30th International Congress of the History of Art, London 3-8 Sept. 2000
Section 20: Architecture versus Time

Les constructeurs de la tour de Babel (St. Savin)

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Thirtieth International Congress of the History of Art
London 3-8 September 2000

Art History for the Millennium: Time

Section 20:

Architecture versus Time

Président:  Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper
Vice-Président: Elain Harwood

The surface of architecture as a medium of time; postwar modernism revisited; the modern construction-site and its impact on urban and architectural design; listing as a strategy to assess historic buildings in present contexts; protection versus change

Exposé ("briefing sheet")

  1. Post-war modernism revisited

  2. All over the world our colleagues are now busy to study and protect the buildings of post-war modernism that were meant to be images and media of a new time and a new society, in every way contemporary. Now they have become historic, buildings, images and visions. For many of us the former „new time" is part of our own history/biographies. To argue for the protection of post-war modern buildings becomes a double reflexion on contemporariness, modernity, progress and cultural heritage in post-war societies. Is modernity a closed chapter in (architectural and political) history? The turn of the century/millennium seems to be a good occasion to compare the perspectives. Case-studies that reflect the more general questions should come from different countries, if possible, East and West, European and Non-European. Architectural historians are as welcome as historic buildings' conservators.
  3. Time is money: The modern construction-site and its impact on urban and architectural design

  4. As modern construction is essentially based on credit, it is vital for builders to keep in time, to build as fast as possible. This has been one of the most influential motives for architects throughout the 20th century, to think about norms, standards, pre-fabrication of elements, modernization of logistics and communication. Thus, building became cheaper, and housing projects for the people became a task for economists as well as for engineers. The same reflexion applies to contemporary planning devices (i. e. CAD) and logistics. How could we define the influence of those basic factors on the artistic invention in modern architecture?
  5. Listing as a strategy to assess historic buildings in present contexts

  6. Working at the inventory of monuments means to go back and forth in time continuously and in every single case. We need the distance to value a building's historic and, possibly, its artistic importance. We put it back into its context, into its own time to explain, what it was meant for and why it was built and how. In German, we would call this „Historisierung" ("historizing"?). But, to protect a building successfully, we must equally demonstrate its use and practical and spiritual function in our own time, from a present point of view, to convince owners, planners, architects and politicians today. In German we would call this „Vergegenwärtigung" ("re-presentation"?). Though this may seem paradox: historizing and re-presentation are a methodological unity, the one does not work without the other. General reflexions will be as welcome as case-studies.

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  7. The surface of architecture as a medium of time

  8. Patina is the witness and the medium of time on the surfaces of architecture. A restoration that takes off the patina to refinish the surface of a wall, stone, brick or stucco, makes a building look new and raw, timeless (or as fresh as on its first day, like our colleagues in the 19th century would have said). Timelessness is a positive category in discussions about the artistic and aesthetic value of a work of art. Is the artistic value tied to the (timeless) image, while the historic value remains with the (ageing) substance? Does Substance become a liability? Those questions may be put in all cases. It might be promising, though, to discuss the restoration of modern buildings that were meant to be images of the future, without any intention to reflect the past - or to become historic.
  9. Protection versus change

  10. One of the most popular arguments against historic buildings' preservation is, that time is stopped, the building is frozen to death in its actual shape. Indeed, from our professional point of view, "autheticity" is the most precious value, only too often violated by false conservation of building-measures. But: if there is something like an "authentic" monument - who defines, what is meant? The actual theories of preservation and conservation consider later alterations as part of the monument - the become part of the authentic - and are preserved with it. Time and change never really stopped. So: why not allow further changes? And: where do we set the limit?

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Speakers should come from conservation offices, including the restoration-departments, from academic institutions, including free-lance writers. Listing and restoring modern-movement-buildings has been largely discussed among the professionals. It would be nice to have new examples and not those that have already been presented on conferences.

Berlin,  March 9th, 1999

page changed last: May 2nd, 1999 and May 18th, 2009
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