In 2011 the KB-Hall were in a devastating fire. Seeing the old building captured in flames evoked a lot of feelings. Not only were the architecture of the KB-Hall spectacular for its time, it somehow materialised a cultural memory common for Copenhageners and Danes.
Even though the hall didn’t function as a concert hall, due to its poorly acoustic or as a sports arena, it weren’t fit for modern sports activities. Newer the less nostalgic feelings blossomed. critics spoke in defence of restoring the building. A huge political drama unfolded and the end result were a delisting of the KB-Hall. It was no longer considered cultural heritage. But to understand the final political decision a couple of concepts arguments need to be explained.
To Arguments Used When Listing the Sports Arena
The first was from a architectural perspective:
– The architect behind it were Hans Hansen, and the building from 1938 were with its functionalist idiom an exceptional example of modernist architecture.
The second was from a cultural-historical Perspective:
– Beatles played their only concert in the building, and many other concerts followed for national and international performing artist.
In deciding to keep the listing or not the Danish Agency for Culture these arguments where considered. But one question announced it selves. Could the authenticity be preserved?
Authenticity as an Argument Part I
Cultural Heritage is somehow closely linked to the concept of authenticity and a question regarding the artefacts cultural-history value. Does the artefact possess a cultural-history value worth preserving, and if so is the authenticity still there? Are some of the questions being considered.
This comes apparent when looking at the argumentation that is reflected in the field of cultural heritage work in general. In the museums the argumentation is used when they are maintaining their collections. What to keep and what not, and what new artefacts to accept into the collections.
The same matter regards State and local government work with building conservation and preservation. A hidden economic agenda always underlining their decision making, but is never expressed verbally. Instead the arguments are centred on the concepts of authenticity. To understand this line of argument it is needed to understand the concept of cultural heritage.
Understanding Cultural Heritage as a Concept
Cultural heritage is a complex concept that is embedded in what Bernard Eric Jensen (2008) refers to as an identity-political field of conflict. This is due to cultural heritage always reflects a value for somebody.
for Peter Howard an artefact only becomes heritage, when it is considered as heritage. Thus, identification is all. Howard does not consider everything to be cultural heritage, but is stating that everything can become heritage (Howard 2003: 1-9).But why the great need to save everything for future generations?
Preserving For the Future
Arthur Danto believe that a feature of our culture is that we see things historically, and also ourselves. We believe we have a duty to save things from a historical perspective, that is, from what the future will see us.
But since we cannot know what the future will think, and we barely understand our age, this is an impossible task. He therefore believe it is our duty to preserve what will be meaningful for the future if the future is a later version of the now (Danto, 1999: 3-12). So theirs is no absolute truths, and objects do not contain absolute values.
As Howard is pointing out – People therefore are gathering objects considered cultural heritage for their own or other expected benefits, although these benefits may vary. People and their motivations define the cultural heritage and is thus a structure created to maintain our present the social order.
The creation and management of cultural heritage creates a cultural memory and thereby legitimize the contemporary social order. Therefore we collect for, ourselves rather than future generations. But we legitimize this cultural process by claiming we are doing it for future generations. There perishes thereby a euphemism.
Understanding the Argument of Authenticity
Now back to the argument about authenticity. For a given object to be considered as cultural heritage and therefore worthy of preservation the objects authenticity is always considered.
Is it still intact or has the object been restored in a manor so it no longer consist the authenticity. To have authenticity the object needs to be intact and still possess its originality, otherwise it will have lost its authenticity.
Authenticity as an Argument Part II
This line of argumentation is very much present in the case of KB-Hallen. The historic building burned down in September 2011 and unfortunately the building was not proper insured making a rebuild expensive.
Only half a year earlier the building got listed under protest from its owners. As a result of the fire a huge battle began on local, municipal and state level. What to do about the burned down building?
Many actors were involved in the case. Some wanted at first hand to restore the building, including The Danish Agency for Culture under advice from The Historic Buildings Council who is responsible for the listed buildings in Denmark.
Others wanted to use the opportunity to demolish the building to build more modern sports facilities. But in order to demolish the building it needed to be delisted.
A building can be delisted by the Danish Agency for Culture, if they consider the cultural heritage values has been lost. This may be the case when a building as KB-Hallen is burnt down to the ground or has been rebuilt so much that it has lost its architectural and cultural heritage value.
A Delisting Where Final
In the case of KB-Hallen many emotions were at stake and after two years it finally came to a close. The Danish Agency for Culture decided to delist the building. What is remarkable about this case are how the legislator’s is using the argument revolving the buildings authenticity in their decision making.
“The fire was in fact so powerful and destructive that a recovery will necessarily be a copy with new concrete structures and totally new interior. A very expensive copy. A cost that that will be out of proportion to the result.” (www.kulturstyrelsen.dk )
This case demonstrates how differently we understand authenticity as a concept, and how it is linked to the question of cultural-history value. At the same time it tells about the economic and political aspects of conservation work.
– Danto, Arthur C., “Looking at the Future Looking at the Present as Past”, CORZO, Miguel Angel, (red.), Mortality – Immortality – The Legacy of 20th Century Art, Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1999, s. 3-12 [10/192].
– Howard, Peter (2003): ”What is heritage?”, pp. 1-13, i: Heritage. Management, Interpretation, Identity. London & New York: Continuum.
– Jensen, Bernard Eric(2008): Kulturarv – et identitetspolitisk konfliktfelt, Gads Forlag