When we demolish, we also sever the connection to our past. Mo Michelsen Stochholm Krag has, however, no intention of letting our collective memory pass away unnoticed.
In Bedsted, a town in the Danish district of Thy, the neighbour is moving in. And the neighbour is a plantation. Associate Professor Mo Michelsen Stochholm Krag and his colleague, Associate Professor Stefan Darlan Boris, are in the process of introducing the forest into the town, allowing culture and nature to merge and transform Bedsted from a railway town into a “forest town”.
This transformation reflects the processes in the area in which Mo is a mainstay. It also aptly reflects his research. His research method is called research by design, signifying that the research actively intervenes in the world on which it focuses.
The unseen heritage
In Mo’s case, this heritage has often been buildings and places in Thy he visited during the first five years of his life. He now visits these places from his base in Aarhus, to implement what he calls controlled decay in places where the decay may sometimes appear uncontrolled and omnipresent.
‘There are plenty of ways and methods of preserving our heritage from the distant past. However, we lack both funds and methods for preserving buildings from the recent past – the majority. This is the unseen cultural heritage’, says Mo Michelsen Stochholm Krag.
But Mo sees it. And, what is more important, he works with it in new ways. His interventions are not necessarily big gestures that restore the buildings to the highest possible level. They may also be temporary.
‘In this case, the aim is to expose the historical layers that make up a building and boost them before the house disappears. It is about stretching or compressing time before it is entirely gone. It may be projects that run over ten years, where something transforms into nature through controlled decay, or it can be a one-off event.’
The interventions make the local residents aware of the place. And this provides an opportunity for exchanging personal memories. Which strengthens our collective memory.
In Denmark we demolish
To provide an example: Mo has been working with three buildings on the main street of Hurup, in Thy. Here he encapsulated an imprint of the gable of a building located there, in order to create a connection to the past.
The necessity of striking a blow for our collective memory does not least result from the Danish eagerness to tear down buildings rather than transform them.
‘Here in Denmark the tradition of transformation is weak. We are quick to tear down and construct new buildings. That is what our entire building industry is geared for. There is a marked contrast to South Africa, where I have been working on several occasions. Down there, labour is cheap, whereas materials are expensive. For this reason their approach to building transformation is more developed. In Denmark, the opposite is the case.’
From three to ten floors
Mo mainly works in Thy, where migration away from the area and lack of resources make renovating unprofitable. It is, however, also a big problem in the larger towns. Paradoxically, there it is the high value of the land that makes renovating unprofitable.
‘The municipalities may well sell properties for demolition, even if a preservation-worthy three-story building is located on it. For you can make more money tearing down a building and constructing ten stories on the same plot.’
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