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City Seminar: Gruia Badescu

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Architecture and ‘coming to terms with the past’: Post-war reconstruction in Belgrade and Sarajevo

In the aftermath of war, how does the work of architects relate to the memory-work and dealing with past processes that haunt post-war societies? This talk discusses the rebuilding of cities after war in the context of the changing character of warfare and the increased expectations for societies to deal with difficult pasts. Departing from studies that approach post-war reconstruction focusing on the functional dimension of infrastructural repair and housing relief or on debates about architectural form, I examine reconstruction through the lens of the process of ‘coming to terms with the past’. Building on the moral philosophy of Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, I discuss the potential of reconstruction to work through the past, and engage with key insights from three situations of rebuilding after different types of war: the rebuilding of Belgrade as the capital of socialist Yugoslavia after the aerial bombings typical of the Second World War; reconstruction debates in the same city after the 1999 NATO bombings, a high-tech operation, framed by NATO as a preventative, humanitarian intervention against a ‘perpetrator’ state; finally, rebuilding processes in Sarajevo, exemplary of Mary Kaldor’s ‘new wars’. I discuss the potentiality of architecture to engage with memory-work and the ethics of responsibility in post-war reconstruction and propose a typology of post-war reconstruction in its relationship to social coming to terms with the past.

The City Seminar Series this year, co-hosted by the Department of Geography and the Department of Architecture, will convene around the theme ‘Infrastructures of Memory’. The intention of this series is to explore a variety of techniques, technologies, rituals, performances and materialities of memory and remembrance, and how they may reinforce or subvert prevailing power relations.

This talk is part of the Infrastructural Geographies - Department of Geography series.

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