The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War
London: Reaktion Books, 2007, 240 pages.
Crumbled shells of mosques in Iraq, the fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11: when architectural totems such as these are destroyed by conflicts and the ravages of war, more than mere buildings are at stake. The Destruction of Memory reveals the extent to which a nation weds itself to its landscape; Robert Bevan argues that such destruction not only shatters a nation’s culture and morale but is also a deliberate act of eradicating a culture’s memory and, ultimately, existence.
Bevan highlights a range of wars and conflicts in which the destruction of architecture was pivotal. From Cortez’s razing of Aztec cities to the carpet bombings of Dresden and Tokyo in World War Two to the war in the former Yugoslavia, The Destruction of Memory exposes the cultural war that rages behind architectural annihilation, revealing that in this subliminal assault lies the complex aim of exterminating a people. He provocatively argues for ‘the fatally intertwined experience of genocide and cultural genocide’, ultimately proposing the elevation of cultural genocide to a crime punishable by international law.
In an age in which Frank Gehry, I. M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright have wide recognition and yet museums and temples of priceless value are destroyed in wars around the world, Bevan challenges the notion of ‘collateral damage’, arguing that it is in fact a deliberate act of war.