Crumbled shells of mosques in Iraq, the fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11: when architectural totems such as these are destroyed by conflicts and the ravages of war, more than mere buildings are at stake. The Destruction of Memory reveals the extent to which a nation weds itself to its landscape; Robert Bevan argues that such destruction not only shatters a nation’s culture and morale but is also a deliberate act of eradicating a culture’s memory and, ultimately, existence.
Bevan highlights a range of wars and conflicts in which the destruction of architecture was pivotal. From Cortez’s razing of Aztec cities to the carpet bombings of Dresden and Tokyo in World War Two to the war in the former Yugoslavia, The Destruction of Memory exposes the cultural war that rages behind architectural annihilation, revealing that in this subliminal assault lies the complex aim of exterminating a people. He provocatively argues for ‘the fatally intertwined experience of genocide and cultural genocide’, ultimately proposing the elevation of cultural genocide to a crime punishable by international law.
In an age in which Frank Gehry, I. M. Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright have wide recognition and yet museums and temples of priceless value are destroyed in wars around the world, Bevan challenges the notion of ‘collateral damage’, arguing that it is in fact a deliberate act of war.
‘powerful’ – The Times
‘a must-read’ – RIBA Journal
‘The message of Robert Bevan’s devastating book is that war is about killing cultures, identities and memories as much as it is about killing people and occupying territory.’ – The Sunday Times
‘The idea of a global inheritance seems to have fallen by the wayside and lessons that should have long ago been learned are still being recklessly disregarded. This is what makes Bevan’s book relevant, even urgent: much of the destruction of which it speaks is still under way.’ – Financial Times Magazine
‘As Bevan’s fascinating, melancholy book shows, symbolic buildings have long been targeted in and out of war as a particular kind of mnemonic violence against those to whom they are special.’ – The Guardian
‘his narrative is compelling and convincing. This important book reveals the extent of cultural warfare, exposes its nature and, by helping us to understand some of the most terrible tragedies of recent times, give us the means and resolve to fight this evil. All who care must read this book and learn its lessons.’ – The Independent
‘powerful . . . Bevan’s book serves as a remarkably passionate but even-handed exposition of the neglected architectural heritage of places like Poland, Muslim Bosnia, Armenia, Tibet, Iraq and Cyprus . . . blends together architectural history with a journalist's instinct for a human story’ – Icon
‘Timely and original . . . In this indispensable and beautifully written first international survey of its type, Robert Bevan raises the importance of safeguarding the world’s architectural record.’ – Building Design
‘Mr Bevan’s text is brimming with detail and informed insight regarding the conflicts he covers . . . [an] excellent book’ – Art Newspaper
‘this absorbing study attempts to tease out meaning from these various vandalisms.’ – The Scotsman
‘Bevan sets down an astonishing litany of barbarism . . . The most lasting image in this sedulously researched, calmly furious book is that of a Sarajevo librarian, in August 1992, watching the National Library go up in flames. The air was filled with black fragments from priceless volumes: carbonised texts that were legible for a moment in eerie negative, before they turned to dust in his hands.’ – Scotland on Sunday
‘Passionate . . . original . . . he writes with powerful eloquence.’ – Neal Ascherson, author of Black Sea and Stone Voices
'This is a very important book.’ – Mortality
Robert Bevan is former editor of Building Design and writes regularly on architectural, design and housing issues for national newspapers. He lives in London.