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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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Memory, whether personal, local or national, is a new certainty, now undeniably a Good Thing. Objects are housed, buildings and streets preserved not for aesthetic reasons, but on the assumption that the embodiment of memory is always beneficial. Our notion of memory, though, is selective. We have forgotten that quite recently the material encapsulation of memory - mementoes - was in disfavour, and not just for the aesthetic reasons championed by contemporary minimalists.

A recent Spanish publication on model apartments is a reminder of Ettore Sottsass' 1972 project, the New Domestic Landscape. The attempt to house all the accoutrements of home into flexible containers mounted on wheels is familiar. In Sottsass' case they are 'massive and brutal', the accepted aesthetic of the time. But his rationale is striking on two counts. The first is overtly political. The brutality was there to detach the user from any sense of ownership - the aim is to create something so ugly that the users are 'sufficiently distanced and disinterested for the environment not to matter to them'. This is an all-but-forgotten insight into the mysteries of the quasi-universal adoption of Brutalism during that period, and more particularly into assertions that the style was somehow inherently status-free and democratic. The second point is that for Sottsass, this distance from ownership must go hand-in-hand with the obliteration of material memory. 'Memory ought to stay as memory, without having to be materialised in emblems, so that we can start each morning with a new consciousness of existence'.

This is the architecture of John Lennon's Imagine: from here, a utopian impossibility. It reminds one of a long-forgotten and noble hope, now, ironically itself a memory, buried in the materiality of our cities' unlovely blocks.

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