Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

A curious book...

Romantic Modernism: Nostalgia in the World of Conservation (2009), by Wim Denslagen

"The reiterating core argument [...] is in essence that between futurists and historicists; those who favour change that breaks with the past and those who seek refuge in the past by preserving its relics and even reconstructing its idealised forms. [...] Denslagen has both the historical knowledge and the communication skills to argue convincingly on both sides. The reader is constantly persuaded by contradictory arguments. On the one side, preservation is seen as ‘a drag on our living cultures’. Appeals to vernacular design and local tradition are dismissed as [...] parochial, tribal and bordering on the racist. The strongest venom is reserved for those who would attempt reconstruction: ‘Reconstructions are for people who haven’t faced up to the past’. It is ‘a symptom of an unnatural obsession with one’s identity’. From the other side, ‘the monster modernity’ spawning Bauhaus, CIAM and the ‘international school’ are accused of worshipping ‘ugliness as ideal’, as what was at first shockingly avant garde and experimental has now become just a term of abuse for a hollow repetitive architecture bereft of imagination or creativity."

"The discussion takes an unexpected twist when changing attitudes to nature are compared with those to the historic built environment. The current fashion in nature conservation favours the establishment of self-regulatory ecosystems that exclude both man and domestic animals as not natural. Both architectural modernists and natural ecologists are ideologically fundamentalist fanatics, pitting an anti-nostalgic, anti-historicist science and rationality against a popularist emotional nostalgic romanticism. These elites are attempting to impose their views of built and natural environments on a population that prefers cities to appear as eclectic pastiches of an imagined sanitised past and wants its nature populated by rustics and herds of cows. In a democracy nostalgia will ultimately prevail in both architectural and nature conservation."

From this review.

The first paragraph is intriguing, but the second one reveals a – possibly unreflected – reactionary stance of the author. So, people have bad judgment and bad taste, and they need an authority to make decisions for them? A number of modern and historic dictators will agree, as will most investment developers. How about we forget about grandiose urban planning agendas and give control and resources to the individuals residing in historic cities, so they can implement what they need in and around their homes, yards, streets, sidewalks, squares and cities? People have been known to do wonderfully well with almost nothing at their disposal – just imagine if they had the power.

Xundao Street, Shanghai old town, 2009.
Tags: books, demolition, preservation, redevelopment, shanghai, urban planning

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