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Changing Places: 

Remaking Institutional Buildings


Lynda H.  Schneekloth,  Marcia F.  Feuerstein,  Barbara A.  Campagna, Editors

WHITE PINE PRESS, Fredonia, NY, 1992


This book, was based on the Lecture Series and Symposium on "The Adaptive Reuse of Historically Significant Institutional Buildings and Grounds" developed in collaboration with The New York State Advisory Council for the Richardson Complex at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.  The Good and the Evil was presented at that Symposium as the Keynote Address.




Excerpt from the Frontispiece of the book

It is worthwhile, at certain hours of the day or night, to look closely at useful objects at rest.

Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their enormous loads of crops or ore, sacks from coal, barrels, baskets, the handles and hafts of carpenters tools.

The contact these objects have had with the earth serves as a text for all tormented poets.

The worn surfaces of things, the wear that hands give to them, the air, sometimes tragic, sometimes pathetic, emanating from these objects lends an attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be scorned.

In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and obsolescence of materials, the mark of a hand, footprints, the abiding presence of the human that permeates all artifacts.

This is is the poetry we search for, worn with the work of hands, corroded as if by acids, steeped in sweat and smoke, reeking of urine and smelling of lilies soiled by the diverse trades we live by both inside the law and beyond it.

A poetry impure as the clothing we wear on our bodies, a poetry stained with soup and shame, a poetry full of wrinkles, dreams, Observations prophesies, declarations of love and hate, idylls and beasts, manifestos, doubts, denials, affirmations and taxes...

From Some Thoughts on an Impure Poetry
by Pablo Neruda


Click on titles below to jump to sections

1. The Meaning Of A Monument: The Importance Of The Emotional Response

Example 1: The Preservation Of The Setting Of Man's Inhumanity To Man: The Nazi Death Camps

Example 2: The Architectural Setting Of National Socialism

2. The Purpose Of A Monument: Emotional Response As A Legitimate Design Objective

Example 3: The Factory Town As Monument

Example 4: The Importance Of The Symbolic Image

3. Conclusion





Chapter 7




by Randolph Langenbach


For indeed the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold.  Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity....It is in that golden stain of time that we are to look for the real light, and color, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess of language and of life.[i]

John Ruskin

Raise The Titanic?

As Robert Ballard and his crew guided their cameras over the deep sea bottom in 1985 in search of the sunken wreck of the Titanic, they were crossing through a barrier in both space and time.  The great ship, which had disappeared beneath the waves over 60 years ago, carrying more than 1,500 people to their deaths, suddenly reappeared in the gloom of the cold deep sea.  For over half a century, the ship for all intents and purposes did not exist.  It had been "destroyed."  Yet there it was, long after all the other great four-stack ocean liners had gone to the scrap yard - seen across a gap of over half a century, allowing us to relive its tragedy.


While the discovery of the wreck rekindled a collective memory of a transforming disaster, it also served to destroy some fantasies.  Imagination had refused to acknowledge the possibility that the ship had broken up as it sank, despite the suggestion of some survivors' testimonies.  Also, because of the depth of the sea, and the cold of the arctic waters, it was hoped that the woodwork of the vessel would not have been consumed by wood-boring marine creatures.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  The Titanic's famed finery has almost completely disappeared, leaving the rusting steel shell as the repository of the world's memories of the grand vessel which, through human arrogance, carelessness, and tragic irony was destroyed on its maiden voyage.


Ballard wanted to photograph the wreck, not raise it.  In his opinion, the site was a memorial should not be disturbed.  A French team of explorers disagreed.   They wanted to bring up pieces for exhibition on the surface, hoping one day that the entire wreck could be raised.  During the exploration of the wreck, a debate raged between opposing views.  Consider what, in fact, this wreck is.  Is it an archeological site, an historic object, a memorial, or a grave?


A sunken vessel is an enigma in the definition of an historical artifact.  Does it "exist"?  While the shattered wreck is the Titanic, in an important sense it is also not the "real" Titanic.  The real Titanic disappeared on that tragic night over 60 years ago, and survives not as an artifact, but transformed into a collectively shared memory   - a memory not just of the ship itself, but of a time in history, of the people who were on the ship, and of the disaster which destroyed the ship.  "Titanic" now symbolizes human arrogance and fallibility, not the original proud reference to the Titans of Greek Mythology.  How can these shattered remains represent such a complex and symbolic event?  If , they could be raised, what meaning would such an "historic artifact" have?


Upon finding the wreck, Ballard took over 60,000 photographs and 60 hours of videotape of the vessel.  Instead of returning to the surface with salvaged pieces, he brought the film.  He believed that to bring actual pieces would disturb the sanctity of the site.  Photography is an evocative medium.  The images on film become a kind of reality by interpreting an event and arresting time. 


The emotional impact of the wreck in the present is largely dependent upon the preservation of the photographic images of the ship before it sank.  Few who are alive today have ever seen the ship.  It is those original photographic images which stick in peoples' minds.  Yet it is the artifact of the actual ship - not the acetate photograph of the pristine new vessel - which is so highly charged.  The photograph is like memory.  The artifact is reality.  Memory is what gives the reality meaning, but it is the reality which provides the basis for the recall of the event and stands as a specific symbolic monument for the future. 


Following the discovery, a radio debate between William S. Buckley and the president of the Titanic Historical Society focused on the issue of raising the Titanic.  Buckley took the position that the ship was in open marine waters and that the rights of salvage allowed access to it.  If anyone wanted to finance it, raise it and put it on view, why shouldn't it be allowed?  If there was enough interest to make such an operation profitable, then it seemed justified.  The Titanic Society president was not ready to accept the commercial exploitation of the site, saying that a careful archaeological study of the site and the identification and location of all of the debris should be completed before anything is was disturbed. 


Both men missed the point.  If the artifact Titanic has any value, it is a symbolic value.   The site is of no archaeological importance.  The location and nature of the debris is of little consequence, because what happened once the ship disappeared beneath the sea could not be a significant part of the historic event which took place on the surface.  The hulk is old now, but the wreckage provides little potential historical evidence of an artistic or a technological nature.  Surviving plans and photographs are likely to provide more on that score.  Thus the significance of these remains is their power to elicit a deeply emotional response.  It is not just a monument to those who died, but a monument to the boldness of building such a vessel, to its destruction by the arrogance which labeled it "unsinkable," and, finally, to the changed consciousness of those who lived.  The remains link us to an historic tragic event which still has the power to evoke questions about the meaning of life, of wealth, and of human fallibility amidst technological accomplishment as almost no other event has.[ii]


If the ship could be brought to the surface, it would make real a story which is so extraordinary that it seems a myth.  Yet in a way, Ballard's photographs serve that purpose even better, because of the problems of conserving and displaying such a tremendous artifact.  Impregnated with salt, when exposed to the air, the ship would rapidly rust to oblivion, leaving less of it for future generations than if it were left on the bottom of the sea. 


1.  The Meaning Of A Monument: The Importance Of The Emotional Response

This story illustrates that most historic artifacts are human concepts as much as they are physical reality.  The conservation[iii] of historic objects, whether buildings, paintings or jewelry, relies as much upon what importance and meaning people ascribe to them, as on any intrinsic quality they may have.  That is why conservation itself is such an inexact science, or not even a "science" at all.  It is rarely recognized that historic artifacts are often worth saving not because of their artistic value or historical connections per se, but because of the intangible, powerful emotional responses which they elicit.  This is particularly true for monuments connected to negative historical events.


