THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK - Matthew Reisz

Lu­cia Al­lais, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture at Prince­ton Univer­sity, is Ital­ian by birth, grew up in France and moved to the US for a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing and ar­chi­tec­ture at Prince­ton, fol­lowed by a mas­ter’s in ar­chi­tec­ture from Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of De­sign and a PhD from MIT. She re­calls find­ing “men­tors who en­cour­aged the push­ing against dis­ci­plinary bound­aries, es­pe­cially be­tween his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis and the­o­ret­i­cal work, and be­tween ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory and his­tory tout court”.

She has her­self prac­tised as an ar­chi­tect in both Europe and the US, some­thing that Al­lais claims has il­lu­mi­nated her re­search in a rather un­ex­pected way: “This may seem counter-in­tu­itive, but train­ing and work­ing as an ar­chi­tect teaches you that spa­tial de­signs don’t al­ways pro­ceed through ex­plicit ar­chi­tec­tural tools such as draw­ings, mod­els and mas­ter plans. So when I ap­proached an archive such as the one on mon­u­ments in the Sec­ond World War or the de­coloni­sa­tion of mu­se­ums, I was es­pe­cially care­ful not to as­sume that just be­cause there weren’t draw­ings pre­scrib­ing the de­struc­tion, its spa­tial ef­fects were not de­lib­er­ately ‘de­signed’. Of­ten, the di­a­grams I made early on in my archival re­search to keep track of data and vi­su­alise its spa­tial con­se­quences even­tu­ally be­came il­lus­tra­tions for the book.”

Al­though “told as an ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory”, Al­lais be­lieves that De­signs of De­struc­tion also has more gen­eral rel­e­vance for us now.

“There are sadly so many in­stances of large-scale en­vi­ron­men­tal and ur­ban de­struc­tion to­day”, she ex­plains, “that we tend to for­get there is a his­tory to de­struc­tion. Even as tech­nolo­gies and poli­cies evolve, there are spe­cific tech­niques for cal­i­brat­ing de­struc­tion’s scale and en­sur­ing that cul­tural mark­ers re­main – in other words, most de­signs of de­struc­tion do not re­sult in a tab­ula rasa.”

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