PRESERVATION AND LOSS-PREVENTION
Architecture is often used and invoked as the central hallmark of modernization.
Cities around the world are rapidly redefining themselves through their
architecture in a bid to capture some part of that elusive essence that is “the
modern city”. Simultaneously, the attempt to define a local identity in the midst of
an international architectural identity leads to a strange emphasis on
conservation. Despite this, the materials and tools used to construct and
preserve them mainly stay the same. Physically and symbolically they make up
one of the most constant elements to our time. Ironically it is structures, ones
that were, in and of themselves, intended as a transitional state, who act as
relics of a perpetual present within the constantly shifting modern urban
Scaffolding and construction nettings ghostly move through the cities streets, like veils blown by the wind of progress and hauled by its decay. What shimmers through, seems like a fading memory or a future not yet entirely shaped. From a further distance in time, their constant erratic movement of mounting and demounting, reminds of the mechanics of a clockwork, hidden behind the clocks shiny surface and ensuring the forward moving of its hands. While constantly conceal those mysterious buildings – ones riddled with crumbling facades or ones existing only as skeleton of a new construction – the ethereal and shifting structure of the nets themselves, their materiality, consistency, symbolic and sculptural quality remain unseen to the pedestrian’s selectively blind eye. They are symbols of our constant hustle, preserving progress and preventing both accidents, collapse through standstill and loss of the momentary.
At no point in past history has any societal system been so obsessed with
recording itself and all its movements. The touristic view has extended to all areas
of life. Big Data, social networks, the uninterrupted presence of cameras on a
private level and the Potemkin façadism of Eastern-European cities with its
culmination in the reconstruction of Berlin City Palace, countless new museums,
private collections and world-heritage sites on the public level are just few
By 1800 it was mainly monuments that were preserved, by 1850 historic town centers and by 1900 houses. Today “we literally preserve anything, from concentration camps to amusement parks” 2 as Rem Koolhaas was summing up when holding a lecture on this subject at Strelka in 2012. Further he pointed out, that already 4% of the worlds surface has been declared a World Heritage site, making up twice the size of India. By giving an example of the abandonment of a town in Libya after it had been declared a historic monument, he criticized the overall sacrifice of a place’s liveliness for its longevity. When planning a new building nowadays, the architect and probably soon any other creator of virtual content, has the option to automatically save each change he does to the design as a single entity in the cloud. The virtual or physical capture of everything, be it houses, cities, moments, ideas and each of its states, act as contradictory loss-preventive backups.
Preservation today is not anymore bound to the past, but literally encases the
present and for the case of Google, Facebook & Co as well as for most highly
developed countries in general, it is the very forefront of modernity which
preserves the most. →
While there’s a strong discourse on how to securely preserve all this content and how to overcome technical limitations of traditional and digital archiving, it is missed out to be asked how all this influences the way we live and work, how we perceive and define the present. Further it comes to question what we will actually remember in a future day, in case preservation and loss-prevention are both, main activity and environment we live in. Remembering might become the act of a self-historian, crawling through his or her own data in order to either naively believe what he sees, or to understand the found pieces as relics, shedding light on the intention of its creator and the overall mindset of the time he lived in.
While the recorded content is continuously growing, the movement and very form
of progress and growth itself is attempted to be preserved through preventative
measures. The goal of preservation through prevention might seem clear, but the
act itself often stays hidden and takes on the opposite form of its aspired outcome.
Rather than striving for a preventive intelligence as the philosopher Paul Virilio suggested while contemplating about the predictability of accidents 3, we fall for preventive over-indebtedness against financial collapse, preventive wars to preserve freedom, preventive control to preserve free society, preventive scrappage programs and overproduction of goods to maintain growth and its supposed counterpart, the preventive industrialization of landscape to preserve our very concept of nature. Enormous structures, entire ghost-towns like Zhengdong in China, Valdeluz in Spain and the many Sunbelt towns in the US 4 countless empty malls, hotels, same-looking office towers with unclear concept of use, unused and unfinished bridges and motorways all around the world were and are being built to ensure the forward moving of what is – before and after the subprime crisis – perceived as progress.
