Designs of Destruction The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century
by Lucia Allais
University of Chicago Press, 2018
Cloth: 978-0-226-28655-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-52261-6
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.001.0001


The twentieth century was the most destructive in human history, but from its vast landscapes of ruins was born a new architectural type: the cultural monument. In the wake of World War I, an international movement arose which aimed to protect architectural monuments in large numbers, and regardless of style, hoping not only to keep them safe from future conflicts, but also to make them worthy of protection from more quotidian forms of destruction. This movement was motivated by hopeful idealism as much as by a pragmatic belief in bureaucracy. An evolving group—including architects, intellectuals, art historians, archaeologists, curators, and lawyers—grew out of the new diplomacy of the League of Nations. During and after World War II, it became affiliated with the Allied Military Government, and was eventually absorbed by the UN as UNESCO. By the 1970s, this organization had begun granting World Heritage status to a global register of significant sites—from buildings to bridges, shrines to city centers, ruins to colossi.
          Examining key episodes in the history of this preservation effort—including projects for the Parthenon, for the Cathedral of St-Lô, the temples of Abu Simbel, and the Bamyian Buddahs —Lucia Allais demonstrates how the group deployed the notion of culture to shape architectural sites, and how architecture in turn shaped the very idea of global culture. More than the story of an emergent canon, Designs of Destruction emphasizes how the technical project of ensuring various buildings’ longevity jolted preservation into establishing a transnational set of codes, values, practices. Yet as entire nations’ monumental geographies became part of survival plans, Allais also shows, this paradoxically helped integrate technologies of destruction—from bombs to bulldozers—into cultural governance. Thus Designs of Destruction not only offers a fascinating narrative of cultural diplomacy, based on extensive archival findings; it also contributes an important new chapter in the intellectual history of modernity by showing the manifold ways architectural form is charged with concretizing abstract ideas and ideals, even in its destruction.


Lucia Allais is associate professor of architecture at Princeton University, a member of the Aggregate Architectural Collaborative, and an editor of the journal Grey Room.


"What is a monument? Whereas the nineteenth century raised this issue at a mostly national level, the twentieth century addressed it on a more global scale. In Lucia Allais’s remarkable study, cultural exchanges, international diplomacy, and above all conflicts play an essential role in reshaping a category clearly constructed at the intersection of architecture and politics. Her book is not only commendable for its in-depth analysis of key episodes such as the role played by monument preservation in World War II bombing strategies. It explores new ways to write architectural history as genuinely political and social."
— Antoine Picon, Harvard University

"Designs of Destruction brilliantly intertwines and so profoundly reconfigures heretofore separate histories of both modern architecture and monument preservation. Themes of internationalism and bureaucracy connect deeply-researched chapters on World War II bombing protocols, postcolonial African museum design, and other subjects. One of the most original books to appear in years, Designs of Destruction is for historians of architecture and heritage, plus specialists in cultural studies, technology and society, and international relations."
— Daniel M. Abramson, Boston University

"Lucia Allais has written an extraordinary book, an account of monuments in modernity as they are laboriously assembled and then bombed into smithereens. Targeted and preserved, conceptualized, revered, disdained—Allais shows just how polymorphic these perverse stones can be. Interested in collective memory, recent architecture, international culture or public art? Read this."
— Peter Galison, Harvard University

"Allais pulls back the curtain to expose the teeming network of anonymous bureaucrats and internationalist elites who, during the darkest hours of the twentieth century, re-invented ancient buildings into unifying symbols of common humanity. This critical exposé of how monuments, and the political sausage they flavored, were made is eye-opening. As Allais cleverly points out, monuments were recast to justify as much the destruction of the old 19th century world order around them, as to create the material evidentiary support for a new postwar geopolitical regime based on 'universal values.' A must read."
— Jorge Otero-Pailos, Columbia University

