The legacy of the architecture of the Modern Movement left by twentieth-century architects offers historians and designers a platform of confrontation rich with contradictions. It is not necessary to dwell on the concept of ‘monument,’ which is directly associated with that of heritage, to come to this conclusion. Only a few decades after Riegl, although the statute of modern monument has become a focal point in the process of acknowledging the values of the architecture of modernity, the battle is not yet won. In other words, it is significant that the form of resistance adopted by the confrontation of the longevity of the Modern architectural thinking, borne out of its history, has first generated icons, and consequently frozen their mythical aura, transforming them into untouchable works of art.
There is no doubt that in this globalized society of the third millennium it will seem a bit awkward to talk about the actuality of this legacy, and even more problematic to think about preserving those architectural creations by respecting the designers' intentions and the physical characteristics of the buildings. We are facing a cultural revolution generated by the “paradox of the Modern Movement,” which has opened the door to this much debated topic, both on theoretical and practical grounds, surrounding the principal issues of the conservation and restoration, refurbishment and transformation of architecture of the Modern Movement.
One should recall that the main objective of the majority of the designers of the Modern Movement was to build projects that were rational, functional, innovative and rich, with strong political and cultural identities—futuristic in all senses, and at all costs, and bathing in an optimistic faith in progress. Accordingly, the challenge their conservation generates is the confrontation between their status as heritage (as goods to pass on to future generations) in a society which has modified its own scale of values (for example, that of the post-colonial condition), and as a physical, economic and functional context of rapid transformation. To conserve means we should acknowledge those structural changes, rather than attempting to keep all Modern heritage in its original state.
Thus, our objective should be to create a grid of criteria taking into account all the significant characteristics of the architecture (e.g., respecting the character of the designer, his language, his relationship to time, materials, and the commitment to the collective memory), while remaining compatible with the conservation or restoration project. The challenge in this is to envision changes without betraying the legacy and spirit of the architecture of the twentieth century. It is clear that a thorough reflection on this complex process must bring together the architect and the restorer, as well as integrate the historic value of the building using both the material and historical elements.
In an essay on demolition, Francoise Choay demonstrated that the raison d'être of architecture lies in the practice of rehabilitation. Modern architects may not have thought about the demolition of their own urban landscape when they imagined a better society, but nevertheless, they were the first to confront the dilemma between continuity and change. It is clear that we have reached a certain level of consensus regarding preservation practices, which is most true in the field of antique architecture. Nevertheless, the number of Modern buildings that need to be preserved is even more important—and, in addition to the iconic and outstanding works, one must not forget the importance of the conserving those “imperfect fragments.” Maristella Casciato
Maristella Casciato, Chair DOCOMOMO International