Building - Emotional Entanglements


All buildings over time, develop positive or negative cultural values as society attributes memory and meaning to material and form. This contributes to a sense of civic ownership and connection. The mere sight of a building - a former home, an old trysting spot, or a hated work place – can be an instant memory-jerker. Equally the sheer familiarity of a street, an unconscious sense of a particular degree of enclosure, its sunny side, a familiar turn, can create a rootedness in a place and an affiliation with the local and its community (Kevin lynch, 1960 as cited by, Bevan page 26, 2016).


Some like Goodman argue that "Buildings seldom have 'meaning' in any obvious or simple way: they are just there. …. they 'do not describe, recount, depict or portray' They are neither like novels, plays or operas, which narrate, nor like paintings or sculptures that can represent. Buildings occupy space. They are much bigger than we are and we can seldom see all of them at once, and they are made of materials that are not in themselves significant (that is, they do not have value as signifiers in the way that words, for example, do in a play or novel)"(Hirst, page 190. 2005;Goodman and Elgin, page32. 1988).


However, Ruskin and Bevan characterise the majority of those involved in social redevelopment, when they argue that, “buildings gather meaning to them by their everyday function, by their presence in the townscape and by their form. They can have meaning attached to them as structures or sometimes, simply act as containers of meaning and history” (Bevan page26, 2016) and that “(...) the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity” (Ruskin, Wheeler and Whiteley, page 11. 1992).


For a post conflict community, this sense of place has fundamentally changed. Many of these once familiar buildings which subtly reinforced a sense of place and belonging, are now imbued with traumatic meaning, and represent a complicated and contrasting set of post-conflict emotions.


For those living in the post-conflict community, and depending on their affiliation with violence, these buildings echo very different meanings and hold a very different set of memories; they could be feared and reviled by some or respected, welcomed and even loved by others.


To leave these buildings unrecognised in ethnically diverse communities riddled with post-conflict emotional entanglements, renders any reconciliation effort more fragile, and therefore more susceptible to failure and manipulation, sparking further violence.


Image: Edinburgh by Author