Umbrella thematic area:
Monuments in Ruins—Ruins as Monuments
Evaluation, Protection, Enhancement & Management
Professor of Theory, Philosophy and Practice of Architectural/Urban/Landscape Design, National Technical University of Athens.
Ruins, archaeological and historical, present a special category of monuments: one generated through time from natural wear and tear, abrupt natural catastrophes, abandonment and/or intentional destruction. They present extreme cases of monumentality, dictated by the simple fact of being — ruinous.
Ruins qua physical remains represent materiality. Partially preserved, they can only suggest their original complete state; existing thus in some middle ground between present diminished form and past substance, they are subject to all manner of theorization and philosophizing. Additionally, as remnants of edifices subjected to destructive forces, ruins embed both the monument they come from as well as the act of its destruction.
As a result, ruins do not have to be seen as mere passive remains, but by taking on an active cultural role, they can transcend their status as parts of lost wholes. They can assume an identity of their own, as ruins; they can become monuments qua ruins and not languish as pitiful ruins of monuments.
Ruins are an accurate way to describe all archaeological sites in terms of materiality, but as a concept they incorporate all monuments and objects, of whatever size, whose simple existence can stimulate remembrance. So, are ruins live entities or dead corpses? And in either case, are they cultural assets (passive) or cultural agents (active)?
If dead, as assets or agents, what kind of cultural symbolism do they perform – or could do? Does their preservation have a role to play in the Cult of Yesteryear? Are ruinous landscapes only cemeteries of the past?
If alive, in what sense is this so? How could their flickering existence be best enhanced and managed? How may they adapt to the present cultural dynamics in which they physically exist?
Traditionally, ruins have been appreciated as fragmented parts, conveying but a sense of the whole they once belonged to, so inviting the beholder to complete the image by extrapolating the whole out the part (in the time-honoured Classical tradition). Or as fragments celebrating – or mourning – that which is forever lost (in the full-blown Romantic tradition).
Despite the great influence ruins exert over audiences of all kinds, and despite the fact that all archaeological sites are ruins almost by definition, there has been hardly any debate in recent decades as to their potential. Discussions here have tended to polarize between reconstitution from the original surviving pieces and reconstruction/stabilization at often arbitrarily-selected places. All too often, there exists no valid theoretical framework to underpin or guide the necessities of everyday practice.
The 4th HMO International HerMa Conference on Heritage Management will contribute to this largely absent debate by reconsidering ruins qua physical remains, for their evocative potential, and in particular to provide a philosophy to inform heritage management at all kinds of scales: from museum objects to historical buildings, archaeological sites to historical landscapes.
The main subjects raised will revolve around the following sorts of concerns:
- RUINS OF WHAT/AS WHAT? — matters of identity, the relation between parts and wholes, as well as the ‘authenticity’ of restored monuments in relation to what remains of their original material substance … and other ruinous topics. Theoretical and philosophical contributions are most welcome in this session.
- RUINS FOR WHAT/WHERE? — the purposes, criteria, hierarchies and decision making in the preservation of ruinous monuments, through case studies of theory and of practice.
- RUINS FOR WHOM? — the different approaches and desires of the general public and the experts: the various empathies expressed (or not) towards ruins, ruins of one’s own or another’s culture, the relation of the part to the whole and management strategies devised to accentuate, remedy, mitigate or even celebrate the fragmented condition of the archetypal ruin. This session focuses on sociological, anthropological, psychological approaches.
- RUINS HOW? — looks at the actual processes of ruination, the subsequent functioning of ruins and the diverse methods of their documentation, technologies of their stabilization and their presentation to the public.