In 1621 the flagship galleon Wasa sank on its maiden voyage - even before it was out of Stockholm Harbor.  The design of the ship, which was flawed, capsized in the first gust of wind.  Now, 400 years later, the remains of the defective vessel survive as the most complete record of art and technology of a ship of its era.  Raised from the muddy bottom of the harbor in 1961, the ship is now on display - not as a monument to its sinking, but as an example of the engineering and craftsmanship of the era.  It stands for all the ships of the 17th century, not just for that fatal voyage or even its flawed design.[iv]  James Marston Fitch illustrates the irony of this in his explanation: sometimes an artifact is so pregnant with historical significance that...no surrogate, facsimile, or replica will suffice....Such was the sentiment in Sweden with the warship Wasa, a paradigm of Swedish navel might when it sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm's harbor on a calm day in 1621....If retrieved and conserved, it would constitute an encyclopedia of information on advanced seventeenth-century navel technology.[v]


Perhaps one day the Titanic would be of similar archaeological interest.  All of the great ships of its era have long since been scrapped, and the heyday of the luxury liner has passed.  Perhaps one day the events of that dark night in 1912 will not carry the same emotive message.  The survivors will then be gone, and the site's identity as a grave will no longer carry the same demands.  Even the most striking events...must inevitably, for posterity, fade away into pale replicas of the original picture, for each generation losing...some significance once noted in them, some quality of enchantment that was once theirs.[vi]


The Titanic, however, is different from the Wasa.  The historical impact of the later tragedy was far greater than that of the Wasa.  Although the Titanic was once a beautiful ship, it is doubtful whether the artistic or technological interest of the remains will ever outweigh the symbolism of the event which in one stroke destroyed the vessel in its time, but assured that its shell would outlast that of all other ships of its era.  The Titanic is a monument to a negative event.  On land it would share the dilemma of why and how monuments symbolic of cruel or tragic events should be preserved.


Historian John Summerson has stated that decayed and obsolete structures are preserved because they are sources of wonder and interest to the artist and historian and to those elements in the contemporary mind to which art and history minister.[vii]  Monuments to negative events are rarely preserved because they are beautiful.  They may be of historical interest, but they often mean more.  They can contain tremendous symbolic power, and it is that aspect of their cultural meaning which must be borne in mind when decisions are made about conserving and interpreting such sites for the future.


The professional and scientific view of the environment usually suppresses its meaning, Donald Appleyard observed in 1978.  He went on to say, Environmental professionals have not been aware of the symbolic content of the environment, or of the symbolic nature of their own plans and projects....  Professionals see the environment as a physical entity, a functional container,...a setting for social action or programs, a pattern of land uses, a sensuous experience­–but seldom as a social or political symbol.[viii]  This can have a tremendous effect on how we interpret historical remains of any kind, but for negative monuments, it can lead to neglect of the principal significance of a given site. 


Buildings and sites with a negative symbolic image include prisons, slave houses, battlefields and insane asylums.The also include residential areas once lived in by a poor and oppressed minority, and work places symbolic of exploitation or particularly disagreeable work, such as mines, steel mills and other types of factories. 


For the purpose of this paper, we are not talking about the old department stores, houses, fire stations and city halls which give visual definition and character to a town, and which make up the usual complement of "historic buildings".  We are talking about monuments with a negative symbolic image.[ix]  A "monument" is not limited to one object, whether a statue or a building.  A whole city can be a monument.  A symbolic monument can be an historic district or a whole city which represents something larger than itself.  For example, Manchester, England, is a monument of the original great city of the Industrial Revolution.


Sometimes negative symbolism transcends all other aspects of historic significance, as in the case of the concentration camps of the Third Reich.  But more often negative symbolism is a part of a more complex and balanced history, as in slum settlements or factory towns.  In both cases, recognition of a site's negative symbolism belongs in the conservation and interpretation of the site. 


In the case of Nazi concentration camps, the moral and didactic message supersedes the historical commentary.  The purpose of the conservation effort is, therefore, more direct than in the latter examples.  Nevertheless, the translation of purpose into a physical plan is often difficult.  In both cases, it is quite possible to miss the point, failing to understand, and, therefore, misinterpret the symbolic meaning of the preserved artifact.  This can result in the stripping away of the human emotional content of a given place to achieve a particular design intention or a benign, but empty, historical interpretation.  As Appleyard observed, imageability is not merely an aesthetic quality of the city...but a powerful attribute of the urban symbol system.  Aesthetics is not an abstract set of qualities, but directly linked to the values and tastes of different population groups.[x]


Example 1:  The Preservation Of The Setting Of Man's Inhumanity To Man:  The Nazi Death Camps

The most extreme examples of negative monuments in the West in modern times are undoubtedly the sites of the concentration camps established by the Third Reich.  The camps are so filled with memories of horror that it is risky even to discuss them together with more ordinary historic settings with negative connotations.  Yet, in spite of this, the preservation and interpretation of sites such as the camps raise important issues which may more clearly define the problems and objectives inherent in the conservation of all negative monuments.


Many recent films on the Holocaust have resurrected memories of the death camps, but few have been as ambitious or as evocative as Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary Shoah.[xi]  In that film, Lanzmann told the story of the death camps and the Holocaust through the direct recorded interviews with both survivors and also some of the Nazi perpetrators: former officers and camp guards.  Significantly, Lanzmann chose not to use historical footage or photography of the sites of the crimes chronicled in the film.  Instead, he used footage of the camp sites as they exist today, overlaid with the voices of the inmates retelling their memories. 


This choice is significant. There is a substantial collection of surviving historic images that show the camps in the harsh reality of the time.  If Lanzmann had used those images, however, the effect would have been very different.  By showing the camps only as they are today, the profound truth of the events of 50 years ago seemed clearer. 


The photographs of the original event played a part in the message of the film; in so much as they are etched in people's minds by seeing these photographs at other times in their lives.  As observed above, historic photographs are more like memories than artifacts.  Tangible historic artifacts fuel such memories.  Lanzmann exploited this fact by illustrating his film with footage from the present day, thus drawing the viewers into the reign of terror by forcing them to "stand on location" and recall the historic images for themselves.


Three sites were particularly featured in the film: Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Treblinka.  All had been death camps at the time of the war.[xii]  All exist in the present in completely different forms.  Auschwitz survives with a substantial collection of its original buildings intact.  The crematorium, however, was blown up by the Germans at the end of the war, and has since been reconstructed.  Birkenau was burned and blown up by the retreating German army.  The ruins, a sweeping view of a stark flat landscape punctuated by a hundreds of chimneys standing like cenotaphs, have been left undisturbed.  Only the railroad sidings and the gatehouse remain intact.  Treblinka was only in existence for two years before being abandoned.  At that time, the Germans attempted to erase it without a trace, clearing the site and rebuilding a farm house over the graves.  Today at this location, a monument of standing stones has been erected - a sculpture which extends and embraces the entire site of the camp, recalling its original physical features in an abstract way.


All sites are now public monuments.  In only one, Auschwitz, are the actual buildings of the camp preserved.  One therefore must ask: Is it suitable to conserve the actual buildings constructed to carry out such unspeakable crimes?  Is this a suitable monument?  If so, for whom?  Common to all [holocaust museums] is "the wish not to forget," both now and for generations to come.  The nature of remembrance, however, is highly complex.  What exactly is it that we want to retain?  Is it the awesome magnitude of the madness, the incomprehensibility of it all?[xiii] (Figure 1)

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Figure 1: Auschwitz, 1988 (photo (c) Ira Nowinski/Museum of Jewish History)

Following the war, the Polish Government made the decision to establish a national museum at Auschwitz, and plans also were made to have a design competition for a major monument at Auschwitz.  The original barracks contain exhibits on the history of the camp, and the former officers' quarters building has been turned into a hotel.  Plans for a monument on the site proceeded slowly, symbolic of the difficulty that artists had rising to this challenge.  Henry Moore, selected as a juror, found none of the solutions very convincing.  He stated that only a great sculptor – only a new Michealangelo, a new Rodin – could cope with such a task.[xiv]  He noted that the jury's strongest doubts in 1959 had mainly to do with the fact that the plan would involve the destruction of a part of the camp barracks.  Eventually the monument was redesigned, in part because additional new voices were heard that firmly opposed the tearing down of the barracks.[xv]  Thus it was decided to preserve the surviving buildings of the infamous camp.  In addition, in the case of the crematoria, they went a step further by deciding to reconstruct them from the dynamited remains left by the retreating Nazi S.S. troops.


