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Reconstruction Definition - The Frankfurt New Old Town was reconstructed

What Is a Reconstruction?

In architecture and monument preservation, a reconstruction is the largely prototypical restoration of destroyed architectural monuments, historical buildings, or parts of buildings. Reconstruction of buildings has been a common practice for centuries.

For the most part, buildings and ensembles that are important to culture and history are reconstructed, often after being destroyed by war, decay, structural changes (such as demoulding), or demolition. Many reconstructed buildings are now cultural monuments themselves, and some are even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Reconstructions are particularly common in cultural regions shaped by war losses and post-war demolitions of cultural assets, for example in Poland and Germany.

When restoring individual parts of an existing building, for example a facade after removal of the stucco, one speaks of partial reconstruction.

In the GDR (the former country of East Germany), which existed from 1949 to 1990, the term “reconstruction” was used in the building industry for the renewal, refurbishment, or modernization of buildings without monument preservation intentions or reconstruction plans. This term was also used for a long time in the English-speaking world.

Types of Reconstruction

Approaches to reconstruction differ in the degree of fidelity to the original and in the sensitivity of implementation. Art historian Georg Mörsch describes architectural reconstruction as a “scientific method of extracting sources to re-create things that have gone under, regardless of the time that has passed since then”.

A true-to-original reconstruction of a building is carried out using the same materials and the same methods as much as possible after extensive source research. Existing original components are often used. This type of reconstruction is mainly found in culturally and historically significant buildings, which then serve as objects for viewing and are used as museums.

A modeled reconstruction is a reconstruction that does not meet the requirements for fidelity to the original, possibly due to a lack of sources. A typical example is when only facade plans or image documentation of buildings are preserved – the rest of the necessary information is “reinvented” as much as possible by comparing it with similar contemporary objects.

A replicative reconstruction is a reconstruction which, for functional reasons, serves to imitate (not interpret), preserve, or produce a historicized note, mostly with a different use.

A didactic reconstruction occurs in connection with the development of archaeological excavation sites into theme parks. The last few decades have seen increasing reconstructions of striking ancient structures such as city walls, city gates, temples, villas, and forts.

Experimental replicas belong to archeological projects, where old techniques and materials are used during the building process.

Reconstruction Challenges

Regardless of which type of reconstruction is done, there are some recurring challenges and questions.

  • The original structures were often only incompletely documented, so the missing parts have to be re-thought.
  • The building materials or construction techniques that were used to build the original are barely or not at all available or not financially practical. The same applies to craftsmen who still (or again) master the historical techniques and materials.
  • The original would not correspond to the space requirements that the new use of the building will make. The inside of the building will be restructured and subdivided.
  • The replica would not meet today’s static safety requirements, making it necessary to change the structure.
  • The original or replica with the same interior structure would not comply with the statutory safety regulations, such as in fire protection or escape routes.
  • The original or replica would not meet today’s legal requirements, e.g. complying with the Energy Saving Ordinance or accessibility requirements.
  • If implemented exactly, the original would no longer meet today’s comfort requirements (air conditioning, electrical engineering, sanitary installations), so the original design is adapted accordingly.

Legal challenges apply mainly to original architectural monuments, as these cannot be re-planned, and any alterations must be made to the existing building. Monument protection laws mostly grant freedom with regard to the regulations, so that a largely true-to-original preservation of old buildings is made possible.

Sense of Reconstructions

Building reconstruction often stirs controversy among architects and preservationists. There are different motives and values. Overall, the question of reconstructions in prominent urban locations engenders significantly more conflict than remote buildings or open settings like experimental or didactic reconstructions.

In the public debate it is mostly assumed that historical or historicizing architecture is perceived by the average citizen as more appealing than contemporary architecture. The loss of the “beautiful old” is seen as an aesthetic diminution, and historically created or poorly closed building gaps are experienced as a permanent “flaw in the cityscape”.

Reconstructions in Frankfurt

One of the most famous reconstructions in Frankfurt is the Dom-Römer Quarter. By 2018, the city reconstructed ten historic buildings that were destroyed in the World War II air raids on Frankfurt on the site of the former Technical City Hall. These include the Goldene Waage, the Red House, the House of Young Esslinger, the Goldenes Lämmchen, the House of Old Esslinger, the House of Little Nuremberg, and the House of Zum Rebstock.

Other reconstrutions in Frankfurt are the St. Paul’s Church, Goethe House, and the Goethe Tower.

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