“Here space is memory, for time ceases to quicken memory… What a strange thing it is!...We are unable to relive duration that is destroyed. We can only think of it, in the line of an abstract time that is deprived of all thickness…Memories are motionless and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are” (Bachelard, 1958, 9).
The diversity of perception and opinion across humankind gives life variety and abundance. While perception is based on individual experiences, culture is the accumulation of those perceptions and is used to understand collective intellect and behavior. In the world of architecture, the product of culture and perception is a monument, which lies in the realm of form. Mike Brill writes that humans find it necessary to express their culture in order to feel affinities and continuity, essential to successful place making. The glue that holds the fabric of society together for many organizing cultures is a monumental counterpart. Despite the essential role of form in varying cities, monuments suspend a constant tension between form and the experience received by the interpreter.
According to Mike Brill (1994), as humans, we all hold a, “longing to reconnect with [others] and have places that touch our spirit. And that longing may be satisfied, in some small way – even if for a moment – with each experience of a charged place, and the archetypal meanings that connect us as we share them”(p. 77). The longing he describes is frequently satisfied through place, a medium through which archetype can be expressed. While rather metaphysical, this distinctive framework is a basis for defining elements of the monumental. While most place making defines space in terms of physicality related to the self, another primary way of knowing space according to E.V. Walter (1988) is through “haptic perception,” a combination of all sensory input and the body’s inner articulations. A monument is the only piece of architecture whose sole functionality is to act upon the spirit and evoke symbolism. In this way, functionality surpasses form and rests upon experience.
If we assume all of the above is true, there is still the question of how to design a monument. What should its form reflect? How does this relate to our understanding of events, people, and feelings it represents? I find that symbolism in architecture has the power to create a physical manifestation of literal feeling. It also introduces doubt; do the existing symbols employed in the monuments in place today accurately reflect the feelings we assume they represent? What is the form of an object that represent feeling?
Monuments are a product of cultural values, and yet their forms are often transferable between cultures. Perception,which draws upon inherent knowledge or understanding,is universal evidenced by forms that when placed out of context in basic, modern architectural elements are still rich with association. If so ingrained, how far can these forms and their cultural affiliations be challenged?
What is Monumentality?
While there is a general accepted definition of “monumental”, this term is used in several contexts and describes a variety of impressions. In terms of understanding monument in an urban or architectural context, the Nine Points on Monumentality are summarized as follows (Gideon et al.):
- Monuments are human landmarks created as symbols for ideas, aims, and actions. They are intended to outlive the generation that originated them and form a link between past and future.
- Monuments are an expression of man’s highest cultural needs and the most vital are those which express the thinking and feeling of the collective force of people.
- Every period that has shaped a real cultural life has the power to create these symbols.
- The last hundred years (an opinion of 80 years ago) have witnessed the devaluation of monumentality. There is no way to represent the spirit of modern times.
- The decline and misuse of monumentality is the reason modern architects have deliberately disregarded and revolted against it.
- A new step lies ahead in the modern world because of the necessary reorganization of community life.
- People want their aspiration for monumentality, joy, pride, and excitement to be satisfied in an architecture which goes beyond functional fulfillment.
- Sites for monuments must be planned.
- Modern materials and new techniques are at hand.
Although some ideas are outdated and make sweeping statements about modernity, the most interesting postulations are in points five and seven. “Misuse” in monumentality is explained further to state that, “Monuments should constitute the most powerful accents in these vast schemes,” of city, regions, and architecture (p. 29). The link between architecture and city planning can be strengthened and explored in monuments, yet their design cannot be entrusted to architects alone because they have not “been trained for this kind of integrated work” (p.30). This assumption demonstrates the power monuments hold within the urban fabric of a city’s culture and therefore must be a product of multiple inputs, from concepts of psychology to art to the collective public opinion. Then, where do architecture and urban design stand within the task of designing monuments?
According to Mike Brill (1994), when form and meaning are thrown together frequently, it is called an archetype. The physical places of where we find meaning may be charged with a natural language that is palpable to all. The product of the human spirit is difficult to define in physical attributes, but one can look to typological monumental parts in order to understand this.
Place Making in the Built Environment
Monuments seen today in context are essential to the nuances of determining a place’s identity. Heideggerian theory of identity supposes that it is, “not only important that our environment has a special structure which facilitates orientation, but that it consists of concrete objects of identification” (Norberg-Schulz, 1980, p.21). Because monuments exist as objects of innate human symbolism, their place within the built environment is essential to certain senses of identity. Breakwell's four principles of identity and elaborated by Twigger-Ross and Uzzell (1996) are as follows:
1. Uniqueness and distinctiveness
2. Continuity across time and situation
3. Feeling of worth and social value (pride of association)
Specific environments can reinforce all or some of these elements. What is most significant in a monument’s role in place is continuity across time and situation (number two), while the other three principles can come as a result of design and incorporation rather than principle. Monuments are one of the only ways that continuity can be expressed in physical form.
Form and Association
Through analysis of specific monuments, a few stand out for reasons of formal and programmatic legibility. For example, the National Scotland Monument, a replica of the Parthenon, can be clearly understood in terms of its physical space and historical style, and is generally popular in surveys despite not being an authentic representation. The structure itself was erected to commemorate the soldiers of the Napoleonic wars (Grant 1887) and is a copy of an ancient Greek temple for a goddess of wisdom. Although it is actually a memorial modeled from a place of worship, the architectural elements of podium and fluted Doric column are the most legible in the design, evoking associations with ancient Greece and, by inference, power.
Another fascinating instance was the reception of Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jew of Europe. As the name suggests, the design is meant to heavily emphasize grief and loss through the repetition of a single cubic shape. Those surveyed about the monument frequently categorized the monument into grief and memory, while also disliking the form of it as a whole. Its likability was very polar: three out of the ten survey participants knew of the monument and its justification, while it was unknown to the majority, resulting in dislike and a low ranking. After learning its purpose, many wished to change their categorization and even expressed guilt in having ranked it so unfavorably. This result emphasizes that humans do not have to particularly like something in order to understand or feel its spiritual purpose.
Jean Debuffet’s Man Standing with Beast sculpture, a work classified under the typology of statue, is on the far left side of abstraction. It was received rather negatively in the poll, appearing in the lower 50% of likability and almost exclusively categorized into innovation. While Debuffet used the abstracted architectural elements of portal, tree, and a standing animal, these figures are not remotely legible. He was attempting to capture truth in the human perception of space, something that came off as intangible and unrecognizable to interviewees.
Designing a Monument for the 21st Century
We can all picture monuments we have visited or seen in their configurations; typically made of a hard, permanent material, occupying the center of a plaza or a city, and larger than life. With all the implications of modern monumentality and manifestations of the human condition, these stereotypical traits of typological objects can be challenged to resonate in a new way to evoke successful time-tested purposes, drawing on new understandings of culture in order to mark a new but integrated position within the collection of the world’s monumental objects.