Humanities professor Elie Wiesel, himself a concentration camp survivor, recently visited Auschwitz with a group of other Holocaust survivors.  He reported, “I was afraid – afraid of the ghosts...afraid to recognize myself among them – afraid of not recognizing myself....More than anything else, I was afraid of finding myself in a museum.”  For survivors and for others, a monument like Auschwitz transcends its specific reality as an historical site to symbolize the horror of the Holocaust itself, but for survivors the meaning of the concentration camp site is different than it is for others.  For Wiesel, making this “altar of ashes which has laid its curse upon the Century” a museum would come dangerously close to trivializing it.  He says, “Auschwitz souvenirs...this tourist attraction has a strange effect on former inmates...but when obscene propagandists are publishing books to "prove" that Treblinka and Auschwitz never existed, what can be more urgent than attracting as many visitors as possible to the place that was Auschwitz...So be it!  Visit the Museum – so long as it remains unaltered, authentic.”[xvi]


Authenticity is one of the most important concepts in preservation theory.  But authenticity in historic buildings preserved over extended periods of time is not as easy to achieve as one might imagine.  Things change and intervention is always needed to maintain the artifact.  Then we must ask what is "authentic"?  If the original materials have weathered and decayed, is a reproduction in new materials appropriate when the decay has little to do with the "authentic" appearance in the period being commemorated? 


In the case of Auschwitz, this dilemma is poignantly illustrated by another visiting survivor, Kitty Hart: “You see grass, but I don't see any grass.  I see mud, just a sea of mud...Open my eyes and see grass.  Close my eyes and see mud...I knew I ought never to have come back, because it has proved I've never been away.  The past is more real than the tidy pretence they have put in its place.  The noises are as loud as they ever were: the screams, the shouts, the curses, the lash of whips and thud of truncheons...[xvii]


Would it be authentic to return the site to mud?  Probably not.  The mud under the feet of prisoners has now become grass under the feet of visitors.  To return to mud does not make it authentic.  What is authentic are the fences and the buildings – buildings which appear in the film footage and which survive today, buildings which are recognized by the survivors from their memories and by others from the photographs.  It is these fences and buildings that give substance to the site as a monument.[xviii] 


As an authentic camp that survives with its buildings intact, Auschwitz serves as a reality check.  It is, however, only a portion of the reality.  With its older and more substantial buildings, it was in some ways anomalous.  The other death camps had mere huts, most of which were destroyed following the war.  The ruins of these sites carry the message in a different way.  Following his visit, Elie Wiesel said:  To learn more – to feel more, go to Birkenau!”

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Figure 2: Birkenau: ruins of the crematorium, 1988 (photo (c) Ira Nowinski/Museum of Jewish History)

Close to Auschwitz is Birkenau.  It was burned by the S.S. at the end of the War, leaving only the gate house standing, itself now a memorable symbolic image.  The landscape is marked by the hundreds of chimneys of the former huts.  The gas chambers and crematorium are only ruins. (Figure 2)  As Kitty Hart said, “I can't get my bearings with so many building ruined.  I close my eyes, remember the experience, and then open my eyes and think that this is the dream.”[xix]   Elie Wiesel recalled his visit to the site in 1979, standing together with a group of survivors next to the ruins of the gas chambers: “I stood alongside the former inmates of Birkenau and Auschwitz, at the place where we had lost our families, and I did not know what to say....It was important to erase all the years, all the words, all the images that separated us from this event, from this place;  it became essential to rediscover the night in all its nakedness and truth; we had to recapture the unknown before it became known.[xx]   He remembers the arrivals getting off the trains: transmitted by a thousand lips, a single order is all that it takes to divide the crowd: men to one side, women to the other.  Last words, last looks...I see for the last time a mother and her small daughter, eerily silent and withdrawn, holding hands as if to reassure each other.  I will see them that way, walking away from me, to the end of my life.”[xxi] 


A third example from the Holocaust period is Treblinka, which was deliberately obliterated long before the end of the War by the S.S.,  and where later a monument was built. “Posterity was not supposed to learn anything about this place of horror.”[xxii]  All that was left after the war were the remains, mined by poverty-stricken Poles for the gold and silver left behind.  On this site, a monument designed by A. Haupt and P. Duszenko was built in 1964.   It consists of thousands of stones standing erect surrounding a megalithic tower with a plaque inscribed: “Never again.”


The hundreds upon hundreds of stones that cover the length and breadth of Treblinka...all of them, large and small, are impregnated with the same silence.  From afar, in the twilight, they can easily be mistaken for Jews, wrapped in their ritual shawls, at prayer....The Jews of Warsaw are beneath the stones of Treblinka, they are the stones of Treblinka....People come from all over the world to look at and question them.  How it was possible?...I think I must have read all the books – memoirs, documents, scholarly essays and testimonies written on the subject.  I understand it less and less.  I prefer the austere stones of Treblinka.[xxiii] (Figure 3)

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Figure 3: Treblinka: Memorial designed by Haupt & Dyszenko, 1988. (photo (c) Ira Nowinski/Museum of Jewish History)

This author's earliest experience with these sites was not at Auschwitz, but at Dachau, located about ten miles north of Munich, in the summer of 1964, exactly 25 years ago.  Most of the camp's buildings were still extant and intact at that time.  In fact, I was a shocked to find that the barracks for the prisoners inside the camp were being lived in by East German refugees. (Figure 4)  All of the walls with the barbed wire were there, breached with a ragged hole to allow the occupants to come and go.  Nearby just outside the walls of the camp itself were the gas chambers and the crematorium, left intact at the end of the war.  These were preserved and open to visitors.  At the head of the camp was a Catholic memorial chapel.  The Jewish Memorial had not yet been built.[xxiv]

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LEFT: Figure 4:  Dachau: barracks occupied by East German refugees, 1964 (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach, 1964)

RIGHT: Figure 5:  Dachau: site of the barracks in (4) in 1968 (photo (c) Ira Nowinski/Museum of Jewish History, 1988)

Since my visit, all of the huts in Dachau have been demolished.  Their sites are covered with a row of raised gavel beds to mark their location, each labeled with an identifying plaque. (Figure 5)  In other words, most of the actual camp has been razed and a symbolic memorial has been put in its place.  Unlike Auschwitz in Poland, where the actual buildings have been preserved, at this German site a deliberate decision was made to convert the real camp into a symbolic abstraction. Only the surrounding wall, main eating hall, and the gas chambers and crematorium are still intact. (Figure 6)  Ironically, the camp was totally preserved for as long as it had a utilitarian purpose, in spit of its powerful negative symbolic meaning.  When its symbolic meaning became the only raison d'etre for the conservation of the site, the decision was made to replace the barracks with abstract markings on the ground.

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Figure 4:  Dachau: crematorium, 1964 (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach, 1964)

The metamorphosis of Dachau, as well as the reconstruction of the crematorium at Auschwitz, when compared to the preservation of the surviving buildings at Auschwitz, demonstrate major differences in the contemporary management of places of negative symbolism.  If the buildings are retained, then as time goes on they need repair and restoration.  The decision becomes whether to deliberately let them fall into ruin or to carefully restore them.  The act of restoring buildings is commonly an act of attachment, care, and even affection for the structures or for what they stand for.  A recent photograph at Dachau shows that new doors have been installed on the crematorium. How can one lovingly restore something that is a symbolic image of hatred and evil?  In this case, even the act of restoration would seem to be anathema.  Yet, in order to preserve the remaining buildings, restoration is necessary.  


There may not be a "best" way to treat these sites.  In fact, the experiences of Elie Wiesel show the validity and power that exists in all three of the different approaches: the complete restoration and preservation of the buildings, the preservation of the ruins, or an abstract memorial on the site.  Each visitor, whether survivor or not, must come to terms with the meaning of each place, however interpreted or revealed.  But as Wiesel points out, it is extremely important that some of the physical reality exists in at least a few of the camps.  In this case, no matter how much is kept, what one sees is a form of symbolic abstraction.  Maintaining the gas chambers at Dachau and the barracks at Auschwitz does provide a basis from which the ruins at Birkenau and the landscape markings at Treblinka can be witnessed and understood.  Without this, the depth of the experience and the impact of the rediscovery of what happened, by those who are not survivors, would be lessened.  No reading of histories can replace the impact of standing on the actual spot where the events took place.  It is akin to a religious experience.  This is possible only if the site has preserved vestiges of the actual historical scene in some meaningful way.


