The aesthetic consequences of preserving, restoring, and reconstructing, by Remei Capdevila Werning

Architectural conservation aims to preserve, restore, and reconstruct damaged, decayed and no longer extant buildings. While doing this, a complex set of reflections upon the function and the meaning of a building are brought into light in order to determine what interventions to carry out. These interventions may affect the aesthetic functioning of architectural works. By discussing several examples, this paper seeks to provide an initial examination of how architectural conservation may disrupt the typical aesthetic triad composed by author – artwork – audience, and thus influence the work’s meaning, our aesthetic experience, and the way we interpret a building.

From a philosophical perspective, conservation of buildings poses a series of questions related to authenticity and identity of an architectural work, especially when a building is completely reconstructed or has undergone so many interventions that there is no trace of the original materials. Architectural conservation also raises questions related to the work’s meaning and interpretation, for it has to be determined what meaning is to be preserved (the original one, or all the acquired through time) and to what extent the preserving intervention may alter this initial meaning. Furthermore, one has to decide to what extent the traces of conservation need to be perceivable and whether these acquire meaning in the altered building insofar as they reflect the conservation criteria and procedures of a given time. This paper focuses mainly on the latter questions and tries to provide an initial answer to them by discussing several types of interventions: first, the less invasive ones, i.e., cleaning and maintenance (for example, New York’s Grand Central Station); second, restoration, stabilization, and repair at a major degree (the Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, and the Villa Savoye); third, integral and inventive restorations (Colonial Williamsburg and Viollet-le-Duc’s projects); and finally, total reconstructions (the Barcelona Pavilion).