“Lucia Allais points out in no uncertain terms that monuments were recast as much to justify the obliteration of the old 19th-century and earlier buildings around them as to manufacture support for the post-war theories of urban design. She therefore very cleverly brings together the histories of modern architecture and of monument preservation. . . . Rarely does one come across a book as novel as this one. It covers immense tracts of ground.”
— Times Higher Education, Book of the Week

"Designs of Destruction is an account of the media and material cultures underlying the designation and construction of monuments from the early 20th century through the 1960s. Through deft analyses and nuanced interpretations of archival materials, Allais argues that monuments were 'made,' conjured as much from bureaucratic and diplomatic paperwork as they were built from stone, sand, and aggregate. . . . Call it what you like: architectural history of preservation; media history; institutional history of architectural preservation; or media history of international architectural governance. No matter the designation, this is a book for the ages."
— Los Angeles Review of Books

"With the architectural object placed centre stage, and with an apt eye for both canonical figures and those who reside in the shadows of architectural historiography, Allais demonstrates the ways in which ancient monuments (with their complex temporalities and authorships) have been conjured into new forms of existence, in changing presents....In its erudite complexities, Designs of Destruction strangely reads as a page-turner."
— Architectural Histories

"[Designs of Destruction] is the product of historical work that sees architecture as field rather than edifice and that forensically reconstructs a march of events in order to discern the microtechnique of construction....  Allais makes a compelling case for monument survival as a field at least as dynamic as modern architecture itself."
— Art Journal

"Designs of Destruction is a well-re-searched, well-written, and engaging book that successfully bridges the gaps between architectural history, preservation policy and practice, and international relations.... a must-read for any scholar interested in alternative constructions of modernity and the global history of historic preservation."
— Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Allais’s discerning excavation of the material processes of canon-making andtheir residual effects (if not collateral) is a welcome addition to the field, not onlyfor those interested in the twentieth-century history of preservation but thoseengaged in any form of adjudication about what goes in to, and what is leftout of, the global and historical narratives we tell about architecture."
— The Journal of Architecture

"Allais’s account deserves praise not only for its methodological originality, but also for the way it draws together a history that has otherwise been barely told."
— Journal of Contemporary History


