The Persistence of Memory


A primary hindrance to the advancement of architecture in our society is the absence of an understanding and correct awareness of ‘identity’. This flawed interpretation in regards to architectural endeavors creates erroneous methods of reconnaissance and connection with architectural compositions which can be completely misleading.

The first mistake is replacing ‘repetition’ with ‘continuity’. Repetition can be defined as explicitly or partially recycling an architectural work with the intent of imbuing meaning into the action; petrifying a something which perhaps at a specific time and place had a valuable standing in our memories with the belief that through reiteration that value can be restored or reinforced.

But the essence of life is being part of the flow that is life; just as Heraclitus[1] -one of the great philosophers in the time before Socrates, believed the world to be not a collection of things, but rather the result of incidents or metamorphosis. His favorite aphorism was that everything is shifting and transforming, nothing is tranquil or sedentary; one cannot enter the same river twice as the river is constantly being reinforced with fresh waters.

In contrast ‘continuity’ while maintaining authenticity of production, inherently possesses growth and life. Of course, the process of identifying the correct direction is limited to society’s adventitious awareness; which leads to the question: where does this concern and interest in the concept of identity arise?

 In order to avoid threats to their survival, humanity is dependent on a collection of indicators and consequently is condemned to precisely identify them. The structure of our minds is such that we need a medium through which to understand the world around us. Consequently, people become attached to anything which holds any trace of familiarity and that which is strange will invariably be a source of disquiet.  Regardless, what endows each person with an individual identity is not derived from the physical shell.

In his thesis about human understanding, John Locke[2] argues that if we sever one of our fingers, we will not lose ourselves. The body is not ‘self’. Therefore from where does the essence of identity originate? What is it that allows an individual to maintain the ‘self’ while experiencing growth and all the changes which these experiences sustain?

If it can be supposed that one acquires amnesia and loses all of their memories, such that those memories and that past is no longer theirs, their existence would be such as David Hume[3] explains: “contrary to physical changes, it is our memories and our past which gives the meaning of ‘to be’ to ‘existence’.” An allegory which Locke makes is that if an individual wakes up with another’s perception and memories, he will transform into a different person.  As Luis Bunuel[4][5] said “You must try to forget your memories, even parts of them, in order to realize that it is our memories which define us and without which our life would not exist.” Conclusively, the importance of the search for identity and the essence of existence and survival are homologous in that identity is a factor of identification attached to meaningful reflection. Herein lays the fine difference between continuity and repetition for those who are concerned with this issue in architecture. There are individuals not few in number, who simply rely on previously acquired wisdom; the nature of which is questionable due to cultural riffs and diminishing importance of theoretical thought, and who perceive identity as nothing more than the reiteration of time old habits and traditions. Yet perhaps, when faced with a work which they feel ‘estranged’ from, the reason lies in their lack of insight regarding that same dynamic flow of cultural harmony.  Instead of humbly accepting this reality and endeavoring to understand current circumstances, they often simply deny the problem exists. It is due to this issue that much superficial struggling occurs which brings nothing but disorganization, pollution and mental disarray. Identity is used as an excuse to convey objects which maintain no relation to mankind and their connection with the world.

No matter how much we shy away from the terror of the unknown and deny global intercourse, we cannot suppress the impact of universal progress. Accordingly, in this vociferous arena of contemporary life, survival depends only on an efficient reaction and symbiotic existence which is directly related to our knowledge about the past, present and our connection to the world. 

The solution does not lie in blind repetition of superficial symbols and past works. This thoughtless duplication either of our own past architecture with the excuse of identity or of western architecture with the excuse of universality or modernity, transforms the result into a ridiculous parody which needs little specialization to understand the inherent lack of worth. It must be acknowledged that identity is obtained through comport, customs, beliefs and ethics, and in a direct sense from national memory.

Bourdieu[vi] believes that there is always an ‘other’ which an individual uses in comparison to identify oneself resemblances and differences. Taking into consideration identity factors such as religion, language, gender, etc. diverse configurations of identity can be imagined which cannot be separated from their relevancy to time and space.

Hadi Mirmiran’s[6] was of the opinion that understanding the hidden thoughts behind each architectural work will result in an understanding of identity. He believed that if we could truly rule the ideologies of our time or if a clear ideology exists for this day and age, perhaps architecture could redefine its identity with more clarity and ease.

 With the aim of distinguishing the correct method of identification and generating a familiar connection with an architectural work, the collection of diverse and unique factors must be explored and this investigation must be multifaceted and not limited to color, form and shape; rather discovering attributes that through their rejuvenation and continuity contain merit and can be optimized.

A necessity exists behind each structure, and in regards to architectural structure, human needs are significant from any approach. More importantly, they are not restricted to creating a shelter and housing the physical aspects of life, rather they encompass issues such as challenging thought, growth and potential. With the progress of history many needs have remained unaltered, some have changed and others have disappeared. As a response to these needs, past methods are repeated or new and optimized solutions are developed. Symbols can be incorporated as a familiar sign and even used as a pleasant and effective aspect of design if not obtrusive of the user’s daily life. However, if an element proves ineffective or superfluous and is simply mandated as an invalidated repetition, not only will it be powerless as an agent of identity, it may act in opposition. In order to avoid repetition and uniquely express ancient values, are critics -with their emotional thought patterns or subjective concurrence, sufficiently endowed with substantial and symbiotic knowledge?

[1] Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher, 535 -475 BC

[2] John Locke, English Theoretician, 1632-1705

[3] David Hume, Scottish Philosopher, 1711-1776

[4] Luis Bunuel, Mexican Director and Film Maker, 1900-1983

[5] Pierre Bourdieu, French Psychologist and Philosopher, 1930-2002 [6] Hadi Mirmiran, Persian Architect, 1945-200