Monthly Archives: November 2016

Experimental Preservation, notes.


Jorge Otero-Palios, Erik Langdalen, Thordis Arrhenius ed.s, Experimental Preservation (Zurich, Lars Müller Publishers, 2016)

The book introduces a controversial premise, that there are indeed other ways of understanding –and as their evidence suggests–other  ways of practicing preservation. The editors, Jorge Otero-Palios, Erik Langdalen and Thordis Arrhenius have termed this alternative approach to preservation “experimental preservation.”  Published in 2016 by Lars Müller, the book offers for its core discussion a series of conversations transcribed from three different locations:  Oslo, Venice and New York. In addition, there are three  essays, by each of the editors, that suggest just how critical an experimental preservation practice is to these jaundiced post-modern, neo-nationalist, post-colonial times.

I vaguely recall a famous pronouncement by some British colonel commanding the allied artillery attacking the medieval Italian city of San Gimignano towards the end of WWII not to target anything before the 16th century. The Germans, on the other hand, in what could only be considered in their minds a brilliant strategic move, blew up all the most famous Renaissance bridges crossing the Arno river with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio. Destroying the most famous bridge in Italy would have gone too far even for the SS, so instead, to prevent the allied tanks from crossing the Arno, they merely destroyed the two medieval neighbourhoods that flanked either side of the bridge, covering the bridge’s access points in rubble. Though even that degree of sensitivity apparently is worthless by today’s standards, where bridges like Mostar, as well as the temples of Palmyra have been reduced to easy canon fodder.

While preserving by selectively destroying is not an argument that comes up in Experimental Preservation, the definition of preservation does get ramped up, permitting entire categories of outsider conditions to shake up the most stodgy of architectural  disciplines. We learn we can preserve by not preserving, by preserving that which no one would consider preservable, by preserving the ancillary documents dealing with preservation, as well as preserving by adapting and reinterpreting architecture into entirely new uses and opportunities. In other words, preservation can very well be the path to a new kind of architecture, that the editors- authors point out, is far more radical then most of the novel architectural practices that are going on at present.


Jorge Otero-Pailos points out that science of preservation is riddled with controversy, with numerous cases where preservation has failed its goals miserably. (to be continued. PTL)


Ceremonies for Public Space #3


In this concluding discussion held on the 24th of November, we considered what kind of public ceremonies could serve to advance the project on Reconciliation Architecture : we wanted to understand what kinds of alternative ceremonies were possible. The epistemological origins of ceremony can possibly be traced to the Etruscan origins, ( a reference to the ancient rites performed by the Etruscan pontiffs at Caere, near Rome. [known today as Cerveteri] The Etruscans, especially if one gives credibility to the imaginative literary reconstructions by D.H. Lawrence, would have invented through assimilation of contemporary colonial Greek rituals, the colourfully agonistic events organised to mark funerals and other sacred events.

While ceremonies today  often carry associations with totalitarian mass rallies and global sports spectaculars, their critical potential remains largely untapped.  How do ceremonies act to glue  together society with the  concrete world, its architecture, monuments, landmarks and  effigies?  … and finally how do we imagine or collectively assemble ritualistic actions that can offer alternative readings, or alternative significance to existing built contexts?

We began by unpacking the modern ceremony itself, its repetitive and “functional” narratives… and its role in giving “significance” to public objects, landmarks, monuments.  I put together a playlist featuring a number of experimental films for future viewing: Superstudio’s “Ceremony” 1972, which can be viewed on line courtesy of Architecture Player: (commissioned for the 1973 Triennale Design exhibition in Milan)

Ettore Sottsass Jr.’s commissioned grey modular furniture elements for the Italy New Domestic Landscape exhibition at MoMA which can be viewed on line courtesy of Massimo Magri’s video archive:

As well as Ugo La Pietra’s “Re-appropriation of the the City” 1977, made for the Centres Georges Pompidou, and available through the artist’s archive: .





