The Tedder Atlas aerial photographs show the USAAF bombardier as the agent of a system of hierarchical targeting, with vertical altitude being a kind of metaphor for detachment. The MFAA soldier, on the other hand, works horizontally , traversing the killing fields of Western, Central, and Southern Europe in search of monuments described in maps and lists. Yet both were also the instruments of a bureaucratized vision, a chain of command that mediated wartime theaters of operations through the lens of architectural diplomacy.
Until this moment, Allais has presented the dynamics of monuments discourse along two concurrent tracks. The first one considers a reconfiguration of the putative objects of heritage preservation. Whereas the CIC emphasized materiality, the Roberts Commission depended upon an idealized and historicized version of monuments. This was because the survival of a monument depended on its inclusion on a specific kind of map or photograph. The second track is equally complex and also riven with ideological and political implications: the Athens Charter, CIC, and Roberts Commission all viewed the designation and creation of monuments prescriptively — in other words, both the identification of cultural property and listing of monuments to be spared from aerial attack used architectural knowledge to condition state actors before and during war.
Building on this last track, the final chapters of Designs of Destruction consider the intended audiences of monuments discourse. And it is here that Allais changes the tone of the book somewhat, as the object of focus changes from the devastation of World War II to the role of monuments discourse in a postwar world. Allais introduces an indelible theoretical apparatus to its historical counterpart: as discourses before World War II oscillated between a materialist and idealistic conception of monument, in the postwar world, such discussions questioned the scale of intervention necessary for conservation — should it operate at the level of a single material, or through a massive infrastructural object?
This is the subject of the final and thrilling chapter, where Allais considers the measures taken to salvage and relocate of the Temple of Abu Simbel after the creation of Lake Nasser and the Aswan High Dam. As one of the most impressive and significant feats in the history of conservation, Abu Simbel seems a fitting place to end Designs of Destruction — it is also a project that refracts many of the themes that Allais expertly threads throughout the book.
For starters, the use of a combination of silicon aggregate, epoxy, and local sand to fill in and enhance the marks caused when Abu Simbel was cut into pieces prior to removal does not seem far removed from the prescriptions in Section VI of the Athens Charter. The subject of norms arises later in this chapter when Allais expounds on the historiographical significance of Abu Simbel. The apparatus that I have been describing […] placed architecture under a logic of media.
The logic of moving monuments was allied with the logic of moving images. The logic of storing stones was allied with the logic of storing photographs. And the logic of repeated hand-cutting was allied with the logic of image-reproduction. Throughout these repetitions and translations, the object of preservation was fundamentally transformed. In this sense preservation functioned as a mode of cultural production and communication that incorporated the characteristics of another mode of production, architecture.
Could we not, then, see architectural preservation as a medium, whose content is architecture? In a book whose rich tableau of archival artifacts, innovative arguments, and wide-scanning historical purviews already set it apart from other architectural history monographs, the above quote shows the potential historical and narrative trajectories for Designs of Destruction.
Architectural historians have been writing about their objects of study through the lens of mass media for over a generation. The depiction of architecture in films; construction of film sets; the broadcasting of architectural history over radio; television shows about the history of buildings; the application of film and apparatus theory to architectural history: such domains have been covered in recent and not-so-recent monographs.
Sites and Monuments
Though this book is embedded firmly in the rituals and canons of architectural history, it has a generosity of voice that can seem absent in this field. Call it what you like: architectural history of preservation; media history; institutional history of architectural preservation; or media history of international architectural governance.
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