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This November we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in December that of Nicolae Ceausescu’s death. This spring it will be 20 years since the bombing raids on Serbia which put an end to the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia.

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The most famous example must be the reconstruction of the Royal Palace, which replaced the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin.

 

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Charters of Athens, 1931; Venice, 1964; Rome 1972 (1989) and Krakow, 2000.

The Reconstruction Trap

Reconstruction work in progress at the Royal Palace in Berlin as part of the Humboldt Forum museum centre.

Reconstruction is an important part of architecture. The partial rebuilding of buildings, neighbourhoods or cities is the groundwork for their rehabilitation and, more importantly, their re-habitation following natural or human disasters. The first definition of “reconstruct” that appears in the dictionary is “to build or assemble (something) again”, and this “Western” interpretation has accompanied all the reconstruction work carried out in the aftermath of two world wars, revolutions, counter revolutions, fires and earthquakes. There are certainly plenty of examples in Europe, some of them fairly recent and still vivid in day to day life1.

In the 1970s, Josef Paul Kleihues began to promulgate a postmodernistic “critical reconstruction” aimed at integrating the different layers of Berlin’s urban fabric and restoring the scale, or character, of the nineteenth century city. In the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall this vision served to marginalise as much as possible the legacy of Communism2.  In other ex-socialist countries, the idea transmuted into the more noxious “speculative reconstruction”, which involved erecting new volumes with larger surface areas in place of missing buildings and commemorating them with some kind of formal or decorative element. This practice gave rise to a range of postmodernist initiatives at local level that did not always comply with the different regulations governing the restoration of cultural assets and historic sites3.  Reconstructing a building means reconstructing a symbol, and is therefore a profoundly political act in which the end result acts as a bridge between two different time periods. Rather than making good the destruction – and here lies the trap – reconstruction mirrors that destruction, recalling and revealing the intentions of both processes. Hence its second definition in the dictionary, more detectivesque than architectural: “to re-create or reimagine (something from the past) especially by using information acquired through research”.

Reconstruction is also a cultural, contextual act with different meanings. The successive reconstructions of Japanese Shinto temples are extremely long, drawn-out rites in which each part of the building work has its own specific moment and significance. In contrast with the Western approach of attempting to recreate form, an approach which never manages to substitute the original, more attention is devoted to using authentic materials and building techniques to produce a building which can then be considered equivalent to the original. Whether it is carried out as an act or as a rite, reconstruction reinforces the social consensus which builds up a meaning and a sense of commemoration, both of which are important counterbalances to often destructive unilateral decisions.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor

Notas de página
1

This November we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in December that of Nicolae Ceausescu’s death. This spring it will be 20 years since the bombing raids on Serbia which put an end to the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia.

2

The most famous example must be the reconstruction of the Royal Palace, which replaced the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin.

 

3

Charters of Athens, 1931; Venice, 1964; Rome 1972 (1989) and Krakow, 2000.

Autor:
(Belgrado 1972) Arquitecta por la universidad de Belgrado (1998) y Doctora por la UPC de Barcelona (2006) con la tesis sobe representación e ideología en la obra arquitectónica. Ha co-comisariado con Jaume Prat e Isaki Lacuesta el pabellón Catalán en la XV Bienal de Venecia, en la edición anterior participo en el pabellón de Corea ganador del León de Oro. Ha investigado la modernidad arquitectónica del mundo socialista, escrito y dado conferencias en diversas universidades europeas. Colabora con el departamento de Historia contemporánea de la UAB y es miembro del comité científico del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público.

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