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.

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