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The Role of Monuments and Memorials

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Monuments and Memorials have been subject of many contemporary architects, such as Daniel Libeskind’s Ground Zero in New York or Lebbeus Woods’ building scars in Sarajevo, but Jesus Christ’s cross still remains the epic memorial.

Monuments and memorials can make a memory as solid as granite, or free it to soar, and they are dedicated to reminding the next generation, in hope that they will not allow such sacrifice to occur again and demand a peaceful world.

Dealing with the past or the spiritual ruins of a society that has survived a war continues to be shadowed by different reminders of the inhumane events that have been experienced.

The explanation of a shared past and the honouring of victims and martyrs through memorials represent a sensitive act for a society.

In different societies, the presence of memorials perhaps represents a vision that incorporates both remembrance and renewal.

In the introduction to the book Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade, writers Robert S. Nelson and Margaret Olin define the purpose of monuments tend something that tends to satisfy:
‘… the desire to commemorate, to mark a place, to represent the
past to the present and future, to emphasize one narrative of the past at the expense of others, or simply to make the past, past.’ (Nelson & Olin 2003: 2)

Nelson and Olin seem to suggest that memorials could serve different purposes such as commemorating, determining, representing, repaying or making the past, a past.

The abovementioned approaches represent valuable perspectives towards defining a memorial’s role, as it may relate to all of the victims, both combatant and civilian.

Why does a person sacrifice oneself, if not for overcoming a serious social situation, in order to create an opportunity for a new future, stripped from the past?

The sacrifice of oneself is done in order to terminate a certain way of life during a certain period, in order to start a new sequence of events.

If we bear in mind that a fighter fights to bring about change, then we understand the purpose of a memorial and what Nelson and Olin speak of when they call for letting the past be past and for embracing the change, now, in order to be able to live with new circumstances.

This claim is especially valid if we take into account the other act that eventually accompanies the construction of a memorial, which consists of its destruction.

Even though the memorial dedicated to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, built in 1926 by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was not based on their physical attributes, it was still toppled by the Nazis in 1933. (Werner 2000: 20)

Instead of choosing to represent the physical attributes of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Mies created a memorial consisting of many boxes, which symbolised the coffins of the dead. The boxes were made from used bricks that were reminiscent of the wall in front of which the couple was executed. (Sudjic 2005: 25)

Therefore, knowing that this memorial was impartial in its design, but based on the beliefs of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, its commemorative nature and subject was an obstacle to the Nazi regime that followed and the future they envisaged for Europe and the entire world.

Ultimately, memorials in their double-faceted existence (construction/destruction), instead of serving to bring the past closer to us, also are there to alert or inspire society on the changes associated with building the future of that society. This way, memorials largely represent a tool of social beliefs, serving the political goals of certain parties for acceptance by the public in a certain period.

What is the point of remembering one’s sacrifice with a monument if it fails to capture the circumstances and the crucial moment of sacrifice?

Monuments and memorials, at their best, contribute to present and future generations understanding and remembering horrific experiences that would provoke the forgiving and reconciling process.

They can contribute to a picture that makes known the truth regarding the horrific events that had happened so that the agonising violence is exposed.

This is crucial to the reconciliation process so that future generations will be informed – indeed terrified – and will collectively aspire to make impossible the need for such individual sacrifices to occur again.

Monuments can make a memory as solid as granite, or free it to soar, and they are dedicated to reminding the next generation, in hope that they will not allow such sacrifice to occur again and demand a peaceful world.

To achieve this, the elements of sacrifice must encapture by memorial objects.


Libeskind, Daniel, Breaking Ground, (London: Penguin Books, 2005)
Nelson, Robert S. & Margaret Olin, Eds, Monuments and Memory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003)
Sudjic, Deyan, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, (London: Penguin Press, 2005)
Werner, Blaser, Mies van der Rohe (Berlin: Birkhauser, 1997)
Woods, Lebbeus, War and Architecture, (New York: Princeton, 1993)

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