beauty' - cannot be put into practive for it leads to a growing and continuing process of deterioration; if authenticity is so easily lost by the attempt to restore the elements that made the building stable in an open environment; then we can only try to protect it against further decay and preserve it as it is. But this is precisely where the contradictions and ambiguities begin. In order to preserve a broken artefact [sic] as it is, one needs to provide it with new defences that never belonged to it and never existed; thus, to prevent an archaeological remain from disintegrating completely, one may have to put up shelters, to build buttresses, to reinstate a bit of masonry, to construct some sort of capping at the top of the walls; in other words, one has to make all those alteration, more or less visible, that can guarantee the survival of a ruin...A conserved ruin is always, in a way, an artifice."
Thus the standard actions of preservation and restoration are suspect, and we must consider a wider range of preservative actions.

In "Interpretation and Display of Ruins and Sites", Amanda White categorizes several different ways in which ruins can be preserved, each one with positives and negatives. She points out another difficulty - we want visitors to see the ruins, but at the same time, we recognize that introducing large numbers of visitors may very well destroy the ruins, or at very least their mystique. The following is her categorization of the various ruin-preservation options:
  1. Picturesque Display - the oldest method. Deliberately arranging ruins to create picturesque views, often accompanied by landscaping. (Example: Gardens of Stowe, Buckinghamshire and Stourhead, Wiltshire; Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire; Jervaulx Abbey)
  2. Restoration: Presentation of Wholeness - Altering a decaying building "to make it conform again to its design or appearance at a previous date." This is common practice among standard historical preservationists. It allows visitors to easily understand, but also destroys the archaeological value and presents a false picture, since no restoration can be totally accurate. White rightly points out that "It should always be avoided where a ruin's aesthetic values are reinforced by the scenic value of its existing state and its setting, particularly where they have been a significant source of artistic inspiration."
  3. Anastylosis - "rebuilding the remains of collapsed structures in their original positions." If a building collapses, you superficially put things back together in a way that gives visitors enough of an idea to imagine how it looked originally.
  4. Reconstruction - after thorough research, the building is rebuilt to look like the earlier version. For example, Jerusalem's recently completed Hurva synagogue. White gives Muchelney Abbey in Somerset as another example, using different materials to distinguish between different periods in the life of the earlier structures. She also says that this is sometimes justified by safety concerns.
  5. Conservation 'as found': ruins 'as evidence' - as previously explained, this is an oxymoron, as any conservation is by definition not leaving the site as found. Still, sometimes it is necessary to try and conserve what is found due to its historical value. The goal is to "freeze" the building at a certain time. Later additions are removed, as is vegetation. This is the standard approach to archaeological ruins.
  6. Deliberate ruination - applicable when a building is no longer useful and its significance is insufficient to justify preservation, maintenance or reuse. One common tactic is to remove a building's roof and other perishable contents to reduce maintenance costs. The building can then safely be left to become a ruin.
  7. Conservation 'as found': 'verdant' ruins - a growing view that states that vegetation should not be removed, and that some types of vegetation actually protect buildings. This allows the ruin's "sense of place" to remain intact. Still rare, "it involves the absolute minimum of fabric conservation, sufficient to make the monument safe and to slow its rate of deterioration, and the divesting of destructive woody growth only. Its principal objective is to preserve, if not enhance, the natural and fragile ecology of a monument and its surroundings." White gives Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire, as an example.
  8. Managed decline - "allows a ruin to safely follow its natural path to destruction." Beforehand, the archaeologically significant factors are recorded, and then as the building ages portions are removed to prevent them from harming people.
  9. Benign neglect - between Planned Ruination and Managed Decline. Buildings are allowed to decline, though they are not helped along the way. Example: selected bomb stores at RAF Scampton.
  10. Replication - construct a replica elsewhere so that no visitors damage the real version. Examples: sculptures in Florence, caves in Lascaux, France.
1. Picturesque Display - Jervaulx Abbey

7. Conservation 'As found": Verdant Ruins - Wigmore Castle

10. Replication: Lascaux II - replica of Lascaux cave paintings

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