Andrew Herscher


On his book Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict

Cover Interview of August 01, 2010

The wide angle

Trained as an architect and an architectural historian, I was led to re-think destruction when I began to survey its remains in Kosovo for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

For the Tribunal, as for most of destruction’s interpreters, destruction comprised a representation of something else, something that occupied a different level of value, significance and conceptual coherence.  For the Tribunal, destruction represented the actions of the alleged perpetrator on trial.  For scholarly disciplines, destruction represents the social, political, cultural or ideological dynamic that the discipline in question knows how to study.

Coming to destruction as a historian of architecture, however, I was struck with it as a form of architecture, a kind of architecture-in-reverse, and so possible or even necessary to understand via the particular interpretive protocols of architecture.

Most important to me is the imperative to acknowledge architecture as irreducible to its various contexts—as emerging from but also somehow different than those contexts, as in some ways specific, particular and distinctive in itself.  This acknowledgement leads to an understanding of destruction as, like architecture, a form of cultural production, formative of the identities, agencies and contexts that seemingly bear on it as causes. 

I argue, then, that destruction should not be approached as a mere surface expression of supposedly deeper contexts and that its analysis shouldn’t rest on mere “contextualization.”  Destruction instead ought to be subject to critical interpretation, I suggest, just like architecture and any other cultural form.