Burial

Several times in the course of his conversation-essay, Boito raises the issue of burial as a valuable asset for preservation. His example is the medieval church; the interior buried under the plaster and false ceiling of a Baroque renovation. One of Boito’s conversers posits that the greatest good the renovation did was to mummify the original interior beneath a new fabric; like layers of gauze, to be peeled back and reveal the aged but preserved original structure. Or consider Pompeii where the city was saved in pristine condition beneath the debris of an extraordinary natural disaster. Obviously it was not the intension of the Baroque renovators or Mt. Vesuvius to save the original fabric so much as factors of convenience led to such a happy circumstance, and it may be the same that again brings the submerged fabric back to light.

While these acts of preservation by entombment were unintentional, that is not always the case; especially with fragile art pieces and historical materials. Countless artworks and archives are kept safe under lock and key; away from the damaging effects of light and changing air; embalmed in meticulously monitored conditions. However, these protections come at the cost of accessibility. Colors do not fade when kept out of the light, but they are also un-seeable.

With architecture a well, buildings can be buried, not literally, but in the sense that they can be cut off from their original purpose; much like how a painting hidden away no longer served its purpose of being seen. Take for instance, a home, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, or Monticello. The structures still stand and one can still walk the rooms, but they no longer function as homes; the life of them has been removed; they have been embalmed. This burial is very different from that which Boito mentions. In this case what has been buried is something palpable, but intangible: a sense of place derived through experience. One can go to these homes and understand what they were, but one cannot be in them as such.

In all of these cases, the burial act is about finding stasis. In the Boito example, it was an unintentional stasis, while in my examples, it is crafted. In all of these cases, however; stasis is a fallacy: artificial and unnatural. A comparison of these architectural burials with those of the art works is very interesting for it reveals that art and architecture are different beast. In the case of the former, a static understanding of the object is expected, even though it’s also understood that the material of the art work will naturally decay. Architecture is a more dynamic subject; change is part of its life. Only in extreme examples, such as those mentioned, where a specific part of the building’s life is so inextricably linked to its meaning should we consider embalming, knowing full well that this process comes at the cost of vitality. Otherwise preservation should focus on managing change, rather than stopping it, too ensure that these objects of our heritage do not die unnatural deaths.

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