At the same time, once the museums, gas chambers and crematorium at Auschwitz are seen, the stones at Treblinka have a tremendous impact.  Perhaps it is because at this memorial one confronts the true magnitude of the crime.  The real buildings bring the events to a specific scale that is bound to seem smaller than the scale of the Holocaust itself.  At Treblinka one confronts the abstraction of the murdered people themselves, marking the immense sweep of the catastrophe by their shear numbers laid out in the stillness what once was the camp.


These camps illustrate the responsibility we must take in order to try to understand the impact and social meaning of the sites to be preserved.  Many of the survivors do not want the surviving buildings removed, while others believe that the physical reminder should be obliterated and turned into abstract monuments out of respect for the dead. 


One survivor, for example, returned to Majdenek 35 years after the liberation of the camp.  The buildings of the camp still existed.  The Germans had not had a chance to burn the camp.  Her son did not want her to go.  He was afraid that she would not come back; that she might kill herself or have a heart attack.    For this survivor, the return was a deeply emotional experience – an experience which in the end helped heal her wounds.  When she entered the empty barracks and stood where she last saw her mother, she recalled her deep loss.  Then she dropped down and pounded on the floor, shouting, "I beat back the 'Angel of Death.'  I am still alive!  The experience was deeply painful, but it was also healing.  For this one moment, the physical remains of the camp were more than a memorial for the dead.  Now mute, they symbolized the ultimate victory of life over death.  For the survivors, the camps are a memorial and a symbol of their own survival and their hope that the Holocaust will never happen again.[xxv] (Figure 7)


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Figure 7:  Majdenek: interior of barracks, 1988.   (photo (c) Ira Nowinski/Museum of Jewish History, 1988)

For others and for future generations, the remaining vestiges of these camps bear witness to an historic reality which art and literature fail to fully represent.  As Martin Weyl, director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has said, very few artists have been able to deal successfully with this subject matter, since no artistic creation has proven more powerful or moving than the few photographs that have survived.[xxvi]   Wiesel reinforced this point when he wrote:


Auschwitz is something else, always something else.  It is a universe outside the universe, a creation that exists parallel to creation.  Auschwitz lies on the other side of life and on the other side of death....Auschwitz represents the negation and failure of human progress; it negates the human design and casts doubts on its validity.  Then it defeated culture; later it defeated art because just as no one could imagine Auschwitz before Auschwitz, no one can now retell Auschwitz after Auschwitz. ...Such, then, is the victory of the executioner: by raising his crimes to a level beyond the imagining and understanding of men, he planned to deprive his victims of any hope of sharing their monstrous meaning with others.[xxvii]


At the time of the Holocaust, during the time the Jews were being moved from the "model" camp at Terezinstadt to Auschwitz to be liquidated, one man escaped from Auschwitz and returned to Terezin to warn the others and organize a resistance.  No one believed his story.[xxviii]  Not only afterwards, as Wiesel reports, but even while the Holocaust was happening, the magnitude of the crime was beyond the comprehension of all except those who witnessed it, few of whom survived.  While the photographs provide evidence, it is the buildings, whether intact or in ruin, which give credence to these images.


The concentration camps are powerful symbols and their preservation is an awesome responsibility.   What emerges from the shared experiences of visitors is that all three types of preservation are valid, and the power of each is enhanced by the existence of the others.  The conservation and maintenance of the few remaining buildings, is essential to the meaning, not only of Auschwitz, but also of all of camps on which buildings have been obliterated.  In addition, the symbolic significance of these buildings is immeasurably strengthened by the existence of photographs showing each site at the time of the atrocities.  The photographs and films of the Holocaust have become a collective visual memory for the world.  They transform the reality of the sites into powerful symbolic images.



Example 2:  The Architectural Setting Of National Socialism

The concentration camps are extreme examples, but they are not the only monuments of negative symbolism left from the Third Reich.  Other monuments of National Socialism raise different issues.  Nürnberg's Zeppellin Field still exists, together with the remains of an extensive complex of structures and landscape dedicated to marching and military ceremonies of the Nazi Party.  The Nürnberg rally grounds were designed by Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, and were a characteristic setting for Nazi activities.  Today, these remains of the blatant expression of Nazi pomp, militarism and worship of Hitler are controversial.  Should they be preserved as historical artifacts or obliterated so that they may not be interpreted as idolizing National Socialism itself?

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Figure 8:  Nürnberg: Zeppelin Field, 1988.  (photo (c) William Green, 1988)

Recently the colonnade on the Zeppelin Field grandstand was removed. (Figure 8)  Deterioration of the colonnade was the official explanation.  However, this alteration also strips the grandstand of its visual power, making it more anonymous in its current use as a racetrack.  Despite technical problems may have existed, it is probably not simply "maintenance" which led to demolition.  The colonnade was one of the strongest architectural images of Speer's work and it was particularly symbolic of National Socialism and the worship of Hitler.  The whole world saw it in the photographs of the parades, with rows of flags with swastikas between each pair of columns.  At the end of the war when the allies entered Nürnberg, one of their first acts was to dynamite the large stone swastika from the roof of this structure, an act which they also carefully recorded on film.


The death camps and the Zeppelin Field remain as monuments of National Socialism.  Both have extremely negative associations.  The moral message exists in the remains of both, but the decision to preserve the Nürnberg Rally Grounds poses a problem that the death camps avoid:  it might be interpreted by some as glorifying the Nazis, thus providing a ready symbol for Neo-Nazi followers.  The preservation of the camps is unambiguous in its focus on their evil, but the Rally Grounds, and other Nazi government structures symbolize the distorted power and pride which formed the context for what went on in the camps.  Following the war, in both East and West Germany “the erection of monuments to concentration camp victims was considered a self-evident point of honor.”[xxix]  Naturally such commemoration did not encompass the architectural pretensions of the Nazis.  Undoubtedly the surviving structures in Nürnberg are important historical monuments, but the emasculation of the Zeppellin Field and dynamiting of some of the other remains of the Rally Grounds suggest that a certain symbolic power still exists in some of these structures and that their preservation was not seen as desirable.[xxx]


When the Colonnade was deteriorated and on the verge of collapsing, should it have been restored?  Would the restoration that this required be in itself an act of idolization of National Socialism, or would it serve a genuine, socially useful purpose, like the memorials at the concentration camps that is, to give us a sense of history through the vestiges of where history took place? 


2.  The Purpose Of A Monument: Emotional Response As A Legitimate Design Objective

Faced with the question of whether to preserve buildings and sites which are devoid of beauty, which provide no one with quality of life by any socially acceptable standard, and which are symbolic of either tragedy or cruelty, one is forced to consider what the purpose of a monument is.  Three purposes are evident:  first, an educational purpose: to inform people about an event or element of history.  Second, a didactic purpose: to impress upon people a particular moral message.  Third, a symbolic purpose: to represent an historic event, a person's life, an idea, a concept or an entire social movement.  A monument as symbol goes beyond the mere conveyance of information or message to elicit an emotional response, to instill feeling as well as thinking.


Most monuments have attributes that fall into all of these categories, though perhaps unequally.  This may also vary for different people.  For the survivors of the Holocaust, the death camps as monuments elicit a different response than for most others.  The definition of these differences lays the foundation for the understanding environmental designers and decision makers must have to avoid 'missing the point' when a particular historic site is preserved, rehabilitated and interpreted.  The conservation of negative monuments goes against the grain.  Preserving the monuments of an embarrassing or evil past fly in the face of one of the basic tenants of modernism: that the goal of architectural design should be to improve the quality of life by improvement of the environment.  Applied to historic buildings, this philosophy encourages designers to "restore" buildings and sites to an idealized past or to emphasize the artistic qualities of an artifact over its didactic or symbolic attributes. 