Further Notes, References on Souvenirs #4


“Traditionally, souvenirs have been manufactured exclusively for the tourist market. But in a new, shrinking world—as the mobility of the population exponentially increases—souvenirs, in a different form, are among the few objects from home that can accompany a person to a foreign land. Souvenirs, then, have the potential of being transformed from a superfluous product of consumption to an object of emotional survival. Instead of a tourist cliché, a souvenir can serve as a proud representation of a person’s cultural identity. Think of all those souvenirs that multinational New York City taxicab drivers display on the dashboards of their cars. In the aftermath of the September 11th events, many of New York ethnic shops placed American flags and souvenirs next to symbols of their own cultures as a message of peace and understanding. In a world divided along the lines of culture, such object-symbols can no longer be marginalized.” Constantine Boym.


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Laura Mulvey and Mark Lewis, Disgraced Monuments.

“In Disgraced Monuments, filmmakers Laura Mulvey and Mark Lewis use rare archival footage and interviews with artists, art historians, and museum directors to examine the fate of Soviet-era monuments during successive political regimes, from the Russian Revolution through the collapse of communism. Mulvey (also a notable film theorist) and Lewis highlight both the social relevance of these relics and the cyclical nature of history. (48 mins., video)”

Displaying Divisions: semiotics in the public realm #2


Guy Debord, Society of Spectacle.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.


Following a plan conceived by artist Marcel Duchamp and writer and poet André Breton, Kiesler created a surrealist exhibition at the Gallery Maeght in Paris called Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in 1947. He designed a fantastic surrealist environment called Salle des Superstitions (Hall of Superstitions), a cavelike space that he called “magic architecture.” Integrated into the presentation were works of art by Joan Miró, David Hare, Max Ernst, and Duchamp, as well as two sculptures by Kiesler himself.


The plan for the course presentation on November 22, was to consider a real world test-case, and to take into account immediate possibilities that could be both imaginable and produceable within a short time frame.   The challenge therefore was to understand how a project in evolution, an early “work in progress” could possibly be readied for a museum-like display. What would be possible to bring into the display environment when the intent of a project might to an extent be clear enough, but the outcomes- or deliverables, are few and far between.

First off, I brought together a brief  dealing with the topic of souvenirs, “Displaying Divisions: Semiotics in the Public Realm.” The idea was to look at the large topic of Reconciliation Architecture from a miniaturised perspective. I am increasingly convinced that souvenirs, of  the mass produced kind, are precisely the kinds of objects that mimic the fate of their larger scaled counterparts. Like Stalin’s massive statues, the market of Stalin souvenirs  fluctuated according to Stalin’s political trajectory, relating directly to   the rise and fall of his cult status, being especially susceptible to the passage of time. The subject of Souvenirs is extremely vast, permitting a  broad choice of examples worth examining. Where to start?  The souvenirs of natural and human-made landmarks, Mount Vesuvius,  Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon,  the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State building,  the World Trade Center (before the twin towers’ destruction),  political figures  like  Lenin,  Che Guevara,  Mao Tse Tung, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Eva Peron, John Paul II…


With this in mind I thought the subject of souvenirs, and perhaps a combination of political, cultural, historical and obsolete souvenir objects could become the basis of the first “actual” exhibition on RA, brought together to challenge the perceived notions of icons, iconography, semiotics, signs, and a slew of other image based memorial or memetic representations that have become common currency in global public realm.

Following the Keynote presentation, with the course participants, we pulled together a number of pertinent observations, building firstly on what we knew already was out there. Hence interrogations on the meaning of souvenirs, extrapolating from previous discussions we held on the shifting significance of objects, architecture, even cities…


There were questions about critical oversight, as we know that one person’s significant icon is another’s  insignificant icon. There could be many ways to “re-signify” and icon, to give it an altered meaning, to “de-signify” its current usages, to stage a symbol’s “detournement,” or highjacking its principle message. Then there would be the assembling of the souvenirs, into a sort of “cabinet of curiosities,” though even this kind of operation could be carried out by alternative means, curated across internet searches, appeals for crowdsourcing souvenirs, inviting artists to make their own contributions. Essential to this project on souvenirs was the possibility to understand how object signs and their attributed symbolic content could evolve, devolve, recycle, dissolve or evaporate into the ether of public conscious.





