The Sempiternal Nature of Architectural-Conservation and the Unfinished Building and Drawing

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Conservation is today often interpreted as the preservation of a still-shot, an understanding informed by the belief that by displaying photographic memory of the past, it is possible to gain access to it. Naturalistic representation is unequivocal and presents the onlooker with a single meaning. The dominance of the photorealistic image as model for memory, should be challenged by undermining the notion that architectural representation is a portrayal of likeness, restoring its full potential as an iconic representation of presence.

A micro-historical study of the Renaissance concept of restoration, focused on Tiberio Alfarano's 1571 ichnography of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, offers an alternative paradigm in order to inform, critically, contemporary theory and the practice of the renewal of mnemic buildings. The hybrid drawing (1571) extends beyond the opera of graphic architecture, realizing a real effigy.

Alfarano factured a track-drawing, providing memory traces on the drawing-site, which, acting like a veil, bear marks of the building's presence within time. The ichnography makes visible a "hallowed configuration", conceived as a substratum for the imagination of conservation. This defines a collective daydreaming strategy, from which multiple authors can imagine possible futures. Ambiguity and polysemy inform the drawing, generating an equivocal space where unforeseeable inventions occur by the process of future predictions by recollecting memories. This invites merging multiple stories.

Grasping the significance of Alfarano's drawing, one begins to comprehend the mistaken belief in the primacy of photo rendering to access a building and conserve its essence. Any essence cannot be achieved through exact visual reconstruction, rather through a chiasmus of past and present form, expressing allegoric significance.

The retrospective and prospective character of the architectural-conservation process can be experienced through the intermediacy of hybrid-drawings directing the gaze simultaneously in two directions; a pre-existent condition engages in dialogue with future design. This is a condition absent from today's practice, where measured drawings and design drawings are often kept separate. Seen this way, architectural drawings could rejoin these two temporal conditions, through metaphoric or literal transparency, and allow for a real transformation within continuity of identity.



drawing, Architecture, time, conservation, imagination