For example, Constance Greiff observed about John D. Rockefeller's famous and popular restoration of Colonial Williamsburg: 


Williamsburg represents upper-class WASP history.  The streets are clean; the slave cabins and out houses have been suppressed.  It is history without depth and without continuity.  The clock has stopped and the past has been enshrined behind glass....having put history in its niche, one can admire it and forget it.  There is no spillover of history or art as a living presence able to enrich our lives. [xxxi]


Often negative symbolism is not the primary significance of an artifact, but a part of a more complex web of attributes.  Such artifacts are common and are more representative of ordinary human life itself than concentration camps or Nazi parade grounds.  Just as at Williamsburg, the symbolic meaning of these negative aspects is often missed in the design and interpretation of such places.


Example 3:  The Factory Town As Monument

In the 1960s a student activist argued with this author's proposal to preserve the nineteenth century textile mills, the Amoskeag Mills, in Manchester, New Hampshire.  He said that such an endeavor was wrong because “these buildings were symbols of the exploitation of the workers who had worked in the plant.”  At the time, such arguments were hard to counter.  It was awkward to promote the conservation of buildings that were not only the product, but so clearly the symbol of the emergence of corporate industrial capitalism. 


At the time, it seemed to the author that the importance of the buildings' architectural and urban design justified their preservation.  After ten years of research and documentation on the subject, a more substantial justification has emerged – and it emerged from those very same workers and former workers the activist claimed would want the buildings destroyed.[xxxii]  One worker in the Amoskeag Mills said, “sometimes I take a walk through the millyard.  A lot of it is torn down today; but as I look up, I can see those mills, how they flourished at one time, and then I don't feel as old as I am – its as if I was just walking though and there was the mill, ready to go to work again.”[xxxiii]


The fact that exploitation or other negative aspects of human life occurred in this environment does not mean that the historic artifact should be altered or erased.  To do so might ease the conscience of planners, but it would fail to recognize the human need to deal directly with a phenomenon of history.  As George Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


People want to understand the complexity and difficulties of past lives as a way of coming to terms with who they are.  As Peter Marris observed concerning the social impact of English slum clearance,  the residents would like more space, better drains, repairs – but to achieve this only at the cost of destroying the neighborhood itself seems to them an inconceivable distortion of what is important....They identify with the neighborhood: it is part of them, and to hear it condemned as a slum is a condemnation of themselves too.”[xxxiv]


The debate inherent in the presentation of symbolic historic environments was driven home when a visitor to the Satanic Mills Exhibition in London in 1979[xxxv] observed in a letter to the author:  

I thought I was the only person in the world who loved the old mills.  We would see twentyfive or so factory chimneys from the school window....I used to pass the weaving shed of the Stack Mills on the way to school.  The flagstones were hot and vibrating.  Children would take their mothers chips, black peas, steak and kidney puddings in at dinner time....My mother-in-law started work in the paper mill at 11 years old – 6 o'clock start, bread and dripping for breakfast at 8, soup at 12, bread at 4, finish at 6.  And no talking allowed.[xxxvi]

To understand how design intentions and a desire for 'neatness' can interfere with the real and symbolic messages of a monument one can turn to the new National Historical Park in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This park was created in the nation's most famous planned textile mill town to commemorate the origins of America's industrial growth.  When the park was established, plans were also made for a visitors' center.  For political and economic reasons, this center was to be located in a factory building that was neither the oldest nor the most representative of the town's original factory complexes.  The reason for locating it there was the fact that the site was going to be renovated and converted into retail shops and housing, and a newly renovated and cleaned up space would improve the adjacent retail complex. 


From an administrative standpoint, this seemed to be the right site for the visitors' center, where exhibits and a slide film would be on display.  But missing from the plan is any attempt to link the center serve as an integral to the park's purpose, commemorating the city's industrial heritage.  This gutted and spruced up shell no longer carries the message at a symbolic level.  The new visitors' center is educational (at least up to a point – the slide film is even a bit too didactic), but none of it has the power to stimulate the visitor into reflecting on the depth of experience and symbolic importance of this, the first of the great mill towns which established the United States as a world industrial power, and the towns which transformed how people lived and worked.


Ironically, when plans were being made for the visitors' center, the developers were also drafting contracts to evict a small wool-carding mill operation from the very space that was to become, in part, the visitors' center.  The mill was a run down and messy operation, but it used old machines and produced a viable commercial product.  Moreover, it could have been reconfigured to illustrate the very industry being commemorated!  Instead the plant was evicted, the machines moved or scrapped, and the conversion of this building divorced Lowell even further from its textile mill past.  At least until two years ago, the Park Service had a couple of antique looms on display at another mill in Lowell, and this was all that was available in this park to represent the tens of thousands which had once existed.[xxxvii]


For the purists, the wool-carding mill was neither old enough nor representative enough of the cotton industry for which Lowell had originally been established.  For the bureaucrats, the management of the interface between such an operation was too complicated and messy compared to the controlled static display which took its place.  And for the developers, the retention of the wool-carding mill would have interfered with their neat plans to develop residential units upstairs.  The potential for noise and dirt from this operation was not seen as compatible with apartments nearby. 


The appropriate solution would have been to relocate the carding mill to one of the older mill complexes where the building could remain in factory use, with a visitors' center next to it.  While this is an eminently logical plan, there was no understanding of the carding mill's symbolic potential during the development of the visitors' center.  From an educational standpoint, the current displays are informative about the technical and social history of the place, but there is no way to 'feel' what it was like to actually be in a mill or what it was like to live and work in a mill town.  In order to convey that feeling, the textile mill operation doesn't have to replicate the historic type found in Lowell in the Nineteenth century exactly.  That would be impossible.  But it could be a genuine textile production facility, preferably using older machines.  Such an operation would be symbolic of the industry as a whole, and that is the kind of experience which should separate a visit to Lowell from reading about it in history books.


Another example in Lowell is the National Park Service's interpretation of the corporation boarding houses where the early mill girls lived.  Only a few fragments survive of almost 100 blocks of corporation-owned boarding houses and tenements.  One such fragment existed in front of the earliest intact millyard, the Boott Mills.  This building had been gutted and converted to a warehouse, leaving it shorn of the tops of its exterior walls and all of its interiors. (Figure 9)  Another block existed only a hundred yards away, facing the adjacent Massachusetts Mills millyard.  This block was almost completely intact on the exterior and in addition, had all of its original rooms, with fireplaces and finish work, intact on its upper two floors. (Figure 11)  This one building was the only example of an intact interior of a block of corporation boarding houses, an extraordinarily important building type in American social history.  In addition, at the time when the National Park Service was making its plans, this building was for sale!

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LEFT:  Figure 9:  Lowell: Boott Mills Boarding House before reconstruction, ca. 1970. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

RIGHT:  Figure 10:  Lowell: Boott Mills Boarding House after reconstruction, ca. 1985. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

What was done?  The National Park Service acquired the Boott Mills block and reconstructed its exterior.  This shell will be turned into an exhibit hall including a partially reconstructed boardinghouse interior.  The Massachusetts Mills block was purchased by a private developer and converted, not into a museum, but into a college dorm.  All of its original historic interiors were ripped out!  (Figure 12)

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LEFT:  Figure 11:  Lowell: Massachusetts Mills boardinghouse showing original interiors, 1978. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

RIGHT:  Figure 12:  Lowell: Massachusetts Mills Boarding House after renovation into student housing, 1987. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

So, with every opportunity to preserve a museum-quality historic building, a fake took its place in order to conform to a "more educationally effective arrangement" of the boardinghouse museum in front of the mill museum.  In this reconstructed boardinghouse, a vestige of a genuine interior will reportedly be used, and some of the artifacts removed from the Massachusetts Mills block will be reinstalled in the reconstruction.[xxxviii]  What cannot be removed and relocated is the potential for emotional impact associated with the remains of a genuine boardinghouse of a type made famous by history, and in the literature of Charles Dickens, Chevalier and many others.  Plans such as this, which focus primarily on aesthetics or on the "accurate" historic image, fail to understand what should be the primary responsibility of the stewardship of historic resources: protection and interpretation of the genuine historic artifact.   Only then can the symbolic meaning of the place survive for future visitors.


