State production of cultural nationalism through preservation policies

On “State production of cultural nationalism: political leaders and preservation policies for  historic buildings in France and Italy” by Mark Thatcher

The article that I read and interpreted for my class ARCH451, Fundamentals of Cultural Heritage Conservation this week is about how preservation can be a tool for the state to impose cultural nationalism by the legislatures.

The case of national political leaders adopting policies to protect historic buildings for aims of political nationalism has always been a valid discussion in both preservation and politics. The article focuses on one of the two main countries that have made a name in the preservation of historical monuments, France and Italy. To have a comparison between these two countries, we must first understand that they both have very different characteristics even though they seem similar and near. Hans Kohn categorizes these countries under different categories even: he suggests in “western nations” such as France, England and the U.S., the nationalism shows itself more dominantly in politics and economics whereas in “non-western nations” such as Italy, Germany and Slavonic states, the nationalism is more apparent in the culture. But later views on this topic say that the modern nation-state goes hand in hand with cultural nationalism. Leersen (2006) says “the state produces or ‘cultivates’ cultural nationalism as part of strategies of building and reinforcing the nation state and national identity.” Even since after the 1789 revolution, France have been using this tool. Economic growth is another reason for the state to use this tool in many countries. 

The French, since 1789, have always preserved the idea of reinforcing national identity. Abbé Gregoire was an important name in the 1790s. He made reports of the Convention National and was known for his opposition to vandalism, calling for “national objects” as property of all.

Pantheon, Paris

After the 1830 revolution, there was a board called “Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historique” within Interior Ministry. The board continued their presence with Napoleon III, whose regime sought to promote its prestige through arts and culture ( for example Garnier Opera House dates back to the second empire period). Napoleon III was particularly interested in preservation. The identity they held on to most was the Roman heritage. Cities like Nimes, Arles and the famous medieval town of Carcassonne were the important Roman heritage they paid attention to in this era. They were preserved and mostly restored by Eugune Viollet le-Duc. Protection matters were dependant on the priorities of the inspectors and most of all, political leaders.

After the birth of the third republic, Administration des Beaux Arts was part of the Ministry of Education. This era was perhaps a little too nationalist. The French cultural superiority and Paris as the most beautiful city were notions that were stressed… After the 1860s, Paris under Haussmann went under renovation. He, as a prefect, demolished many medieval buildings for better boulevards and to liberate the view for prestigious landmarks such as the Louvre. He followed a “centralized” response to local preservation movements. Paris city plan as we know it owes a great deal to these decisions on what to preserve and what to modernize. 

Commune Paris under reconstruction

These led to the 1887 law on preservation which  would suggest a national interest should be kept in mind while preserving and a “nationale rationale” should be a criteria.

During war times, the subjects of exportation were discussed more due to international people going in and out of the country. So, there was a fear of people taking heritage away. Laws were made on this matter and most buildings started to be listed, laws on monuments inscrits were made. 

Post 1945, one of the important events was in 1958 De Gaulle established the Ministry of Culture and appointed modernist André Malraux. He introduced protected sectors by loi Malraux in 1962. This was an important step because this gave preservation value to a place even though it lacks historic monuments but they have aesthetic value or historic interest as a whole. 

With all these developments on preservation through French history, one thing that stikes me is the consistent control of the state. The preservation is always at the utmost use of the central government. And this is what differs it from Italy. Historically, Italy has always been a little scattered in terms of centralized state. What is interesting to read is that the legislative protection over historical monuments was already existing before the unified Italy came to existance. Another note-worthy point about this is that the national identity of the people was pre-existing even before a politically united nation. 

In the case of Italy, the preservation legislative have always been more comprehensive and often earlier than France and most of Europe. In the era before 1870, there were laws on protection about the exportation of artistic objects. There were limits for foreigners to take things away. These concerns grew after Napoleon’s theft of artifacts. In Italy’s perspective on preservation, there has always been a contradiction between the private/economic interest and the public interest. I think, because in history, most Italian states were widely doing trade, the private interest and matters of merchandise had always greater importance. 

Differing from France’s 1913 laws, 1909 Italian laws make clear points about restriction on expropriation of historical objects, even if they are privately owned. As a similarity, the philosophers and intellectuals argue that the landscape is the material and visible representation of the whole country. During the fascist era, 1922-44 there were no legislation for a while under Mussolini. When they made new legislature or preserved buildings it was mostly dating back to Roman or other inferior times. This decision making of preserving an era that represents stronger central state rather than preserving weaker times, is an example of state’s power of using preservation as a tool to convey whatever message they want to convey.

The extending of preservation laws continued before and after the second world war as well with planning implementations added. A key issue in Italian preservation is the issue of implementation. Even though the legal protection is strong, there have been a growth of illegal building works that damage the landscape due to administrative weaknesses and  corruption starting with the 50s and 60s. 

