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Architecture and Fire, A Psychoanalytic Approach to Conservation

Posted on November 08, 2019 by Alison Fox

This book deals closely with fire. The nature of this element and our perception of it are ambiguous: fire is both good and evil. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard speculates that fire must have been the first object of reverie. The child of an early civilisation must have contemplated silently in front of flames, which is an attitude towards fire that is also witnessed today. Bachelard also reminds us that our knowledge of fire is not only limited but also taken for granted. We mainly learn about it through prohibition, from the elders. Architecture and Fire is therefore an attempt to compile information about fire, both as an element and a concept, through the engagement with sources from diverse disciplines aiming to illuminate our scattered and obscure knowledge of it. 

Architecture and Fire opens and closes with Black Umbrella, a 16mm film triptych depicting the burning of the Crystal Palace in 1934, the flying bomb raids in Central and East London in the 1940s, and the fire at the Houses of Parliament in 1958. All three films are made with discarded archive material that was discovered accidentally in a disused fire station in London. Black Umbrella touches on themes central to this book including the role of archives in the preservation of memory and the destruction of buildings by fire. It also signals the breadth of contemporary discourse on the concept of the archive.

As the title clearly suggests, this is a book on ‘architecture and fire’, a topic that has sadly received unprecedented attention in recent years. Every city in the world has at some point been scarred by a catastrophic fire incident. The fire at Grenfell Tower in London, at Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, in the outskirts of Athens, at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro or at Notre-Dame in Paris are just a few recent accidents that have not only shocked audiences worldwide but also awakened an interest in reassessing our understanding of how architecture, the urban landscape and societies together remember and respond to the continual risk of fire.

Finally, Architecture and Fire engages with two disciplines that are not traditionally studied alongside one another: architecture and psychoanalysis. It offers a reading of architectural conservation through Freudian psychoanalysis and specifically through the drives theory. This interdisciplinary approach aims to reassess key theoretical paradoxes and inconsistencies associated with conservation.

Stamatis Zografos

Author, Architecture and Fire, available as a free download

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