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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rebuilding Destroyed Sites

Robert Bevan's The Destruction of Memory does not much deal with the perception of ruins. The book is mostly a summary of wars over the last 70 years and descriptions of the deliberate destruction caused to architecture that stemmed from them. However, in one chapter he does touch on a subject relevant to our research: the problem with rebuilding ruins. In this case, Bevan discusses the rebuilding of destroyed monuments and cultural sites. He views this as a threat the authenticity of historic buildings.

As he does throughout his book, Bevan brings a number of interesting examples. With regard to the Bamiyan Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban, we writes that
"UNESCO has declared that any attempt to rebuild [them] will result in the site being removed from the list of World Heritage sites forthwith. Attitudes within Afghanistan to the idea of rebuilding the statues vary. The provincial government is in favour but the country's leading archaeologist decried the idea as a 'Disney re-creation.'"
He mentions that after World War II, some important sites in London were rebuilt, including the House of Commons and Buckingham Palace, while others - mostly churches - preserved their ruinous state. The French village of Oradour-sur-Glane is also preserved as a ruin to memorialize the Nazi atrocity in which villagers were burned alive in their church. In Berlin the ruins of Kaiser-Wilhelm church were included in the new iteration. There was some debate regarding the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York as well.

The interesting point which Bevan makes is that leaving a structure as ruins can be the more authentic way of preserving the building. Attempts to rebuild a destroyed building blurs the line between real and fake. On the other hand, while it is easy to say that "a ruin is a ruin," this is not necessarily the case. If treated well, a ruin can enhance new architecture. It also runs the risk of being overly kitschy and loosing the essence of what makes a ruin powerful.

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