The quest for authenticity, and the search for "real" meaning through "honesty" of form, often leads to the destruction of that which it seeks by inducing fakery....Authenticity is not a property of environmental form, but of process and relationship....Authentic meaning cannot be created through the manipulation or purification of form, since authenticity is the very source from which form gains meaning.[xxxix]


A more unusual and sensitive example of a conservation effort rooted in the importance and symbolism of the authentic artifact is found in the story of a young man, Robert Mountford Aram, who traversed the north of England factory towns purchasing chimneys!  At the time, clean air legislation and the redundancy of the mills usually meant that the chimneys were no longer needed, and most factory owners were having them demolished.  The chimneys didn't cost much and they had no apparent use.  What Robert Mountford Aram did buy, however, was the consummate symbol of the district – and of an era.[xl]


In England during the late nineteenth century, the mill chimney became more than a utilitarian funnel for waste.  It symbolized the power and prestige of the company.  As more and more chimneys were built, they were constructed higher and more ornately (the way skyscrapers are today).  In Lancashire, it was common to emblazon each with the name of the mill.  Today “chimneys are the steeples of the textile mill towns.  They give them an identity which is unmistakable.”[xli]  Their rapid disappearance stimulated Aram to save as many as he could. 

This purchase of the redundant chimneys is an unusually direct and creative approach directed at preserving something that can continue to exist only as an historic symbol. The chimneys were not individually important, but collectively their preservation contributes to the conservation of an historic landscape.  It was a landscape, which in any conventional definition of attractiveness would be considered by most to be more beautiful without these stark remnants of industry.  But, in a deeper sense the landscape was so imbued with the history and folklore of the Industrial Revolution that the preservation of the chimneys was no less than the preservation of its defining symbolic image. (Figure 13)

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Figure 13:  Huddersfield, England:  View over the mills, 1973. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

Geographer David Lowenthal has observed that “an ugly or unpleasant environment may contain many elements of interest, whereas a beautiful environment may be thought ordered but dull.”[xlii]  English landscapes of mills and chimneys are premier examples of this.  They have a richness of culture, history and the passage of time that transcends any attempt at beautification in the present.


Example 4:  The Importance Of The Symbolic Image

In his anthropological study of the tourist, Dean McConnell said that the things that we go to see are examples of a moral order.  Public places contain the representations of good and evil that apply universally to modern man in general...like the sacred text of traditional society.”[xliii]  We look at things to admire them.  However, we also notice negative images that challenge us to improve or provoke us to condemn.  Together, the [negative and the positive] provide a moral stability to the modern touristic consciousness that extends beyond immediate social relationships to the structure and organization of the total society.”


McConnell observes that every site has what he calls a "marker."  Whether or not it is positive or negative, “a marker...expands the physical reality into the realm where a connection is made with the meaning of one's life....Just seeing a site is not a touristic experience....An authentic touristic experience involves not merely connecting a marker to a sight, but a participation in a collective ritual, in connecting one's own marker to a sight already marked by others.”[xliv]   


Consider another example: in Israel, Massada is a mountaintop fortress where early Jewish settlers were surrounded and attacked by a Roman battalion.  In the end, with supplies cut off and the water running out, the Jews chose collective suicide over capture.  Today, since the formation of the State of Israel, the site has become symbolic of great heroism and sacrifice as part of the early Jewish heritage.  The site has been excavated, uncovering the ruins.  Archaeological work been done since Israel gained the territory during the Six Day War, a cable car was installed to eliminate the long climb to the site.  This site is of definite interest as an historic monument, but the collective focus on it since the establishment of Israel has imbued it with a symbolic power that transcends its specific meaning as an archaeological site.  The ruins are no longer ruins alone.  They have become the monument.


In contrast, near Massada stand the stark empty ruins of the village of Jericho, an abandoned city recently used as a settlement camp for displaced Palestinians.  The tourist bus traveling through the area in 1973 did not stop nor did the guide interpret this site.  Yet the vast spread of miles of mud dwellings of great interest, with a different kind of negative symbolic meaning to the Israelis in the present than Massada.  This particular site, symbolic of a displaced people, will have to wait its turn before it will gain its "marker" and becomes a monument, while Massada, the site of a collective death, now is celebrated as a heroic symbol for Israel.[xlv]


The point here is not to focus on the importance of protecting monuments for tourism, or drawing attention to tourism itself.  There are many other tracts which explore the psychology and the economics of tourism.  For this study, tourists are not separate from the rest of society.  The "tourists" are all of us.  A poor approach in planning for tourism cheapens the environment for all.  The point of this discussion of negative monuments is that these sites which are often the most revealing about history and human life.  At the same time, they are often the first to be altered out of recognition by planners and political leaders who neither understand nor value the sites' symbolic significance.


A distinction should be made between signs and symbols:  the equations and acronyms which scholars use to facilitate unequivocal meanings in conversation should more appropriately be called signs, while insignia, shrines, art and architecture, myth and metaphor, should be regarded as symbols.  The former can function with just the sensory-motor or mechanical capacities of humanness; the latter point beyond themselves, and appeal to imagination, intuition, memory, as well as to intellect....Symbolic transformations are the stuff of human creativity.[xlvi]


Another example is Ellis Island in New York City, the gateway to the United States for over 12 million immigrants who passed through it on their way to this country in the early part of the twentieth century.  Ellis Island was not only the "portal of hope and freedom," but it was also known as the "Island of Tears."  For most, it symbolized their future in a new land, tinged with the sadness of their irrevocable decision to leave their homes.  For some, it was the site of the misery of being refused entry and deportation back overseas.  For all, it was a site of tremendous anxiety and fear as they were examined and waited for clearance.


For years the future of the Ellis Island buildings was in doubt.  One early proposal for the island was to demolish the structures and erect a huge spiral ziggurat designed as a memorial by Philip Johnson.  This proposal was symbolic of an approach that recognized the importance of the site, but did not recognize the role that physical presence of the buildings had in giving the site its symbolic value.  In recent years this has changed, and by good fortune, the deteriorating but rugged buildings still exist.  The National Park Service now plans to retain the historic buildings.  What remains to be completed is the restoration of the complex and the conversion of the site into a museum under the National Park Service. 


During recent decades, the buildings were abandoned, and they suffered from vandalism and deterioration.  When the Park Service was given stewardship over them, the debris was cleaned up and the first organized tours were brought to the Island.  At that time the buildings were unrestored and in partial ruins.  It was an unusual moment in the history of a monument, suspended between the Island's celebrated past and its embalmed future.  Ironically, the buildings were especially evocative in their deteriorated state, without the usual exhibits, films or "visitor orientation." (Figure 14)  Each tour group passed through it as they would through a church in silent communion with their own thoughts.  Many groups contained visitors who had actually come through Ellis Island as immigrants and they would share their experiences with the others.  By the end, groups often felt like gathering of friends, sharing intimate recollections of the place.  This was stimulated by the stark reality of the unrestored structures evoking powerful memories of the immigration experience.  The deterioration gave a truth to the scene reflective of the time which has passed since that era.

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Figure 14:  Ellis Island: Interior immigration center before restoration. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

At Ellis Island the National Park Service faces a problem not only of the preservation of the buildings, but more profoundly, of the interpretation of the immigrant experience.  Keeping the buildings in a deteriorated condition seems untenable, but cleaning up and refinishing their interiors raises many questions.  In its "Request for Proposals" for the development of the interpretive center on the site, the National Park Service stated: the Main Building is considered an artifact in its own right.  The basic approach will be to preserve key areas of the Main Building in their present evocative state, and to allow the resource to "speak for itself."...The goal is to encourage visitors to mentally recreate images of the past.[xlvii]  In spite of this original objective, the multimillion-dollar restoration project on the Main Building, which is now being completed, will leave few surfaces untouched.  The spaces will be pristine and well lit.  Even the graffiti left by the immigrants will be carefully isolated and surrounded by freshly painted walls. 


