Grief in Architecture

There is  little doubt that buildings of cultural and historical significance need to be restored and protected for the future generations, both as monuments and documents of the past. History however is not always a tale of successes, glorious discoveries, pride and celebration. Every country has a piece of its past that is hurtful, shameful or regretful and also the architecture to bear those memories.

When dealing with that reoccurring struggle in architecture, communities, government and architects search for local solutions despite the global aspect of the problematic. Is it possible to create a framework and strategy for overcoming that sensitive issue or is the historical and cultural background too important with its nuances to allow for a ubiquitous solution?

After the 2011 attack in Oslo, leaving 77 dead and hundreds of injured people, the nation was shattered. One in four Norwegians knew someone directly affected by the event. Therefore, when the discussion started on how to renovate or at all destroy the affected ministry buildings in the center of the city, everyone had an opinion. The buildings, which before the attack were already an architectural monument of modern architecture, are now restored to their previous condition with the argument that terror will not change or disrupt the life and order in the country. Despite that until today, the future of the central buildings of power in Norway is still in discussion with many people opting for their complete destruction and construction of a new structure in their place.

Recently a forgotten building from the mountains in Bulgaria made its entry in mainstream media as it hit the covers of multiple books on neglected monuments of the soviet regime and even as a site of a music video for a popular dutch rock band. It impressed both with “alien” architecture and horrifying condition. Located on the peak Buzludzha, the former House-monument of the Socialist Party has been abandoned since the fall of the regime and the sudden international interest became the just the spark to ignite a passionate discussion between young and old nationwide as to how to treat the monument. One half argued for its complete renovation and re-opening to the public and the other half preferred to see it destroyed, since it denotes a shameful and difficult past. With authorities still juggling responsibility over the already dangerous building, a young architect took matters into own hands and offered a VR experience of the carefully measured and recorded building, offering a glimpse into a possible restored monument and incorporated museum. That action seems to have weigh the odds in favour for a sensitive preservation, with both sides slowly agreeing on the value of the building, but any real action from the authorities is yet to come.


World War II left devastating scars on cities and people all over Europe with the thematic of the Holocaust being especially sensitive. Central documents of those events are the Death Camps across Poland, Germany and Austria, which despite being partly destroyed, remain until today open for visitors to remind of the horrific events which took place there. Architecturally however, the concentration camps were built as temporary structures. If we want them to last for the generations, we would have to seriously support and even re-construct them, however perverse this reconstruction might sound.

9/11 left an emptiness in a city full of wonder and London erected a steel column for every victim in the 2005 tube attacks. For each of the cases the community and authorities found different ways to deal with the burden of their own history. What they all have in common however is the passionate discourse that surrounds their future. It is in these discussions, that not only the future of a building, but also the future of a community and an attitude towards grief is nurtured. By formulating an architectural approach, the people are enabled to formulate their grief and heal.




One thought on “Grief in Architecture

  1. […] Commentary – this approach is characteristic for places associated with a very cataclysmic part of history and towards which the contemporary generation has a strong attitude. It is the category with greatest demand on creativity and the outcome is almost always largely discussed as critical places to learn about humanity. Some good examples are Ground Zero or the Holocaust Memorial. […]


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