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Objects of Nostalgia

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Summer Islam
Architectural Association UK
In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the British Empire rapidly began dissolving, English Heritage began marking out listed buildings. This listing assigned these architectures an identifyingnumber that elevated them in status above their other, more ordinary, counterparts within the city. This process of acquisition marks the beginning of the objects decay, signalling the end of their useful life and - in the case of the city -restricting any productive development.

If “nostalgia is a longing for a home than no longer exists or has never existed,”as the historian Svetlana Boym has suggested, then English Heritage’s collection exists on the scale of the city, illustrating a nostalgia for the architectural object that represents a greater significance than recognising the architectural value of brickwork. To list an element of architecture is to declare it culturally valuable as an artefact; whether it a window frame or building facade. The museum is a microcosm in which objects that have been forcibly removed from their place of origin are declared valuable by being placed behind a sheet of glass, which separates the viewer from the object and evokes that origin through this double remove. Within the terms of English Heritage’s listing, the city can only recall itself.

While nostalgia was once considered to be a curable disease, it now appears an incurable condition. Our longing for a time that never existed is represented across many forms of global culture. However, in the complex processes inherent in the curation of the city’s objects, both the artefact and building become potentially powerfully disruptive forces within the city. Through a consideration of the object of the Qibla Indicator and Sundial (1921,0625.1) in the British Museum's collection, my intention is to question English Heritage’s fascination with the architectural objects of London and demonstrate that in preserving these objects they also enable their decay. In order to understand these fascinations this dissertation examines two types of longing: that for the object removed from its origin; and of the city removed from its own past.

Summer Islam

Mark Campbell
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