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0000
[New Monumentality;Siegfried Giedion;Lewis Mumford;Alois Riegl;Memory;Iconoclasm;Cult of Monuments;Cathedral of St Lô;Maison des Esclaves, Gorée;Stephansdom]
The introduction situates the mid-20th-Century internationalist project for monument survival in a longer history of architectural preservation, as a governmental mandate, since the Enlightenment. Liberal internationalism married preservation as a branch of architectural expertise to the growth of “culture” as a value on the world stage. As the social content for monumental architecture, culture’s vagueness was precisely its strength, a way to create consensus around divergent architectural aesthetics and styles. By the same token, the banality of destruction was crucial to the transformation of all manners of historic monuments into modern, strategic objects to which large-scale technical thinking could be applied. The introduction is in two parts. First, through four case-studies of architectural protection, Monument Survival is related to other aesthetic discourses about monuments in this period: the cult of monuments, iconoclasm, the new monumentality, and memory discourse. Then, through a historical overview of the successive bureaucratic structures that were created to promote monuments within world governance, it is argued that monuments helped to create a “politics of syncopation," whereby international cultural action appears off-beat from the main storyline of political events, to which it is in fact tightly tethered.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0001
[Intellectual Cooperation;Monument Legislation;Jules Destrée;Aloïs Kieslinger;Gustavo Giovannoni;Victor Horta;Nicolas Balanos;Anastylosis;John Huston Finley;Paul Léon]
The League of Nations organized the Athens Conference to foster cooperation among monuments administrators and conservation specialists in its member states. While the event failed to set in motion any regular diplomacy, its discursive legacy is profound. It is thematized in three parts around notable participants. Legally, the Belgian jurist Jules Destrée hoped to forge new internationalist legislation that echoed pan-European concepts of civilizational “guardianship.” Urbanistically, architects Victor Horta and Gustavo Giovannoni revealed emerging consensus about extending protections from individual monuments to urban surroundings. Scientifically, Austrian conservator Alois Kieslinger’s research on stone decay promised exchanges through advanced laboratory work. But Germany’s absence, and a persistent nationalist undertone, show the League’s hope to make monuments into media of “intellectual cooperation” was never taken seriously except as an idealist mirage. However, a tacit agreement that paperwork and bureaucracy should be standardized tools of preservation did affect theorizations of the monument as a kind of “document.” The chapter concludes on the Acropolis, where the conference debated and endorsed Greek architect Balanos’s project to restore the Parthenon byanastylosis, amidst growing competition between the League’s formal multilateral diplomacy, and more informal channels of cultural patronage, such as the Anglo-American philanthropy supporting Balanos.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0002
[Bomber’s Baedeker;American Defense-Harvard Group;Roberts Commission;Paul J. Sachs;WG Constable;Baedeker Raids;Erwin Panofsky;Ralph Barton Perry;Total War;Aesthetic Distinction]
The Allied Military Government conceived of its monuments protection policy in early 1943 on American academics’ initiative. Far from mere propaganda, monuments' protection conformed with total war, which conflates civilian and military dimensions of warfare. In contrast to 1939-1942, when monuments were targeted for destruction in attacks on morale, the AMG protected monuments in preparation for occupation: to earn the cooperation of local populations. As monuments went from being targets to non-targets, the same documents continued to be used to fold architectural distinction into psychological warfare—lists and maps, based on tourist guides, annotated with a system of “stars.” Building on the professionalization of American art history before war, hundreds of scholars were recruited to convert historical knowledge into useable data. From “Harvard Lists” to “Bomber’s Baedekers” and “Civil Affairs Manuals," the material they produced was designed to expand and contract at will. Yet competing motivations characterized the policy: historians' judgement of a building’s intrinsic aesthetic uniqueness was at odds with the army’s use of monuments as leverage for cooperation, and also clashed with the view of some of American political leaders that an object's survival mattered less than the act of selection, which demonstrated a capacity for liberal, democratic, “choice”.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0003
[Wilhelm Koehler;Monuments Men;Precision Bombing;Aerial photography;William Bell Dinsmoor;San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura;Vaucher Commission;Tedder Atlas;Tempio Malatestiano]
This chapter follows the Allied monuments’ policy through a major shift in its protective apparatus: from listing monuments to mapping them. As the “town” became the unit of architectural protection, new visual formats tied monuments to their urban situation and also seemingly offered more total control over protection, culminating in a set of annotated aerial photographs of the Mediterranean Theater, the “Tedder Atlas,” that gave visibility-based rules for abstaining from bombing. By 1944, many destroyed European city centers had come to resemble these maps, but with urban fabric destroyed and monuments left standing. This led WB Dinsmoor to wonder if he had performed “unwitting city planning.” The density of monuments on the maps did resemble the margin of error of a precision-bombing raid, showing a calibration of protective device to criteria ofinaccuracy. Yet there was no such thing as avoiding a monument precisely. Within the complex techno-human apparatus of war, maps of monuments performed at the micro-scale—as background knowledge affecting a bomber’s destructive habitus. Lists of monuments in contrast became precise paperwork for “monuments men” surveying destruction on the ground. The chapter concludes by comparing how this combined protective apparatus shaped architectural destruction in Italy, France and Germany.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0004
