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Designs of Destruction

The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century was the most destructive in human history, but from its vast landscapes of ruins was born a new architectural type: the cultural monument. In the wake of World War I, an international movement arose which aimed to protect architectural monuments in large numbers, and regardless of style, hoping not only to keep them safe from future conflicts, but also to make them worthy of protection from more quotidian forms of destruction. This movement was motivated by hopeful idealism as much as by a pragmatic belief in bureaucracy. An evolving group—including architects, intellectuals, art historians, archaeologists, curators, and lawyers—grew out of the new diplomacy of the League of Nations. During and after World War II, it became affiliated with the Allied Military Government, and was eventually absorbed by the UN as UNESCO. By the 1970s, this organization had begun granting World Heritage status to a global register of significant sites—from buildings to bridges, shrines to city centers, ruins to colossi.
          Examining key episodes in the history of this preservation effort—including projects for the Parthenon, for the Cathedral of St-Lô, the temples of Abu Simbel, and the Bamyian Buddahs —Lucia Allais demonstrates how the group deployed the notion of culture to shape architectural sites, and how architecture in turn shaped the very idea of global culture. More than the story of an emergent canon, Designs of Destruction emphasizes how the technical project of ensuring various buildings’ longevity jolted preservation into establishing a transnational set of codes, values, practices. Yet as entire nations’ monumental geographies became part of survival plans, Allais also shows, this paradoxically helped integrate technologies of destruction—from bombs to bulldozers—into cultural governance. Thus Designs of Destruction not only offers a fascinating narrative of cultural diplomacy, based on extensive archival findings; it also contributes an important new chapter in the intellectual history of modernity by showing the manifold ways architectural form is charged with concretizing abstract ideas and ideals, even in its destruction.

347 pages | 8 color plates, 123 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2018


Architecture: History of Architecture

History: European History, History of Ideas

Media Studies


"Designs of Destruction is an account of the media and material cultures underlying the designation and construction of monuments from the early 20th century through the 1960s. Through deft analyses and nuanced interpretations of archival materials, Allais argues that monuments were 'made,' conjured as much from bureaucratic and diplomatic paperwork as they were built from stone, sand, and aggregate. . . . Call it what you like: architectural history of preservation; media history; institutional history of architectural preservation; or media history of international architectural governance. No matter the designation, this is a book for the ages."

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Lucia Allais points out in no uncertain terms that monuments were recast as much to justify the obliteration of the old 19th-century and earlier buildings around them as to manufacture support for the post-war theories of urban design. She therefore very cleverly brings together the histories of modern architecture and of monument preservation. . . . Rarely does one come across a book as novel as this one. It covers immense tracts of ground.”

Times Higher Education, Book of the Week

"What is a monument? Whereas the nineteenth century raised this issue at a mostly national level, the twentieth century addressed it on a more global scale. In Lucia Allais’s remarkable study, cultural exchanges, international diplomacy, and above all conflicts play an essential role in reshaping a category clearly constructed at the intersection of architecture and politics. Her book is not only commendable for its in-depth analysis of key episodes such as the role played by monument preservation in World War II bombing strategies. It explores new ways to write architectural history as genuinely political and social."

Antoine Picon, Harvard University

"Designs of Destruction brilliantly intertwines and so profoundly reconfigures heretofore separate histories of both modern architecture and monument preservation. Themes of internationalism and bureaucracy connect deeply-researched chapters on World War II bombing protocols, postcolonial African museum design, and other subjects. One of the most original books to appear in years, Designs of Destruction is for historians of architecture and heritage, plus specialists in cultural studies, technology and society, and international relations."

Daniel M. Abramson, Boston University

"Lucia Allais has written an extraordinary book, an account of monuments in modernity as they are laboriously assembled and then bombed into smithereens. Targeted and preserved, conceptualized, revered, disdained—Allais shows just how polymorphic these perverse stones can be. Interested in collective memory, recent architecture, international culture or public art? Read this."

Peter Galison, Harvard University

"Allais pulls back the curtain to expose the teeming network of anonymous bureaucrats and internationalist elites who, during the darkest hours of the twentieth century, re-invented ancient buildings into unifying symbols of common humanity. This critical exposé of how monuments, and the political sausage they flavored, were made is eye-opening. As Allais cleverly points out, monuments were recast to justify as much the destruction of the old 19th century world order around them, as to create the material evidentiary support for a new postwar geopolitical regime based on 'universal values.' A must read."

Jorge Otero-Pailos, Columbia University

"With the architectural object placed centre stage, and with an apt eye for both canonical figures and those who reside in the shadows of architectural historiography, Allais demonstrates the ways in which ancient monuments (with their complex temporalities and authorships) have been conjured into new forms of existence, in changing presents....In its erudite complexities, Designs of Destruction strangely reads as a page-turner."

Architectural Histories

"[Designs of Destruction] is the product of historical work that sees architecture as field rather than edifice and that forensically reconstructs a march of events in order to discern the microtechnique of construction....  Allais makes a compelling case for monument survival as a field at least as dynamic as modern architecture itself."

Art Journal

"Designs of Destruction is a well-re-searched, well-written, and engaging book that successfully bridges the gaps between architectural history, preservation policy and practice, and international relations.... a must-read for any scholar interested in alternative constructions of modernity and the global history of historic preservation."

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Allais’s discerning excavation of the material processes of canon-making andtheir residual effects (if not collateral) is a welcome addition to the field, not onlyfor those interested in the twentieth-century history of preservation but thoseengaged in any form of adjudication about what goes in to, and what is leftout of, the global and historical narratives we tell about architecture."

The Journal of Architecture

"Allais’s account deserves praise not only for its methodological originality, but also for the way it draws together a history that has otherwise been barely told."

Journal of Contemporary History

"Lucia Allais’s Designs of Destruction unearths the prehistory of contemporary global heritage, starting with the paradoxical return of the monument. . . . [this] history of the international techno-politics that remade monuments for the twentieth century and created a global heritage should interest diverse scholars of technology."

Technology and Culture

Table of Contents

Introduction: Monument Survival

1. “Wardens of Civilization”: Conservation and Diplomacy at the 1931 Athens Conference
2. “Battles Designed to Preserve”: The Allies’ Lists of Monuments in World War II
3. Unwitting City Planning: Maps of Monuments and the American Bombing of Europe, 1943–1945

Bridge: Let’s Visit UNESCO House

4. “Stones Also Die”: UNESCO and the Decolonization of Museums, 1960–1975
5. Integrities: The Salvage of Abu Simbel, 1960–1980

Coda: Viscosities

List of Acronyms
List of Archives


Modernist Studies Association: Modernist Studies Association--First Book Prize

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