Seeking Architectural Reconciliation #1

,Class: 15 November 2016: PTL<

This discussion began with the presentation of the Kings Monument, Vittorio Emanuele II, known also as the Vittoriano, located in front of Piazza Venezia in Rome. The square is incredibly charged, a sort of Tahir Square dating back to the 1920s, where some of the most spectacular fascist displays of mass propaganda were staged. The class discussion began with a presentation of the Vittoriano, conceived to commemorate the life of King Emanuele II, and his role in the unification of Italy. While the King was buried in the Pantheon following his death in 1878, plans for a memorial worthy of the King’s memory proceeded, through a series of competitions, which resulted in the final location near just before the Capitoline Hill, and the winning entry by Sacconi. My presentation was about how the monument shifted in symbolic content while retaining its largely original symbolic shape: with the King’s body was no longer designated as the new monument’s prime signifier, the surprising introduction of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921 proved to be a game changer.


The discussion among myself and the course participants began with some basic conjectures, wherein the original architectural symbol and the newly charged architectural symbol remained nonetheless the same form, hence A = A, whereas the symbolic content shifted from the King’s monument devoid of the King’s body to King’s monument as the crypt for the Unknown Soldier, B -> C. There are of course critical modifiers, in that the anonymous body of a lower class soldier acquired increasing popularity, hence the necessity of the “signifying action” as well as the 40 year duration from the monument’s inception to its completion, given all its numerous modifications, provided ample time for the public’s capacity to revise its judgement, to the extent that through political, economic and colossal war, the monument absorbed and benefited from the passage of time. Other examples are the 4th Plinth on Trafalgar Square, and the reenactment strategies of Jeremey Deller in the re-staging of the Battle of Orgreave… 


From here the discussion reviewed further suggestions considering additional examples that could be considered as having responded to similar shifts in symbolic content and formal contexts: Berlin’s disassembled Cold War Wall would be one such act of symbolic transformation, while problems plagued the Jewish Museum and the Jewish memorials, raising doubts about their effectiveness at engendering longterm social harmony. The German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale offered two intriguing projects that addressed Germany’s tragic past, specifically Hans Haacke’s  1993 partial destruction of the National Socialist renovated pavilion, and more recently the Making Heimat project, dealing with emergency housing and the huge influx of refugees to Germany.


There is still quite a lot to puzzle over when it comes to understanding how the public reacts to symbols in public spaces, but clearly rituals played out in these contexts holds great potential for healing mistrust and misgivings between communities in conflict. To overcome  basic symptoms of denial, repression or ignorance in the face of documented tragedies, the most simplest  formula seems to hold the most truth: Time / Space = Peace. We wonder if any project that wants to deal with conflict and  reconciliation should factor in generous amounts of time…




Further readings suggested by Gabrielle Iwelumo:

Sweden’s solar system:


Jeremy Deller’s reenactment of battle of Orgreave. A brutal clash between the striking miners and the Police in 1984. The miners strike was a year long stand off between the miner’s unions and the Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. Eventually the miner’s lost and the communities were torn apart. Brother against Brother / Neighbour against Neighbour and people still do not speak. Margaret Thatcher totally crushed the unions. And destroyed those industry, increased poverty in those regions by closing the mines. I remember a friend saying,  this strike was probably the last time Britain came close to a Civil war. It is very controversial as Police, from different communities were shipped in to attack the striking miners and they were allowed to remove their identifying numbers.


Jeremy Deller won the Turner Prize for his “pilgrimage” in Waco, USA before the election of George Bush.  And this year he created the Utopian Flag, to celebrate 500 years since Thomas More wrote the book.