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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Didron's Dictum

Adolphe Napoleon Didron was one of the predecessors of historical preservation. In the mid 19th century he wrote:

"Regarding ancient monuments,
it is better to consolidate than to repair,
better to repair than to restore,
better to restore than to rebuild,
better to rebuild than to embellish;
in no case must anything be added and, above all,
nothing should be removed."

He wrote critically about restoration, and argued against intrusive procedures. To remain authentic, he felt that the least amount of intervention should be performed as possible. At the acme of his chart, he puts consolidation, i.e. keeping an object from decaying further, but doing no repair work and certainly no restoration or, chas v'shalom, rebuilding, lo aleinu.

We thus have the following chart:

Consolidation > Repair > Restoration > Rebuilding > Embellishment

From our point of view, two interesting questions can be asked:

Question 1: Is it perhaps possible to add an even higher plane to Didron's chart - leaving the object completely alone? If consolidation is better than repair, wouldn't it be better to go one step further and shun intrusion of any kind? Sure, this might result in the complete decay and ruination of the building, but isn't this more authentic?

Which leads us to question 2:

What happens if the object has already decayed or become a ruin? Is there a stage at which point consolidation becomes pointless? If a building has reached this stage, does restoration or rebuilding become more palatable? Or is it better to leave the the object in its ruinous state? And if the latter is true, wouldn't that strengthen the theory that passivity is better than consolidation?

Thus the chart ought to appear as follows:

Passivity > Consolidation > Repair > Restoration > Rebuilding > Embellishment

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