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Katherine Shonfield

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It's curious how frequently the time element in Sigfried Giedion's classic architectural history, Space Time and Architecture, gets left out. Last Monday's discussion on architectural time, organised by Artangel, the public art sponsorship body, sought to redress this.

Among the notions that emerged was the remembrance of things past, and its embodiment in culture. The peculiarity for those working in the tradition of Modernism is that just when it is imperative for architecture to express the spirit of the age it is forced to clothe itself in the trappings of the past.

But, paradoxically, it is the drive to make architecture address the past which is expressive of the spirit of the age.

In film this is clear. The reworking of the past, the time of our own, our parents', and grandparents' youth, is its major preoccupation. This does not make it old fashioned or retrogressive as a form - in fact, it is those films that try desperately to second-guess the future that seem quaint. They are transparent attempts to fulfil the immediate needs of the moment.

The public, it seems, never tire of dragging architects, screaming, back to the past. This is universally understood by the profession as a kind of cultural retreat, a burying of heads in the reassuring sands of what has been. But as in the film Back to the Future, this urge also serves the need of a society, as much as the individual, to revisit and remake the assumptions and forms of the past before they can reach maturity.

This is implicitly understood in the form of the musical installation Longplayer , which was the catalyst to Monday's discussions on time. Sited by the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf, it will play an infinite number of variations on a single theme throughout the course of the next thousand years. Not one will ever be the same.

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