independent school for the city

School's Out! #30 with Robert Bevan

Friday 27 January 2022

For the first School's Out! of 2023, we had invited journalist, author and heritage consultant Robert Bevan, to talk about his latest book "Monumental Lies - Culture Wars and the Truth about the Past" on how statues, heritage and cities have become the battleground for the culture wars.

The past is weaponised in culture wars and cynically edited by those who wish to impose their ideology upon the physical spaces around us. Holocaust deniers use details of the ruins of the gas chambers Auschwitz to promote their lies: ‘No Holes; No Holocaust’. Yet long-standing concepts such as ‘authenticity’ in heritage are undermined and trivialised by gatekeepers such as UNESCO. At the same, time, opposition to this manipulation is being undermined by cultural ideas that prioritise memory and impressions over history and facts.

In Monumental Lies, Robert Bevan argues that monuments, architecture and cities are material evidence of history. They are the physical trace of past events, of previous ways of thinking and of politics, economics and values that percolate through to today. When our cities are reshaped as fantasies about the past, when monuments tell lies about who deserves honour or are destroyed and the struggle for justice forgotten, the historical record is being manipulated. When decisions are based on misinformed assumptions about how the built environment influences our behaviour or we are told, falsely, that certain architectural styles are alien to our cities, or when space pretends to be public but is private, or that physical separation is natural, we are being manipulated. There is a growing threat to the material evidence of the truth about history.


18:00 - 19:00 Doors open, drinks, bites and tunes
19:00 - 20:00 Talk by Robert Bevan + Q&A
20:00 - 20:30 Short film, selected by Jord den Hollander
20:30 - 22:00 Drinks, bites and tunes

About Robert Bevan
Robert Bevan is an architecture writer and heritage consultant based in London. He is the former editor of Building Design and a writer on national newspapers in the UK and Australia. His latest book Monument Lies: Culture Wars and the Truth about the Past looks at the way that the historic environment is manipulated for political ends. It is not just about statues and includes an account of how the Right, including Holocaust deniers, use architecture to their own ends. His starting point is that architecture and cities can be the material evidence of history and that rather than removing contested sites and lying monuments, they should be transformed at scale from site of honour into sites of shame. 

The book builds on Robert’s previous 'groundbreaking study of cultural heritage in zones of conflict'’ (New York Review of Books), The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. His new book examines the failures of UNESCO in this regard,  the rise of a heritage-military complex and why architecture should be part of genocide early warning systems. It questions the prioritisation of memory studies over historical fact. 

His consultancy work specialises in area-based analysis and has included projects with a number of Stirling Prize winning practices.