Memorial to a Buried Village

[Image: From the project “Resonance, memory” by Bo Li and Ge Men, students at ETH Zürich].

An interesting new project by Bo Li and Ge Men, students of architecture at ETH Zürich, proposes a kind of buried chandelier to memorialize lost villages in Switzerland—architecture destroyed by landslides, replaced by light.

[Image: A “long section” from “Resonance, memory” by Bo Li and Ge Men].

From the 2012 International VELUX Award, where this project won first place:

Inspired by the many hiking trips that the two students from China have enjoyed during their studies at ETHZ, the entry is based on the idea of a hypothetical mudflow in the Swiss Alps burying a village. The project works with columns of transparent thermoplastic planted into the earth as a metaphorical representation of the former village. Sunlight is being transmitted through the columns into the subterranean space, where they illuminate a poetic memory of the former rooms in the buried houses.

Visitors can thus walk around beneath the surface of the Earth, exploring buried rooms of light.

[Image: From “Resonance, memory” by Bo Li and Ge Men].

To a certain extent, the project brings to mind the odd memorial known as the Cretto di Burri, by artist Alberto Burri, in which an Italian village called Gibellina, destroyed by an earthquake in 1968, was replaced—or, rather, memorialized—by a field of poured concrete: “Burri covered the streets of Old Gibellina with concrete, preserving the layout of the blocks. Walking around his monument is unsettling. You’re not just standing on the gravestone of a city, but actually tracing the lines of its corpse.”

In Bo Li and Ge Men’s case, however, you not only can walk the plan of the old village, street by street and corner by corner, following the forest of “transparent thermoplastic” sticks that break the surface of the landslide to mark the positions of destroyed buildings; you can also do so from below, where glowing houses illuminate an artificial cavern carved into the landslide.

[Image: The plan of the old village, seen from above, from “Resonance, memory” by Bo Li and Ge Men].

I will admit, meanwhile, that when I first saw the image that opens this post, I actually thought it was a proposal to mark the remains of villages submerged by the construction of dams—deliberately flooded towns still known to reappear when droughts pull water levels to seasonal lows. You could thus dive down into murky lakes and reservoirs and see the shining cages of houses sacrificed by an earlier generation, a radiant architecture beneath the waves.

For a bit more information about the project, stop by the International VELUX Award showcase.

(Thanks to Luka Piskorec, the students’ teacher, for the tip!)

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