[Marcel Breuer;Paris;Tripoli, Lebanon;Headquarter architecture;Julian Huxley;Unesco Courier;Infrastructural development]
UNESCO’s founding in 1948 confirmed the commitment of liberal internationalists to monument protection as a path to world governance, although its first decade offered few practical opportunities for deploying the broad transnational view and wide scale of operation that had been achieved during the war. This “bridge” chapter focuses on one aspect of UNESCO’s monuments work that re-legitimated a large-scale transnational thinking between 1945 and 1960—infrastructural planning. The earliest postwar heritage missions addressed monuments as sites along regional routes of modernization, and UNESCO’s work on mass-media encouraged an analogy between travel and image networks. Even the modernist design of the organization’s Paris headquarter, UNESCO House, by a team including Marcel Breuer, Pier Luigi Nervi and Le Corbusier, echoed this recasting of all monuments, new or existing, as territorial technologies rather than static object.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0005
[ICCROM;Jean Gabus;George-Henri Rivière;Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres;Bernard Fagg;Harold Plenderleith;Paul Coremans;Jos, Nigeria;Franco Minissi;Mick Wright]
Between 1960 and 1975, UNESCO’s heritage experts completed over a hundred fifty missions to states formerly controlled by colonial powers, visiting museums, monuments, and conservation laboratories in order to modernize them. Intended to trigger transfers of technology, funds, and expertise, these missions in fact transferred an entire architectural “heritage” left by empires—museums and monuments—into the hands of new nation-states. This chapter examines the architectural apparatuses and techniques that facilitated this transformation of imperial heritage into national cultural property, through case studies in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The chapter moves from the small to the large scale of intervention. Conservation scientists developed an arsenal of chemical tools and opened the Jos Center for Museum Technicians. Curators designed object-displays for modern museums and restored the proportions of open-air sites (including at the Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres). Architects invented principles of spatial continuity applicable to buildings of all types, from the one-room huts of Dahomey to sprawling monumental complexes of India or Afghanistan.These efforts aimed to conserve the cultural state bureaucracy itself, by averting a more revolutionary approach to decolonization which may have produced destruction. In a process of “culturalization”, even architectural decay was reframed as a productive process.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0006
[Integrity;Nubia;Coyne & Bélier;Pietro Gazzola;Cold war;Calculability;Drew & Fry & Happold;Monolithic architecture;Egyptian temples;Specuacularization]
The campaign to salvage and relocate the two massive rock-cut pharaonic temples of Abu Simbel from the rising Nile was a rare opportunity for an architectural preservation project to solve a problem of national image-making, ease cold-war tensions,andshowcase the workings of cultural cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Architecturally, the story followed the conventional arc of a design competition—though one never declared as such. Each scheme used territorial planning technologies to enact differing notions of “integrity,” an emerging international preservation norm. A French scheme for “damming” the temples was followed by an Italian proposal to “encase” them in concrete and jack them up hydraulically, and then a British scheme for letting them “drown” while purifying surrounding waters. For lack of funds it was a Swedish-American “cutting” scheme that was eventually adopted. The temples were dismantled with saws and re-glued by hand with sand and epoxy. This apparent violence done to the temples’ very monolithic nature was paradoxically promoted because it utilized local construction labor, which could also be spectacularized. Thus the more fundamental criteria of development discourse, such as calculability, were not only instantiated but given a wholly new cultural validity.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226522616.003.0007
[World Heritage Convention;Experimental Preservation;NGOs;Superstudio;Rem Koolhaas / OMA;The Campaign for Florence and Venice;Environmental Protection;Natural Heritage;Moholy-Nagy]
This coda spans from the signing of the 1972 World Heritage Convention to the present. While this watershed legal instrument codified and normalized many of the exceptional achievements of the previous four decades, it also marked the beginning of a new age in which assumptions about architecture’s value as a medium of global cultural governance have changed. Whereas in the middle of the 20th Century principles of tectonic, spatial and structural modernism were applied to monumental objects, conservation since has been characterized by a literal and figural “viscosity.” Financial rules for architectural salvage are more fluid; institutional settings more non-governmental and informal; natural threats and cultural destruction are lumped together as ecological risks; and the historicist architectural meanings that monument conservation was supposed to stabilize have been upended by aesthetic and discursive postmodernism. As the doctrinal line between modernism and historicism dissolves, new design practices even mobilize monument conservation to activist, vangardist, or humanitarian ends.