This is a tough one, actually, because the topic is really deep. In this aftermath of the Nortre Dame fire, the idea of restoring the damage immediately comes to everybody's mind.
Inevitably, however, there are always, two choices — to rebuild it as it was, or to build it as we want them, today? Obviously by posing them in front of you, you see the merits in both directions. Yet, as a historical trademark, the lean towards the former is much stronger than the latter. But this exactly raises a question that I want to talk about — history.
I have been reading quite some history books, and in recent days start to read books written by historian on history. It is really fascinating, because I have never realized the word history is not as clear as it seems, at all! We have been taking for granted that history = old, = the past. But to think about it, if the event has already past, are we just reconstructing it today? After all, the writer was not necessarily a witness, a participant, or even born back then. Thus the whole idea of reconstruction is really a matter of a personal choice of materials and perception of how the event was unfolded, wasn't it!? If you walk in any book store and look at the "history" section, there are always books that describe the huge impact of a small, ordinary thing, that has changed the fate of mankind — chicken, sugar, rice, anything goes. If you think of it, it is hardly arguable that any in your life, as of today, is unimportant — really, name one thing in your life that you can go without, I mean, go without for the rest of your life.. well, abstract such as pain, suffering, poverty don't count. I mean, physical, things.
So, this brings us back to the discussion that what to build for the Nortre Dame. First of all, can we really reconstruct as it were!? Hardly, or should we just say, impossible. For one, materials are different now from 800 years ago, so are the engineering. Therefore, the replica can be as truthful as all the blueprints are saying. Yet, it is different. It looks the same, but it is different, better, actually.
Second, why should we? We admire its beauty because it reflected what was then. Exactly because such beauty has sustained time for so long, that we make it a close thing to eternity. But, if we fast forward 800 more years, wouldn't people want to see what represents, today, that we are currently living and breathing everyday, instead of an interpretation version of something we could only speculate? In other words, shouldn't the responsibility of architecture to be the document of that time, instead of some other time!? You can take any iconic construction, and see this logic applies — Ankor Wat, the Forbidden Palace, the Empire State building... each is a symbol of its time. It would be rather strange if the Ankor Wat was really built as a replica of another temple 800 years before it. I mean, it would be cool and alright. But, wouldn't we then lose the document of its own time?
This makes me start to believe that each generation indeed bears the responsibility to be truthful to themselves — if they were ugly people, so be it, generate some ugly arts, as long as they did come from their heart and soul.
I have been a critics of all the ugly Chinese modern buildings back then. Now writing this, I start to reflect on this point. I was biased. They, actually did their part in history. Though I don't like the result, but nonetheless, I'm not to be the judge. Nor even time could be the judge. But only the eyes of the some other generation down the line will fit to look at the era and say, "Look, this is the icon of that century (that dynasty, that time, or that generation)", and there will be no right or wrong, good or bad, but representative vs. one-of-kind outlier.
This reminds the openining of Kenneth Clark's documentary, Civilization, that if to choose what can truthfully represent the time, it will be arts — not writing of any kind, but arts — buildings, paintings, music....even the bad ones, or shouldn't we say, especially the bad ones!? In general, they are more true than others, they always carry a strong emotion, have a strong message, always always being the cutting edge of what people felt at that time.
So leave the taste out, they are the perfect ear marks. I don't love them in many cases; but they are wonderful, as history.
— by Feng Xia