Human conflict inevitably results in the fragmentation and often destruction of architecture and urban centres. The aftermath of such episodes is fraught with uncertainty pertaining to the reintegration of society and the reprocessing of its architectural manifestations. Issues such as commemoration, social amnesia, historical truth and the falsification of monumentality require sensitive architectural responses.
> Rebuilding to Commemorate
Rebuilding destroyed architecture can be as symbolically significant as the original events of its destruction. Building can be used to consolidate and reconnect the violent fragmentation of the city, or to stitch back together the former fabric of a society. Unintentional monuments, such as places of worship, libraries and so on, may be converted into new monuments memorialising their past destruction. “History looks forward while looking over its shoulder; how much to commemorate and remember, how much needs to be forgiven then forgotten in the interests of peace?” Therein lies a real danger that everyday life may become permanently reified in honour of memories of past hardships, suffering and destruction.
> Rebuilding to Forget
Rebuilding can also be employed to conceal the past, to gloss over the less-celebrated aspects of history. In this context, the rebuilding, usually carried out by those in power, masks previous unsavoury episodes and reflects the post-destruction climate. The tensions between memory and forced amnesia are constantly in a struggle for the right to reinterpret the ruinous urban fabric. To force amnesia is hazardous, whilst to carry out no reconstruction is tantamount to conceding defeat. Pragmatic rebuilding is required, mirroring the needs in life to remember, to call to account and to prevent a repeat of history. Critically, there is a need for honesty and truth, rather than a falsification of history through phoney monumental architecture.
“In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalisation & homogenisation, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.” – [Nara Document on Authenticity 1994]
> History, Not Heritage
The rebuilding of architecture, in some form or other, is a critical component in societies attempting to interpret and comprehend their post-destruction context. However, although truth within the reconstruction is necessary for this to occur, whose truth shall it be? It has been argued that all-too often, historical truth is being replaced by the prejudiced pride of heritage, a distorted view of history. The outcome of this is either the erection of false ‘Disneyfied’ monuments, or the construction of monuments embodying pride or defiance, and a reassertion of identity and tradition. The label a particular monument receives varies on an individual basis, largely dependent upon the individual’s relationship with the monument, its context and his or her perception of its purpose to either commemorate or forget.
> Past, Present, Future?
“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” This quote taken from George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ carries a particular poignancy here. There is a real danger that urban memory, being interpreted by the ‘victors’ will inevitably become distorted through a slanted view of historical truth. If rebuilding is to be successful in knitting together disjointed communities this must be avoided. Historical truth, not heritage, should be embodied with pragmatic and sensitive architectural responses, to secure the continuity of urban social history, whether it is positive or negative. Urban amnesia prohibits society from coming to terms with its past or comprehending its possible future trajectory. On the flipside, however, urban memory cannot be a burden, restricting the progression of society towards new futures.