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The Legacy of Alois Riegl: Material Authenticity of the Monument in the Digital Age

Alexandra Harrer

School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China


ABSTRACT  The Austrian art historian Alois Riegl (1858–1905) revolutionised the European concept of the monument and paved the way towards the codification of the historicity of artefacts at the international level. Today, conservation work and relevant terminology still build upon the principles first outlined in his work Der moderne Denkmalkultus (1903) more than a hundred years ago. And yet, modern information/communication technologies have long challenged the idea of ‘age value’ (Alterswert), of a monument possessing value simply because it shows ‘signs of age’ (Altersspuren), through their ability to digitally recreate historical architecture in its original form and thereby to transcend the boundaries of time and space. This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities for monument preservation in the 21st century in the light of Riegl’s thoughts on how to perceive (‘visualise’) the past. It investigates the validity of Riegl’s theories in the context of today’s virtual reality/ies at a theoretical level, and their potential for advancement in preservation theory, expanding on historical thoughts rooted in 18th and 19th century preservation theories. By analysing Riegl’s commemorative values, stratigraphic picturing of history’s material debris, and fear of formlessness, this paper explores digitisation as the driving force for change in attitude from traditional, restrictive thinking to a modern way of thinking which is receptive to new technological developments, including, for example, exploring augmented and virtual realities as a means of achieving the sensory aesthetic experience required by age value.


KEYWORDS  Alois Riegl, Austrian (Habsburg) Empire, modern conservation theory, material authenticity, age value (Alterswert), digital environment, virtual reality/ies, aesthetic experience, stratigraphic picturing, conjectural recovery

Received 1 Apr 2017, Accepted 31 May 2017

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