Preservation, can  always be a tool for states to impose the political, cultural and social atmosphere they aim to impose on the people. A point worth noting is how both ends of the political spectrum can agree on preservation as a means of “building a modern nation” or reinforcing the national identity. Italy, usually governed by more right-leaning tendencies, started to preserve even before the whole nation was unified and France with a more republican approach and secular values, also built this identity through the preservation of monuments and even used it to reinforce central state.

Even when we remember the early republican times in Turkey, we can see the national values being preserved had more to do with the Mesopotamian heritage, or the Turkish identity that exists without the help of religious values and today we see another type of cultural implementation with an importance on the religious national identity. We can make many political implications if we merely look at the fake preservation of historical monuments in today’s Turkey. I believe this fake-preservation (also fake conservatism both politically and architecturally) may even reflect how the values of the current ruling state are actually non-existent on the political ground.


“Skywalks” could be the next thing

I came across an article about a project that will be built in Stockholm. The project seemed very futuristic and interesting. I don’t know how it will actually look like or whether it would suit the city but it sure is an interesting approach in urbanism.


A new plan for central Stockholm uses a network of skywalks to stitch together more than 100 buildings and 5,800 apartments. Anders Berensson Architects’ Klarastaden, or ‘clear city’, concept bundles together a series of towers topped by a blend of private and public green space. Density – the highest in town – makes it possible to string skywalks like clothesline, connecting half of the roofs and zig-zagging the length of the site. Rooflines gallop to new heights and the mass of buildings gets gradually taller as one moves toward the central business district. ‘The proposal is basically as high as you can build without shading the existing city – which would be both sad and politically impossible,’ says architect Anders Berensson. Klarastaden is the architect’s response to the housing shortage in a city that’s swelling more rapidly than any other in Europe, according to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. It is expected to expand to just over 1 million people by 2020 – an increase of 11 percent.

The plan echo Berensson’s earlier Stacked Stockholm, a concept that uses classical block typology as an erector set. Its main difference, according to Berensson, is that it was commissioned by Sweden’s opposition Centre Party and has more site specificity – meant to loft over a rail yard that gobbles up a riverbank.

One of the most sustainable way of doing this is to densify the existing neighborhoods and take advantage of existing infrastructure.


The design also makes larger parts of the area accessible to the public since both courtyards and roof terraces is crossed by public paths. The sky walk on the roof terraces will be one of the longest parks in Stockholm with best view in town. The proposal also makes the waterfront accessible for people in Stockholm. To control views and light conditions for the new houses zoning regulations for building heights is a major part of the proposal.


‘This or something similar will get built here, but I don’t know when,’ says Berensson. ‘A major aspect to working with political proposals is to give alternatives to what’s being built today.’


a as architecture

The Spaces

Let’s talk about the Beats.

Let’s go a little back in time. To an era that inspired so many forms of art, an era in which a few guys started something big, even without the intention of doing so. Long after my punk phase in high school, I got the urge to read the words of the Beat generation again nowadays. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to really get it back then and I’m not even sure if I get the whole thing still, but it sure is one of the most interesting group of people I’ve read about. For me, it all started with reading Jack Kerouac. His novels embodied the most interesting atmosphere of freedom. Plus, I’m quite interested in any kind of outcast.

well unless you’re homophobic or conservative or simply are not ready for this. If it’s the first option please log off.

The Beat generation is the name used for a group of American poets and authors that formed a literary movement, mainly centered in New York in the 50s. After the great depression, people, most of them being unemployed railroad workers, traveled from state to state to work daily jobs. These travels of the labor class had influences. It is the influence that established the Beat generation in the first place. In 40s, a group of students at Columbia University started having meetings including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs who were very much affected by the idea of being on the road. They believed that literature should be real, coming from the author’s experiences and philosophy. Nothing about the Beats could have been considered “conventional” as they formed a very nonconformist group, living on the road, defying common rules in a time America was creating new norms and insisting on making them permanent and effective through media.

Nothing exists until it’s observed. The artist observes something invisible to others and puts on paper or canvas something that did not exist until they observed it.
—  William Burroughs


Most of them did not have the intention of having an influence on American literature, maybe except for Allen Ginsberg who wanted to make people realize more. Or, like he said in an interview: “There’s no beat generation. It’s just a bunch of guys trying to get published.”