The visual impact of the Ellis Island buildings is partly a result of the visitor encountering their unrestored state.  However, one argument raised against keeping them in this condition is that at the time of the historic event, which the monument commemorates, the buildings were in more pristine condition.  The immigrants never saw it in ruins unless they returned as tourists.  When the restoration of the interior is complete, and the interior is returned to its original condition, it may lose some of its impact.  It will have been converted into a sort of stage set.  Reversing the building's condition would not reverse the time or return the modern visitor to the turn of the century.  Such restoration can only remove the vestiges left by the passage of time – but the visual manifestation of time is one of the most evocative qualities of preserved historic structures.  As Donald Appleyard observed:

Some places we do not touch....One of the most poignant examples is the untouched cell in what is left of the gruesome Nazi prison in Warsaw.  The peeled paint, primitive furniture, battered walls, and other traces of time and human presence engrave themselves on the mind of a visitor.  Places which are not overly tidied up and sanitized, where the decisions and actions of the original occupants are still in evidence, can achieve an authenticity even if surrounded by a framed setting.[xlviii]


3.  Conclusion

As suggested here, monuments convey messages in many different ways.  In historic preservation, there is no one "correct" approach.  This is particularly true with negative monuments of negative symbolism, where the original design is less important than the historic forces which gave the monument its meaning.  In many cases, the conversion of old factories, state hospitals, or even former prisons into commercial centers, offices and apartments is a desireable and necessary alternative to demolition.  The point of this paper is not that this should never be done, but that such conversions should not obliterate the visual memory of the structure's original use and symbolic meaning.  In order to retain that meaning, it is important, first, to gain a specific understanding of how that meaning is carried in the historic structure – in other words, how has the passage of time and history left its traces on the physical fabric?


One of the biggest pitfalls in the interpretation of the symbolic meaning of historic artifacts is the tendency to play havoc with the authenticity of an artifact by attempting to enhance its emotional impact or imply a symbolic meaning that never existed in the first place.  This is not the fault of Disney-style recreations, where the make-believe is apparent, but of projects where symbolic monuments are created out of objects with no historical basis. 


One of the saddest and most absurd examples of the latter is the ruined fragment of the Anhalter Bahnhof in West Berlin. (Figure 15)  When I came upon this ruined railway station in 1964, situated as it was then in the midst of a war-devastated landscape, it seemed to be a poignant symbol of the destruction of the entire city in the war.  It was not until almost a quarter of a century later that I discovered that the facts were quite the opposite.  The great station survived the war, only to be deliberately demolished in 1959 by the overly ambitious post-war city planners who wanted to remake Berlin to fit the image of a modern city.  Its destruction was particularly egregious, considering the almost total devastation that the city suffered and the remarkable fact that it had survived.  A fragment of the front facade was all that preservation activists could gain agreement to keep, and its shape was carefully crafted by a demolition expert simulate the effect of aerial bombardment!  It is an image so convincing that it now stands safely as a false symbol, turning up in newspaper articles masquerading as a ruin of the war.[xlix]  This fragment is actually a genuine symbol of the thoughtless arrogance of post-war city planners who thought that the modern city would transcend the value of the few surviving vestiges of pre-war Berlin.  The site on which the rest of the building stood remains vacant to this day.

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Figure 15: Ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof, Berlin, 1964. (Photo (c) Randolph Langenbach)

In the case of the Buffalo State Hospital, the challenge of preserving an historic structure goes well beyond the celebration of its design by Henry Hobson Richardson, one of the nations' most celebrated architects.  Its greatest significance lies in its long history as an insane asylum.  In fact, the original brilliance of the architectural design is Richardson's recognition of the importance of the building as symbol!  The building is atypical of Richardson.  It is a mannerist building, ­somber, dark and foreboding.  While one would expect the Richardson-designed towers to rise directly from the ground, instead they appear to emerge from the roof, leaving the viewer unsure whether he looking at the front or the rear.  The design is complex and slightly unsettling.  The overall size of the building is hard to perceive.  Originally it was almost 2,200 feet in length, arranged as a series of receding steps to form a "V" with the entrance pavilion in the center.[l]  Because its receding elements and its symmetry, the building seems infinitely extendible, a rather grand symbol for an insane asylum.


Retaining a memory of this history is not easy when the use of the building is changed.  But it is accomplished in simple ways, such as retaining the building's original name, "Buffalo State Hospital for the Insane," in guidebooks and other "markers."  (Imagine arriving at "H. H. Richardson Plaza" or "Richardson Arms Apartments"!)  Retaining the memory can only be accomplished also with a sensitive approach to the programming and design of the rehabilitation project itself, and such a project goes beyond the restrictions enumerated in the Secretary's Standards For Rehabilitation.  Perhaps the most important method will be to retain a section of the complex in its original form.  For the rest, the message will be conveyed by small things, such as the existence of thick walls, doors and fittings which are recognizable a part of its original use.


In designing a building or an environment, clarity of aim and statement may not be the best goal.  People often do not like being in places where perception is specifically directed, and where images are clear and straightforward.  Their tolerance for ambiguity in environments may be much higher than most planners realize.  Many of the best-liked urban environments are those about which there is the greatest difference of opinion; some of the least liked environments are straightforward and unambiguous milieus, about whose characteristics everyone agrees.[li]


An impersonal city is far worse than one which retains people's expression of feeling.  Retaining things with negative symbolism is not in itself negative.  It provides the basis for growth on a more profound level than all that lies about it.  It is the basis for a dialectic beyond the materialism of everyday life.  By questioning, accusing and provoking, such negative symbolism serves to enlarge one's life beyond the realm of the self, and by so doing provide a chance for growth.  Only with such growth can we hope for a more humane world.






Appleyard, Donald, The Environment as a Social Symbol: Towards a Theory of Environmental Action and Perception, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, U. C., Berkeley, (unpublished paper), Berkeley, 1978, p.2.


Applyard, Donald, Ed., The Conservation of European Cities, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1979.


Becker, Carl, Everyman his own historian, p.22-3, quoted in David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985.


Binney, Marcus, "Introduction," in Satanic Mills, SAVE Britain's Heritage, 1979.

Fitch, James Marston, Historic Preservation, Curatorial Management of the Built World, McGraw Hill, New York, 1982.


Greiff, Constance,  Lost America, The Pyne Press, Princeton, 1971, p.7, quoted in: Donald Appleyard, The Conservation of European Cities, MIT, Cambridge, 1970.


Hareven, Tamara, and Randolph Langenbach, Amoskeag, Life and Work in an American Factory City, New York City, Pantheon, 1978.


Hart, Kitty, Return to Auschwitz, Atheneum, New York, 1982.


Heikamp, Detlev, "Demolition in Berlin," in Architectural Design Profile: Post-War Berlin, Doug Clelland, ed., London, Architectural Design, 1982. 


Horgan, Dorothy, Letter to Randolph Langenbach, Feb. 11, 1979.


Interpretive Prospectus, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island,  National Park Service, January, 1984.


Langenbach, Randolph, and Tamara Hareven, Amoskeag, Life and Work in an American Factory City, New York City, Pantheon, 1978.


Langenbach, Randolph, Satanic Mills, Industrial Architecture in the Pennines, a photographic exhibition designed and produced by Randolph Langenbach and SAVE Britain's Heritage, Heinz Gallery, The Royal Institute of British Architects, London, Jan.-Mar., 1979.


Lanzmann, Claude, Shoah, a film co-produced by Les Films Aleph and Historia Films with the assistance of the French Ministry of Culture.


Lowenthal, David, and Marquita Riel, Environmental Structures: Semantic and Experiential Components, Publications in Env. Perception #8, American Geographical Society, 1972.


Lowenthal, David, and Marquita Riel, Structures of Environmental Associations, Publications in Env. Perception #6, New York, American Geographical Society, 1972.


Marris, Peter, Loss and Change, New York City, Pantheon, 1974.


McConnell, Dean, The Tourist, a New Theory of the Leisure Class, New York City, Shocken Books, 1976.


Nürenberg, 1933-45, a guidebook of the National Socialist Rally Grounds produced by the City of Nürenberg, 1987.


