Every Sunday since February 15, 2004, from sun up to sun down, a temporary memorial gets re-constructed on the public lands of Santa Monica Beach. In “Arlington West” handmade crosses are arranged in an expansive grid in the sand to make a place for the mourning and contemplation of the vast costs of war. This informal memorial is erected not by designers but by interested lay people who, through the instrument of public lands, perform their mission to remember. Regardless of the countless means to memories that exist for us today, it is the monument, the present and physical mark made that endures.
Historian Barry Bergdoll tells us that some time “in the late 18th century… the meaning and the very possibility of making monuments becomes the subject of doubt, anxiety, and philosophical debate.” These fears surrounding the making of monuments, strangely, do not result in the death of the medium. On the contrary, we find ourselves currently in the midst of a rapidly growing field of more and more new monuments. This “memorial mania” signals an obsessive desire to claim who and what we should remember; a desire that seems to override our anxieties over our capability to even do so.
Why do we make memorials today in America? What and how are we choosing to remember? The subjects and objects of our collective memorialization no longer solely valorize heroes or results. Today’s memorials also attempt to recall, in stone, our troubled histories and deep public sentiments. “Driven by heated struggles over self-definition, national purpose, and the politics of representation, memorial mania is especially shaped by the affective conditions of public life: by the fevered pitch of public feelings such as grief, gratitude, fear, shame, and anger.” (Doss) But who decides how we (all) should feel about a subject? How does architecture participate in the creation of a collective, but also diverging, or changing collective memory? This studio examines the difficult nature of our collective memories as motivated constructs in the production of our “permanent” past. We will use the program of memorial to represent simultaneously divergent understandings of national-scale current events, conditions, and climates. Rather than benign or dead monuments, the studio projects will seek to engage in the making of an architecture that forms the basis for future improvisation.
This studio is framed to support the development of a position on this year’s Wallenberg studio theme, Acts of Improvisation, utilizing the program of memorial. We will begin with a reading seminar into contemporary understanding and manifestations of collective memory, we will then research and curate a collection of precedent projects in the service of understanding how past memorials have communicated and established narratives. Lastly, you be commissioned to design a memorial for a national audience in a site of your choosing. A 4-day field trip to Washington DC is planned for the first week of February. A collective blog will be constructed throughout the semester to collect the research work of the studio.