Why We Need Conflict.

Conflict, Complexity, Controversy. Words not strange to the preservation field, nor preservation theories. At times dreaded. Why? Conflict is a powerful tool in the built environment. It raises awareness amongst other things, but it also helps the understanding of many other aspects beyond the built environment such as political, social, cultural ideologies.

Rooted from Viollet-le-Duc’s reading, “polemics can engender new ideas: polemics can motivate more attentive study of problematic questions” (“Restoration in Architecture: First Dialogue” in Future Anterior, V.6, N.1, pp. 199), one can think of polemics as controversial which in turn is conflictive and complex. Are values and conflict the same thing? Certainly not, but they are in the same boat. Conflict is a trait that comes with the grouping of values. Riegl, Lipe, Frey, the Burra Charter and the English Heritage, amongst many, have contributed to define sets of values throughout the decades since the 1900s. Yet, these values are constantly debated and pinned against each other, provoking conflict. So, is the root of it all controversy & complexity?

“Both loss and compensation are inextricably tied to conservation’s primary objectives.” (Matero, Frank G. Loss, Compensation, and Authenticity… pp.47) The same can be said of the preservation field in general, not just at a level of conservation.  Are conflict and complexity imminent features in the preservation field? One would be inclined to think it is more beneficial to perhaps eliminate the object in question in order to avoid conflict. However, preservation is a controversial act in itself. Interpreting meanings out of a pool of existing narratives, how does one decide to assign the “adequate”one? Depends on who you ask, the response will vary. And when you combine the issues with elitism in the built world, distorted historical narratives might arise.

Yet, maybe conflict is a necessary tool in the preservationist’s (practitioners) toolbox. Commonly unwelcome, conflict and controversy is the ammo needed for a number of heritage related issues. Can preservation exist without destruction? Even failures in preservation, are at times great for propaganda, raising awareness and collecting mass efforts. Our field is married to diversity and contrasting vast narratives, there is no way around it. One cannot eliminate conflict, only control the degree to which it is present. Sans historical, cultural, heritage, aesthetic, use, social, context conflict or any other type of conflict, would there be a need to preserve?

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