Rieth, Adolf, Monuments to the Victims of Tyranny, Praeger, N.Y. 1969.


Ruskin, John, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, Noonday Press, New York, 1961.


San Francisco Examiner, July 16, 1989. p T-8


Seamon, David, and Robert Mugerauer, Dwelling, Place and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World, Martin Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1985,.


Summerson, John, Heavenly Mansions, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1963.


Weissman, Dan, Terezin Diary, a film, the Terezin Foundation, New York City, 1989.


Weyl, Martin, "How do Museums Speak the Unspeakable," New York Times, June 11, 1989.


Wiesel, Elie, "Art and the Holocaust: Trivializing Memory," The New York Times,  June 11, 1989.


Wiesel, Elie, "Pilgrimage to the Country of Night," New York Times Magazine, Nov. 4, 1979.





[i]John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, p.177.


[ii]The most recent event to have a similar impact in the United States was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1985.  Although this tragedy took a mere six people to their deaths, everyone saw it on television.  Its drama, and the impossibility of survival made the image linger powerfully in people's minds.  The seeming infallibility of the U.S. space program was shattered forever by this accident.


[iii]The difference in the meaning of preservation and conservation as they are used in this article should be clarified.  Preservation refers to the deliberate decision to retain a given artifact.  Conservation refers to the intervention necessary to retain it, such as the repair or restoration work that follows upon the decision to preserve a building.


[iv]The Wasa also posed enormous technical problems when it was raised.  Once exposed to air, the timber is vulnerable to rapid decay.  A sophisticated experimental system of impregnation with polyethylene glycol has been partially successful, but the ship will continue to require active conservation work.  Other historic sunken ships have been found, but have been left where they are to avoid these problems.  As a result, they  are now vulnerable to destruction by treasure hunters.  Similarly, the Titanic was revisited by a French team of underwater explorers who disagreed with Ballard's hands-off approach.  They gathered random loose artifacts from the debris field  and raised them for display in a crude and sensational television show.


[v]James Marston Fitch, Historic Preservation, Curatorial Management of the Built World, Mc Graw Hill, New York, 1982, p.162.


[vi]Carl Becker, Everyman his own historian, p.22-3, quoted in David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.240.


[vii]John Summerson, Heavenly Mansions, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1963, p.218.


[viii]Donald Appleyard, The Environment as a Social Symbol: Towards a Theory of Environmental Action and Perception, Berkeley, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, U. C., Berkeley, (unpublished paper), 1978, p.2.


[ix]It is recognized that there are many instances when artifacts may have negative connotations to some and positive connotations to others, or that the balance between the negative and positive is not the same for different people.  The points in this paper are not meant to argue with this but to deal with the nature of negative symbolic meaning that is founded on widely recognized historical events, and how this impacts the way particular artifacts are preserved.


[x]Ibid., p.34. 


[xi]Claude Lanzmann, Shoah, a film co-produced by Les Films Aleph and Historia Films with the assistance of the French Ministry of Culture.


[xii]Birkenau, which is adjacent to Auschwitz, was also known as "Auschwitz 2."  It was part of the same overall operation, but a distinct, separate facility.


[xiii]"Martin Weyl, "How do Museums Speak the Unspeakable," New York Times, June 11, 1989, p.38


[xiv]Adolf Rieth, Monuments to the Victims of Tyranny, Praeger, N.Y. 1969, p.17.


[xv]Ibid., p.18.


[xvi]Elie Wiesel, "Pilgrimage to the Country of Night," New York Times Magazine, Nov. 4, 1979, p.64


[xvii]Kitty Hart, Return to Auschwitz, Atheneum, New York, 1982, p. 163


[xviii]I have recently learned from one visitor to Birkenau that some of the barracks in the camp have been rebuilt for use in films about the Holocaust.  This is an ironic twist in the discussion about the historic images versus the present day reality.  If the genuine ruins are replaced by a movie set made out of the accurate reproduction of the buildings, does the this diminish the impact of the place, and damage its value as an historic artifact?


[xix]Ibid., p. 163.


[xx]Wiesel, E. (1979) op cit, p.65


[xxi] Ibid., p.37.


[xxii]Adolf Rieth (1969), p.23.


[xxiii]Wiesel, E. (1979), op cit, p.64.


[xxiv]It was completed in 1967


[xxv]Because of that War, a film by Orna Ben Dor, Shani Films, Isreal, 1988.


[xxvi]Martin Weyl, op cit, p.38.


[xxvii]Elie Wiesel, "Art and the Holocaust: Trivializing Memory," The New York Times,  June 11, 1989, p.38.


[xxviii]Terezin Diary, a film by Dan Weissman, the Terezin Foundation, New York City, 1989.


[xxix]Adolf Rieth (1969),  p.8.


[xxx]Nürenberg, 1933-45, a guidebook of the National Socialist Rally Grounds produced by the City of Nürenberg, 1987.


[xxxi]Constance Greiff,  Lost America, Princeton: The Pyne Press, 1971, p.7, quoted in: Donald Appleyard, The Conservation of European Cities, MIT, Cambridge, 1970, p.27.


[xxxii]The experience which supports this conclusion was the result of the respone to the author's exhibitions: Amoskeag, A Sense of Place, a Way of Life, shown in Manchester, N.H. in 1975, and Satanic Mills,  shown in London and Bradford, England in 1978 & 79.


[xxxiii]Tamara Hareven and Randolph Langenbach, Amoskeag, Life and Work in an American Factory City, New York City, Pantheon, 1978, p.147.


[xxxiv]Peter Marris, Loss and Change, New York City, Pantheon, 1974, p.55.


[xxxv]Photographic Exhibition, Satanic Mills, Industrial Architecture in the Pennines, designed and produced by Randolph Langenbach and SAVE Britain's Heritage, Heinz Gallery, The Royal Institute of British Architects, London, Jan.-Mar., 1979.


[xxxvi]Letter from Dorothy Horgan to Randolph Langenbach, Feb. 11, 1979.


[xxxvii]To its credit, the Park Service did try to work out an arrangement with a textile weaving company, the Wannalancit Manufacturing Company, in another historic mill building.  Unfortunately the company ceased operations before a viable arrangement could be worked out.


[xxxviii]A more egregious example than this occurred during the early 1970s when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City purchased the interiors of three rooms from "Beechwood," one of the most outstanding Victorian homes in the United States.  The money which they used to purchase the rooms could have been used instead to purchase the entire property which was for sale at the time.   Stripped of its interior finery, the Meriden, Connecticut house was eventually demolished.  At last report, the rooms remain in a warehouse near New York City.


[xxxix]David Seamon and Robert Mugerauer, Dwelling, Place and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World, Martin Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1985, p.33.


[xl]A story told to the author in 1978 by an unnamed informant.


[xli]Marcus Binney "Introduction," in Satanic Mills, SAVE Britain's Heritage, 1979, p.7.


[xlii]David Lowenthal and Marquita Riel, Structures of Environmental Associations, Publications in Env. Perception #6, American Geographical Society, 1972, p.11.


[xliii]Dean McConnell, The Tourist, a New Theory of the Leisure Class, New York City, Shocken Books, 1976, p.39.


[xliv]Ibid., p.137.


[xlv]It should be recognized that with the current political situation on the West Bank, Jericho is not very accessible to tourists anyway.


[xlvi]David Seamon and Robert Mugerauer, eds., op cit.  p.260.


[xlvii]Interpretive Prospectus, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island,  National Park Service, January, 1984.


[xlviii]Donald Applyard, Ed., The Conservation of European Cities, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1979, p.28.

[xlix]Detlev Heikamp, "Demolition in Berlin," in Architectural Design Profile: Post-War Berlin, Doug Clelland, ed., London, Architectural Design, 1982, p53.  (For a newspaper article showing the misuse of the symbolic meaning of the Anhalter Bahnhof, see San Francisco Examiner, July 16, 1989, pT-8.


[l]Ibid., p.29.


[li]David Lowenthal and Marquita Riel, Environmental Structures: Semantic and Experiential Components, Publications in Env. Perception #8, American Geographical Society, 1972, p.44.