Placing iconic modernist architecture into ancient historical sites can help preservationists think about how to save neglected landmarks.
Allow that sentence to revolve in your mind for a minute and see what insights might be generated. … Huh? Not much happening, eh? Well, the line “We had to destroy the village to save it” may arise in the recollection of some people viewing the photomontages by Iranian architect Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar. Six of his montages can be viewed in Dezeen, and also on ArchNewsNow.com as part of editor Kristen Richards’s policy to keep us all laughing out loud. (See my last post, “City hall as happening place.”)
In “Architect overlays famous modern buildings on Iran’s ancient palaces and castles,” India Block, for Dezeen, writes:
Forouzanfar has collaged these images to examine the tension between visions of the past and the future, and start a conversation about preservation.
Neither the architect nor the writer make any real attempt to spin the bull into anything resembling a coherent idea, except to assert that tension (of the “creative” sort, no doubt) was involved. Most of the article’s commenters appeared to grasp the scam. So I popped this right into my growing file of unintentionally humorous modernist posturing.
Of course the works of architects like Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster, and I.M. Pei are their own in-jokes, but it struck me as maybe a little bit obscene to juxtapose them with fragile UNESCO World Heritage sites. For an Iranian to do that to the historic treasures of his own country seems damnably subversive. Maybe that’s the idea.
Indeed, Forouzanfar’s concept does quite clearly suggest that the object of the exercise is destruction, supposedly acceptable to Dezeen under the pretense of preservation.
The Taliban’s destruction of the paired Buddhas of Bamiyan, Saudi Arabia’s destruction of historic sites in Mecca (to make room for modernist hotels and shopping malls), the Islamic State’s destructive rampages against the ancient archaeological sites and artwork of Nimrud, Ninevah and Mosul in Iraq, and in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria (to give only a few examples from recent decades) suggest that this attack on Iranian heritage by modern architecture fits a distinct pattern.
[I would clarify that the Mecca demolitions are also motivated by thinking against idolatry under the Saudi Wahhabi (or Salafist) ruling sect similar to that of ISIS and the Taliban.]
Such horrors are hardly a laughing matter. The indigenous cultures of the developing world have long been targeted by neo-colonialist elements of modern Western culture with the eager participation of elites in the targeted nations, many having only recently secured independence from imperialist overlords. Furthermore, modern architecture has been used to help destroy historic cities and towns throughout Europe and America, and to ruin the investments of families who buy homes in historic neighborhoods as well.
Maybe that sounds overwrought to some readers, but modernism’s founding architects (Corbusier, Mies, Gropius, etc.) believed that the new architecture they pioneered, in which references to the past were strictly forbidden, also required the eventual eradication of all historical architecture. This was in line, not coincidentally, with the recognition of Lenin and other thinkers that “socialism in one state” was doomed to failure. Its economic rivals could not be allowed to undermine progress toward the radiant future.
So maybe these articles that have cracked a good chuckle in this corner are really not so funny after all but more a matter, as the red-diaper set used to say, of “boring from within.”