I’m currently reading Appropriating the Past, the second essay collection linked to the Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage. One of the essays, by Cornelius Holtorf (who’ll be one of the editors of the third collection), talks about cases like
the reconstructed Neumarkt area in Dresden. Here an entire city area of eighteenth-century vernacular baroque architecture is in the process of being re-created so that it appears as if these buildings were never destroyed by the bombs of World War II. Archaeologists, historians, art historians, and architects can be quick to dismiss such buildings as resembling Disneyland, meaning that they fake history...
Dresden’s rebuilding of its eighteenth-century architecture is a response to the destructiveness of warfare. How different is it, one might wonder, from rebuilding eighteenth-century architecture in response to some builders’ stupid mistake...?
Polish builders have demolished an 18th Century chateau in Bordeaux belonging to a Russian businessman, apparently by mistake. Owner Dmitry Stroskin said he was shocked and had only ordered them to knock down an adjacent outhouse... Chateau de Bellevue had been due to be renovated to its former glory - Mr Stroskin has said he will rebuild it exactly as it was.
Of course, there are senses in which this is tragically impossible. If you want to see eighteenth-century architecture, then a recreation will typically not do; it just lacks the property of having been built in the eighteenth century, which is, presumably, an important consideration if eighteenth-century architecture is what you desire to see (even though ‘nothing miraculously survives... without a bit of help’). Having said that... it’s not a philosophically trivial question where the distinction lies between renovation (presumably okay, or at any rate better than decay) and rebuilding (presumably problematic). Perhaps we should think a little differently about the distinction between real and fake architecture if our buildings were made out of less durable materials.
Rebuilding is not a simple act, though. It’s possible to see something Phoenix-like in the decision of the people of Dresden to rebuild their city much as it was after the War ended. The Chateau de Bellevue lacks such a story of high drama, and it remains to be seen whether a Phoenix can rise out of a tragic farce.