ICON, Fall 2004
Like many in the field of preservation, I have often wondered at just what point a work of human genius becomes a monument. Is it at the moment when its foundation is aid, or long after its creator or patron has passed into the otherworld, or is it sometime in between? Obviously, many works were conceived and commissioned to make a statement and stand the test of time—the myriad triumphal arches that dot the European landscape, the Parthenon in Athens, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Clearly, the builders of Roman Pompeii, the Inca fortress of Machu Picchu in Peru, or Mesa Verde in the American Southwest, however, never dreamed that one day, their dwellings, shrines, and storehouses would become landmarks of universal cultural value. Yet these sites have become monuments due to the volumes they speak about the cultures that created them. In our not-so-distant past, a building—or even suite of buildings—often had decades if not centuries for its architectural or cultural merit to be considered. Today, however, visionary works of architecture—those worthy of monument status based on their innovative form and engineering—are built and razed in the blink of an eye. Could we, if asked, predict which of our architectural accomplishments will be treasured by future generations, should they survive the test of time? How do we influence what stays and what goes, and will history agree with our rendered judgements? This issue, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Justin Davidson examines the plight of modern buildings in a modern world—those works not old enough to elicit sympathy or awe, but just old enough to seem dated and out of mode (see page 22). "The only defense against the mindless purging of our recent architecture," he writes, "is to make a lot of noise, an activity that [at the moment] is solely dependent on a scattered, decentralized network of activist groups staffed primarily with volunteers." We are living in a rare moment in time, one in which we have the power to pick and choose the monuments of the future. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. This issue, we have added a new section, "Inside WMF." For those of you familiar with the work of the World Monuments Fund, it will keep you posted on projects currently under way—more than 100 at last count—some of which you may have personally funded. For those of you new t o our organization, it will provide a behind-the-scenes look at WMF and its mission to safeguard humankind's cultural heritage, as well as a sneak preview of sites you will be hearing more about in the future.