What’s interesting is, in the never-ending eventfulness and chaos of the 20th century, these guys’ words were a celebration of life, even though it was almost a condemnation to the society and sometimes life itself. Traveling penniless, working tiring jobs, reading and writing, meditating, experimenting with drugs, loving people they weren’t supposed to love, even stealing… Just enough reasons to become “obscene”. No wonder they created great controversy. Allan Ginsberg’s Howl even had a filed suit, accusing the publisher for the obscene work but the judge ruled against this accusation. The FBI had so many files on Ginsberg that they could touch the ceiling when put on top of each other on the desk. And yet, Howl is considered one of the best examples of American literature today and one of the most popular poems of history. So don’t let their hedonism fool you.

the publisher of the beat generation: Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Bookstore

Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac

On The Road

On The Road is one of the milestones for the underground literature, telling the adventures of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady and the people they met along the way. This book has one of the most interesting muses in history, in my opinion: Neal Cassady. The book is about writer friends traveling through America, doing whatever the hell they want. It’s written from Jack Kerouac’s point of view. What’s interesting is that out of all the characters in the book, the whole thing feels like it’s about Cassady rather than Kerouac himself. He is the muse, both for his adventures, his life on the road, and for his book.

a piece from the Beat Museum in San Francisco

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac

Ginsberg and Cassady

Kerouac was not the only person Cassady had an influence on. He is being described as this extremely lively person (even as the adonis of Denver by Ginsberg in Howl) with an utter charisma. It’s important to recognize his influence on Ginsberg too. Ginsberg was in love with him and they had a love affair for some time but Cassady broke it off except for their occasional,on-and-off relationship that went on for 20 years. So, going through the writers’ works, it’s impossible not to get curious about Neal Cassady.

The 120 foot scroll on which Kerouac wrote On The Road. Even the publication method was unusual and unconventional.

Dharma Bums was also a book with a similar tone and subject. The beats also introduced America to Zen, Buddhism and Eastern culture. They combined the meditative way of Zen with the idea of being on the road which they saw as the ultimate goal. A search for nothing. It was searching that mattered.By providing a new way of critical thinking and philosophy, they freed some part of the youth from the lie of living in the happiest place in the world, waking them up from the consumptive utopia.

“Writing at least is a silent meditation even though you’re going a hundred miles an hour.” – Kerouac

The beat generation had its many influences on music and culture. It almost directly led to the Hippie movement in the 60s.  The Doors, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd were some of the artists that were referring to the Beats.


If you don’t want to read the books but would like to dive in to the movies about this there are 3 that I liked which were filmed in recent years:

  • Howl (2010)
  • Kill Your Darlings (2013)
  • On The Road (2012)

P.s: The post was supposed to be specifically about Ginsberg but I got distracted too much, so here it is. Might elaborate more on Ginsberg later.

Relevant Documentary: West Coast Modernist Architecture of The States

While digging up for some information and references for our term project House: In Reference, I came across this fun documentary about the modernist architects in search of an answer for the housing of the West Coast.

The episode explains the modernist movement and discusses the major works of modernist architects mainly based in the west coast from 20s to 50s. I loved that it gave clear examples and the social problem of housing was critically examined through time. The launch of the Case Study Program is also mentioned. I found this very informative as it is very parallel to what we study in the studio -and outside of it.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)

For my History of Art class we were asked to present some works of an important painter of our choice. I chose Botticelli, of course. I’m in love with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus from the moment I saw it. You can find the presentation here without the explanations but high quality detail images.

The artist was born as Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in Florence but used Sandro Botticelli as short. When he was young he was training to become a goldsmith with his brother but later on he quit his trainee-ship there. This reminded me of the architect of the previous generation in Florence, Brunelleschi who was a trained goldsmith as well. When Botticelli decided to become an artist he studied in Fra Filippo Lippi’s (also known as Lippo Lippi) workshops with Lippo Lippi as his “maestro”. This tradition was very important in the Renaissance. The aspiring artists would work in the workshops of big artists of the time until they are the bigger artists…  Continue reading “Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)”

Ottoman Empire During 15th Century

The Ottoman goal of creating an Islamic Roman Empire required the capture of Constantinople and after a few unsuccessful sieges it was finally taken in 1453 by II. Mehmed later named “Fatih” Sultan Mehmed. After capturing the city, Fatih declared a general amnesty for non-Muslim ethnic groups to quickly repopulate his city. So the name “Istanbul” derived from this demand which is a word that derives from the Greek phrase “to the city“. As a result, in two centuries the city’s population doubled. He also built Kapalı Çarşı which, like Koza Han in Bursa, had square bays capped with rounded, lead-covered domes. The Bedestan in Kapalı Çarşı which is a fortified compound for luxury goods, rose slightly taller in the midst of the shops. .. Continue reading “Ottoman Empire During 15th Century”

1350-1500 (A Global History of Architecture)

The Birth of Renaissance in Florence

One family in Florence, had the most impact on this era. The Medicis, inspired other families and popes in Rome to pursue a new style based on symmetry, correct proportions and classical columns. This era, called the Renaissance, meant returning to the wisdom of the classical ages and reviving it. Humanism played a great role in Europe to reconsider the role of the city in human culture.

This movement to revive the Greco-Roman culture began with Italian merchant republics educating their young as humanists, exposing them to ancient Greek and Latin sources of history, science, philosophy, art and poetry. Tuscan poets Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio inspired them. Humanism spread to many disciplines but architecture was affected the most… Continue reading “1350-1500 (A Global History of Architecture)”