Cronocaos: An Alternative Approach to “Preservation”

Cronocaos: An Alternative Approach to “Preservation”

Belen Butragueno (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain), Javier Francisco Raposo (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain) and María Asunción Salgado (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7555-9.ch005


This chapter questions the traditional approach to preservation as it was historically undertaken. It is based on the approach followed by Rem Koolhaas and his Office OMA-AMO, in the exhibition “Cronocaos,” at the 12th Edition of Venice Biennale (2010). The authors will show how globalization has had a homogenizing impact on the concept of preservation. There is an unequivocal need to find a new system to mediate between preservation and development. OMA proposes to focus on “what to erase” and not “what to keep,” avoiding pre-existing assumptions and working with a “tabula rasa beneath the thinning crust of our civilization.”
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In order to fully understand the context of the subject, the first step is to review the history of preservation. Miles Glendinning (2013) considers that, historically, the concept of conservation has been related to the possible exploitation of the past for useful modern purposes. For this author, it is not a coincidence then, that the first law of preservation was defined in France, in 1790, a few years after the French Revolution. In the Middle Ages the practice of preservation is unstructured and incoherent. The 18th Century reflected a period with many competing ideological factions in the modern history of the Conservation Movement, very much related to modern nationalism. [In the last two Centuries, there has been an effort to propose a more international perspective, even though many sectors were concerned about a possible loss of authenticity with the globalization of the issue. Glendinning considers that yet, “conservation” as we know it today, is closely tied to the Western Cultural sphere and it has somehow come to an end with the 20th Century. He thinks that the last two decades have begun to display signs of severe disorientation. The parameters have radically changed and the whole concept of preservation should be revisited.

If we focus on the Western tradition, which is the one certainly referred to by Rem Koolhaas, after the French Revolution, the next crucial moment was in 1877, in the UK, were there was a second preservation proposition. Between these two moments, very important inventions took place (e.g. cement, the spinning frame, the stethoscope, anesthesia, photography, blueprints, etc.). In Koolhaas’ opinion, “preservation is not the enemy of modernity but actually one of its inventions. (…) The whole idea of modernization raises, whether latently or overtly, the issue of what to keep (…) everything we inhabit is potentially susceptible to preservation”.

Figure 1.

Historic preservation as a modern technological innovation, Source: OMA, 2003


From 1790 onwards, the scale of what is preserved has become more ambitious. In that sense, Koolhaas considers that the repertoire of preservation has escalated to a point where it includes practically all typologies that make up the current environment. The arguments for preservation have become steadily more political over time, expressed now in the language of cultural correctness. He also remarks the decrease of the interval between the construction of the architectural object and the moment to be considered “preservable”, from two millennia in 1882 to mere decades today, and that interval will get shorter in the future. This fact, together with the temporary nature of certain constructions nowadays, will generate a two-speed preservation system. In his own words, “Preservation and construction are in fact twin phenomena, not opposites. They could be part of a single planning discipline that ultimately decides the duration of any construction”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Modernity: Term that denoted the renunciation of the recent past, favoring a new beginning, and a re-interpretation of historical origin.

Postmodernism: Movement that emerged as a kind of ethos against the cultural stagnations of its time, characterized by a critical culture and a permanent questioning of the established rules. It was an avant-garde method of putting forward the unexpected and the estranged against the dictatorship of the commonplace.

Preservable: Capable of being preserved.

Architectural Landmark: A building or representative place that is of outstanding historical, aesthetic, or cultural importance, often declared as such and given a special status ordaining its preservation, by an authorizing organization.

Preservation: The action of protecting and conserving and buildings, objects, landscapes, or other artifacts of historical significance.

Cronocaos: Concept that represents the simultaneous interaction between preservation and destruction in the last historical periods, with no apparent common criteria.

Globalization: The emergence since the 1980s of a single world market dominated by multinational companies, leading to a diminishing capacity for national governments to control their economies. Globalization is also a social, cultural, political, and legal phenomenon. In social terms, globalization represents greater interconnectedness among global populations but also leads to a standardization and an international uniformity at all levels.

AMO: A parallel and independent entity from OMA that focuses on pure theoretical, speculative, and experimental subjects, regardless of a previous commission or any engagement to the conditions of the global market.

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