Memory in Architecture

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Memory in Architecture

By Leo WANG

People in diverse cultures often have different observation and ways of dealing with similar issues. Memory in architecture, as a communication tools between history, present or even future has been discussed and expressed in various perspectives. In the following text, idea generated by Frederick Mote and Pierre in Chinese approach towards their past will be discussed parallel to Alois Riegl and Stanford Anderson's analysis on western monumentality. A pacific example of Chinese architecture, Ise Shrines will also be introduced in order to help build the connection between western and Asian culture.

Fluidity of Spirit

However, the influence of creation by memory in China is not always being observed in a "physical" way. Rather, the fluidness of civilization is expressed as "spiritual presence". [1] In F.W. Mote's observation, China's urban history operates the flux of memory through an "unphysical" way. "The past was a past of words not of stones."[2] Take Great Pagoa in Soochow as an example, although being "one of the ancient land marks and one the city's many links with its past", it has been modified, destroyed and rebuilt many times during the ages. [3] Rather than intangibly diminish, the presence with authentically ancient physical objects shifts. However, apart from the changing of appearance, the intangible component of China's past remains the same, moreover it still communicates with future generations without monumental effect. In this certain way, Chinese civilization flows.[4]

Comparing with Mote, Pierve Ryckmans holds the similar perspective. While he is more concerned about the question that why cultivation of the moral and spiritual values of the Ancients are neglect or indifferent towards the material heritage of the past. [5] Interestingly, Mote's discussion nearly answer this question that it is the spiritual inspiration that matters the civilization, and also the presence of China's past is gradually revealed through literature, language and so on. In spite of the over five thousand year of history and memory that China holds, the "oddly deprived of ancient monuments" and the "material absence of the past" still make the past "both spiritually active and physically invisible."[6]As a result, nothing is architecturally visible that preserve the memory from oblivion. Antiquarianism and art collections, in this perspective, appear essentially as a search for spiritual shelter and moral comfort.[7] They act as reflections of the memory when Chinese fell threatened in their cultural identity. Still, the whole image is still uncompleted only through the observation through these. However, refers to the "Chinese Lies" that it is a different attitude, "a different attitude toward the way of making the monumental achievement, and a different attitude toward the ways of achieving the enduring monument."[8]

Static Monument

"Everything that has been and is no longer we call historical, in accordance with the modern notion that what has been can never be again, and that everything that has been constitutes an irreplaceable and irremovable link in a chain of development. In other words: each successive step implies its predecessor and could not have happened as it did without that earlier step."[9] Put forward by Alois Reigl, which cannot be regarded totally at odds to Mote and Ryckmans argument but a different perspective. Here, memory is deemed in a western vision as a "static, solid and physical" entity that is instilled for the future to observe. Monumentality is associated with solidity, thus of course, memory in Chinese architecture differs. Reigl identify a monument as a human creation, erected for the specific purpose of keeping single human deeds or events alive in the minds of future generation, which the physical monuments is opposed to cultural understanding.[10] His view of monuments is a reapplication of the past through palpable, visual or audible...
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