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Stone, SH., 2017.

The Task of the Translator

Output Type:Conference paper
Presented at:Creative Cities
Venue:Porto, Portugal
Dates:24/1/2017 - 27/1/2017

Throughout history, places, buildings and situations have been reused and adapted: they can survive as cultures and civilisations change. The 'already built' provides a direct link with the past; it is a connection with the very building bricks of our society. The existing tells the tale or story of how a particular culture evolved. A simple building may depict a certain moment in time; it may relate the particular sensibility of specific era. A more complex collection of structures and spaces may have a much more elaborate story to tell. Jorge Silvetti describes this direct link with the past as part of our "fundamental urban condition". He links the physical survival of particular elements of the city with the spiritual survival of our civilisation, and it is this visibility and durability of the physical man-made environment that are testimonies to the societies that produced them. "At the risk of sounding too partisan and biased, I would say that even in historic times documents were not always available, and buildings (monuments, vernacular constructions, and public works) are themselves important texts, often providing the first and most lasting impression of a culture." Walter Benjamin likens this act of translation to that of fragments of a broken vessel which are incorporated into a replica of the original: "...thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language...". Consequently it can be argued that buildings, structures and situations that are reused represent both the culture that originally constructed the building and also the society that remodelled it.

This paper will examine the process of translation that occurs when contemporary cultural values are imposed upon remodelled buildings. It will, through the analysis of a number of case studies, discuss how value judgments inform our interpretation of the past.