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Postmodern Spoliation

A comparison of practices of reuse and recontextualization of architecture in historical roman and postmodern periods

PhD Per Strömberg

Postmodern spoliation? Richard Mayer’s Ara Pacis Museum with built-in reminiscences from Vittorio Ballo Mopurgo’s (one of Mussolini’s architects) previous travertine structure on site (the basement wall). Photo: Per Strömberg.

This research project aims to compare practices of reuse in different historical contexts, from imperial Rome  to the postmodern era. During the last decades, the reuse of buildings has become a widespread strategy to create attractive urban environments with new functions. Vacant factories, industrial ruins and disengaged waterfront areas have become desirable urban areas as a consequence of the still ongoing transition from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy. Factories and former industrial buildings have become the new temples of culture and consumption in post-industrial society, creating space for art and cultural events such as galleries, concert halls and museums as well as shops and design hotels. Place-making based on the principle of reuse and recycling is important to the cultural economy as is their capacity of expressing creativity. However, as sustainability and reuse of buildings becomes ever more critical to the architectural profession, it is worth noting that the practice of recycling has a long history. Perhaps nowhere is this so richly documented as in Rome. Therefore, the city of Rome will function as a major case study. As the institutions of imperial Rome gradually gave way to the urbs sacra, their physical vestiges had to be re-appropriated. At times, this process occurred with little thought as to symbolic meaning; at others, the effect was quite conscious. Only by the sixteenth century, however, did something approximating “adaptive reuse,” grounded in a set of design criteria, appear. Renaissance architects did not look upon classical antiquities solely as models for imitation. Their objective was to critically analyze these remains and assimilate their forms into new typologies. Their projects hold many lessons for contemporary designers seeking to reuse and re-contextualize the architectural forms of modern cities, but also, lessons for researchers with the aim to explore appropriation as a general phenomena of all times (e.g. Brillant & Kinney 2011). In short, the research question is: What can we theoretically learn from past practices of reuse by comparing it with contemporary practices and cases? Is there such thing as ‘postmodern spoliation’?
PhD Per Strömberg
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To the left: ‘Officina Roma’ workshop in Rome 2011-12. Photo: raumlaborberlin. To the right: Theatre of Marcellus. Photo: Per Strömberg

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