Ducumentation - an incentive for conservation

Documentation

 

            Architecture is all around us, but to the majority of the public it is the least known of all the visual arts. The urban structure and the architecture within which we live, work, and play, make up a kind of museum in which various works of art from all periods in history are displayed. The styles, designs, ethnic and cultural forms, the names of the architects and contractors who designed and built them are known to few. The anonymity and lack of awareness of the importance of these structures which surround us, make conservation and development unpopular and quite problematic. Such difficulties are even greater in controversial places such as Jerusalem. This article describes the importance of documentation as an incentive for conservation and its contribution to the understanding of the different styles and periods of Jerusalem’s architecture as described in a thirty year study by architect David Kroyanker.

 

            Public interests in the conservation of buildings and of urban planners specifically, lay mainly within the confines of the Old city of Jerusalem until 1967. This was in consistency with the plans of the British Mandate of the 1920’s which described in great detail anything related to the Old City but almost nothing concerning its outskirts.

 

            Between the years of 1948 and 1967 Jerusalem was divided. Thus, development focused mainly on the south western part of the city. Once reunited in 1967, Jerusalem evolved into a metropolis with a great potential for development. It was then that the initial conflict between the need for wide scale development and historical conservation evolved. The main issue of dispute was over the idea of development as replacing what exists versus the idea that development can also mean conservation of what exists. Entrepreneurs who were supported by the planning authorities were in favor of development at the cost of conservation and raged wars against those few architects and planners who offered conservation and restoration plans as an alternative to destroying older areas.

 

            In the absence of documentation those who were in favor of conservation could not support their argument. During those years I was a member of Jerusalem’s urban planning committee. As a member I developed plans for the conservation and restoration of the city as an alternative development plan. Literature published by the planning authorities at that time became an important starting point for changing attitudes about the way urban development should materialize.

 

            Documentation was divided into two main topics of investigation: the architecture of the Old City and the architecture of the newer city surrounding it. Greater emphasis was placed on the outskirts of the old city because barely anything was known about this ‘young’ (around 140 years old) architecture. Out of the six volumes published, five dealt with the townscape and architecture of the city around the ancient walls of the Old City. Only the sixth volume was dedicated to the documentation of the Old City as almost all of the buildings in it were documented and also officially protected from being destroyed. The main methodology of the study included in-depth fieldwork of the neighborhoods and buildings of the city, providing a collection and documentation of photographs, plans, graphs, sketches and any written information on the subject.

 

            The architecture of Jerusalem reflects a continuation of different periods in history and a variety of styles from many other places.  In time, many of the original architectural expressions were either replaced or distorted. Since the aim of the project was to raise public consciousness of these works of art, graphic sketches of how the buildings once appeared were provided. An additional ramification of the documentation of the architecture of Jerusalem actually helped save some of the architectural values that were in danger of extinction. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this study was that through documentation, destroying what existed became as non-politically correct (as difficult) as killing hostages held in a foreign land once they have been exposed on camera.

 

            The study also reached the emotional element by adding little stories and anecdotes about some of the buildings. The historical and social context were illustrated by revealing information such as the name of each house, the name of the architect who designed it, the purpose of the building and who lived in it. The personal stories also enabled an understanding of the different ways of life and economies of each period.

 

            Throughout the years documentation became a way of life for me and my wife and partner Leora. I collect the information, photograph in the field, and write the texts; Leora is responsible for editing the texts and completing the missing details. Through our joint efforts we have published six volumes at two year intervals. These volumes in turn have provided the base for fifteen other books. 

 





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