4.616
Selected Topics on Culture and Architecture

Prerequisites: 
Permission of instructor
Enrollment: 
Limited to 16

(Re)constructing Memory

Paraphrasing Patrick Lagrange, a fictional historian quoted in Julian Barnes’s novel, The Sense of an Ending, one can say that “Reconstruction is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”  Indeed, reconstruction of destroyed heritage, whether historic or mundane, depends both on a set of values —economic, historical, geopolitical, ideological, aesthetical, and memorial— as well as the available records of its destruction and its previous, presumably pristine, state.  These conditions are contingent, shifting, and subjective.  They also have their own historical trajectories and methodical and ethical complexities, which may or may not overlap with the reconstruction act itself. 

Accordingly, this class is not about reconstruction as a defined architectural intervention as much as an investigation into the historical, political, and theoretical processes through which the discourses on destruction, restoration, and/or reconstruction have evolved since the notions of collective memory and heritage or patrimony became parts of the conceptual apparatus of both the nation-state and architecture, i.e. the early twentieth century.   Following a review of the formative literature on the concepts of ruins, violence, destruction, heritage, conservation, monument, and collective memory and how national identities shape and are shaped by these factors, the seminar will move to analyze and critique some of the pivotal projects in the history of conservation and reconstruction after the Second World War (France, Germany, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Ex-Yugoslavia and others) and how the profession of architecture tackled them.  The last section will focus on the current debates around the reconstruction of the Middle Eastern cities devastated by recent “civil” wars, especially Iraq and Syria, while advocating a robust and dynamic ethics of intervention that are informed by the context of the region.  All along, students will be developing their own projects that will both engage the literature and explore specific examples, areas, or approaches.

The class includes lectures and discussions by the instructor and visiting scholars as well as sessions led by teams of students.  Class requirements are 1) active participation in discussion, 2) co-leading one of the weekly topics with a report uploaded on the course website, and 3) a final paper (20 pages) or creative design project to be presented in class and then submitted at the end of the semester.  Leading a class session accounts for 20% of the grade, 10% is for class participation, while the final paper/project carries 70% of the grade.  Topics are to be decided in consultation with the instructor by the end of the 3rd week of the semester.  Students should submit a one-page abstract with a preliminary bibliography by the end of week 4.

Open to qualified undergraduate upperclassmen.