Curating the social, curating the architectural.
Architecture, Urbanism and Curatorship: 4th Annual AHRA International Conference:.
Built works of architecture form vital aspects of our cultural heritage. However, the precise nature of what constitutes this heritage is called into question when it comes to considering buildings in their physical, social, and cultural contexts. Do we value, above all, a particular building’s ‘pure’ architectural pedigree, or is its social and communal value paramount?
However, a particular problem arises in the case of buildings whose cultural meaning has changed. Do we, in curating such a building, privilege its ‘architecture’ and suppress its ‘history’, or expose its cultural and social meanings at the expense of its design aspects? Or can a happy medium be struck?
If we transpose ourselves to a more charged, and polarised, situation the problem comes into sharper focus. One of the best examples is the fate of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Guard House (1816-18) in Berlin. One hundred years after its construction, in the aftermath of the First World War, it had fallen into disrepair, and in the final years of the Weimar Republic a competition was launched to remodel the building as a war memorial. This was won by Heinrich Tessenow in 1930. Over the next fifty years the building’s use and iconography accurately charted the vicissitudes of Germany as it swung from a liberal democratic republic (Weimar), to a totalitarian state under Hitler, to the workers’ paradise of the GDR until its final incarnation as the (united) federal republic.
Currently two minor buildings designed by Tessenow for a Jewish philanthropist from the years immediately prior to the outbreak of the First World War are facing conservationists and historians with similar questions as to the primacy of architectural form over more general cultural content. What should our response be towards buildings designed by Tessenow for a Jewish German nationalist organisation as they are currently faced with degradation? How do we distinguish a cultural and political heritage as distinct from a strictly architectural one?
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