While recordings, backups and reconstructions clearly follow their own materiality,
somewhat different to what they were when present, both, the preserved and the
prevented seem to change their form through the performance of their
corresponding action, creating a new and self-sustaining environment, much
different to the one initially aimed for. It seems as if modern society would take
refuge in ignoring the gravity of time as an act of solidification of a world which is
continuously gaining speed at its morphic oscillation between reshape and
Preservation and prevention tactics seem to carry the persuasive potential to act as constructions, preventing the psychological harm of individual and collective loss. Just as humans build houses in order to protect from environmental threats, preservation and loss-prevention offer private and public shelter from harsh reality. In his famous lecture “Ornament and Crime” (1910), the architect Adolf Loos gave base to modernism by criticizing nostalgic recreations of the past. He called Vienna and its historistic architecture a Potemkin City, a forgery, pretending to be something it was not 5 and spoke out against what he described “the epidemic of the ornament” 6. In retrospect, he couldn’t have known how accurate and yet to a certain degree self-fulfilling his words were. Not only literally, as for Leipzig, where entire streets of decaying historistic and Wilhelminian buildings are permanently scaffolded, the overall ornament has become heavier than it ever was and its crumbling became an actual physical threat to the pedestrian.
In the midst of modernization, taking the risk of letting go appears to be an almost
radical act. Ornament and Concealment aims to lead the viewer into the very
nature of this contradiction, creating an atmosphere of shelter and
defenselessness B. Instead of a backup preventing a possible future blackout, we
want to direct the gaze to a black box of an accident which never happened, but
continuously happens C. With this exhibition, we kindly invite to take refuge
between the impossible preservation of a beloved condition and its exposed dead
body in the future, an endless decay, an endless collapse without death. →
This exhibition took place in the cooperative Luisenstadt, which is itself a contradictory product of a modernist attempt to turn Berlin into a mobility focused car-friendly city. 7
Development plans of 1955/56 envisaged a highway construction leading through
the southern district of Kreuzberg SO 36, including a motorway junction at
Oranienplatz. All streets between Wassertorplatz and Oranienplatz, including
Manteuffelstraße 42, were planned to be demolished.→
Although Berlin Wall, yet another preventive construction, was built few years later, plans were continued and first houses torn down. Overnight Kreuzberg was pushed from the center of the city to the utmost border of West-Berlin. As an effect, any investments in the maintenance of remaining buildings affected by the plan were stopped. They became abandoned and were exposed to decay. By the 1970s a new redevelopment concept stipulated to largely modernize the city and to demolish run-down streets only as a whole for cost-effectiveness. In order to do so, entire buildings had to be vacated, leading to years-long processes with its remaining and new inhabitants. All this gave room for a growing subculture and newly forming squatting scene to unfold and slowly institutionalize. Objecting all plans by the senate and proving to local authorities the reparability of these buildings and the effectiveness of self-government, self made repair of decayed buildings was used as tactic to prevent the inhabitants new habitat and way of life from demolition.
‘Instandbesetzung’, the restoration of buildings through squatting became a
preservation policy for a lifestyle which didn’t exist to the buildings prior decay. In
other words, the past was used as a kind of material to construct a new way of life.
By 1980/81 more than 160 houses were occupied. In the early 1980s, the Senate of West Berlin went to a policy of so-called “gentle urban renewal” and “critical reconstruction” which envisaged the development of a rehabilitation concept in consultation with the affected residents. Some of the squatters wanted to secure their new living conditions and way of life, while the others tried to maintain the status of squatters and their associated political goals. Through negotiations between home owners and the Senate, about 80 houses were legalized. Most of them were self-help projects, funded by the Senate. Luisenstadt which holds 20 buildings, including Manteuffelstraße 42, is one of these projects. Since then all remaining houses were cleared by the police while Oranienplatz was registered as a monument of the city.
By today a new generation of architects and contractors, who are used to the
aesthetics of appropriation as part of their biography, started to build 8. What could
be described as ‘minimal invasive architecture’ found its way into clubs, galleries
and event locations all over the city. “We don’t want to judge the present …
for us it is about making useful what’s given.” Nils Buschmann, one of the
partners of Robertneun states 9. While this tactic is quite limited to an aesthetic
discourse and though the ideals of the raw, rough and incomplete have attracted
the fast rise of a creative class, which must understand itself as the major
environmental threat to the cities beloved condition D, it still might give a hint
towards a third path. Opposing both, nostalgia and the preservation of endless
growth, the appropriation of found conditions, indispensable reuse and
improvisation may be read as guidelines, suggesting a fragile path for a truly
avantgardistic venture. →