It is curious that I stumbled on the dilemma of historic preservation while travelling in Europe. My brief return of to the old civilization will end in Rome, the place I adore for the beauty of its ancient sites and for that special light they give to the eternal city. Could we call Rome eternal if its old architecture — now considered monuments — had not been preserved? When does one building turn into a monument and stop simply being something functional? Take the Colosseum: did it become a monument after the Roman Empire stopped using it, or did it achieve that status after the Christians abandoned it? Should the Colosseum be repaired, knocked down or kept the way it is? And what about the Ponte Milvio, one of the nicest bridges in Rome, for that matter? These were just a few of the thoughts I had when reading Larry Summers’ quote in “Against Historic Preservation” by Alex Tabarrok: “How…could our society have regressed to the point where a bridge that could be built in less than a year one century ago takes five times as long to repair today?” The phrase hides the ignorance revealed by this short piece. Perhaps some other time we can discuss the changes in civilizations’ values over the course of history. But even in this case, we can turn our eyes to Rome again, since — up until a short time ago — it was well-known that Romans loved to preserve everything and build nothing. Was this out of a sense of past glory, laziness, incapacity or simply desire to preserve beauty? Until Renzo Piano built Auditorium in 2002, nothing had been changed in Rome since the stadiums for the 1960 Olympic Games. Piano built his Parco della Musica right on the site of the Olympic village, triggering an interesting discussion that is at the heart of Alex Tabarrok’s aforementioned piece.
Also published on Medium.