Preservation / Destruction: OMA – Cronocaos
Watch a video of the event
This spring, a series of RA Forum events entitled Future Memory, examined the role of memory in various cultural practices, and explored how interventions in the present can alter, inform and distort memory in the future. On March 28, in the second event in the series, we investigated the phenomena of preservation and destruction through the lens of Cronocaos, an exhibition mounted by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale.
CRONOCAOS exhibition at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale Di Venezia Image courtesy OMA, photographed by Marco Beck Peccoz Ippolito Pestellini and James Westcott of OMA explained how the exhibition derived from the practice’s own experience of dealing with issues pertaining to preservation and destruction. For OMA, the increasing urge to preserve, with 12% of the world now off-limits to development, ‘is destroying any sense of a linear evolution of time’. They cited the collapsing time span between the creation of buildings and the imposition of subsequent preservation orders, as well as heritage’s obvious economic benefits (primarily tourism), as key to the encroaching landscape of preservation. Authenticity is under threat, they argued, with the enforced imperceptibility between the old and the new creating an ‘historical blur’ that warps any sense of sequential progression.
Preservation, OMA suggested, was a modern and specifically Western invention, anathema to, for example, the Japanese Metabolist architects for whom reuse and impermanence were intrinsic. In another example, Berlin’s ‘Haus der Kunst’, built in 1933 as a Nazi propaganda machine and subject to numerous attempts at erasing its associated memory (some even as literal as white-washing its interior), OMA explained how ‘rehabilitation through reuse rather than erasure’ proved to be far more enduring.
OMA’s presentation was followed by responses from the artists Jane and Louise Wilson, and Simon Thurley of English Heritage. The Wilsons presented their dramatic photographs of Second World War fortifications along the Normandy coast. These monolithic concrete structures were shown to be in the long process of being ‘reclaimed’ by the sea. They stood almost as ‘relics of another civilisation’, exhibiting a sculptural quality as though divorced from their history.
Thurley took issue with the idea that preservation was a modern invention. Its prominence since the Second World War was, like in many other areas of life, actually the result of increasing state intervention. He suggested that preservation, which implies keeping things the same, was in fact a misnomer; conservation better describes the process of ‘managing change’ with which bodies such as English Heritage were concerned. While for Thurley ‘heritage is about the future’, it was hard not to be struck by OMA’s contention that the obsession with preservation was due, at least in part, to our ‘growing inability to inhabit our current moment’.
Owen Hopkins (lead curator of the RA Forum: Future Memory series in London)
Listen to this talk
- Download the recording:
01:24 mins (38.5 MB)
- Subscribe to our Events podcast here
Read Jay Merrick's review of the event for The Architects' Journal