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reconstruction essay

How to Write an Architectural Reconstruction Essay

June 2022



Article by Elizabeth Bankston

Article by Elizabeth Bankston

Elizabeth Bankston is our staff blog contributor and the mastermind behind our content marketing efforts. Having spent 6 years at the University of Richmond, she now puts to practice her leadership skills and humanities knowledge to show students how to study more effectively and successfully.

Born out of human curiosity, imagination, and the need to complete the unfinished, reconstruction has long since become an essential tool of historical science. However, the reconstruction of destroyed architectural landmarks is a fairly new domain. In the past, the loss of a significant structure was seen as a chance to create something modern in its place to accommodate current needs and reflect contemporary tastes. Even today, many architects and urban planners believe we should build for the future, not the past. They argue that conserving the heritage landmarks is an honorable endeavor, but not once the edifice is wholly destroyed. Resurrecting it makes little sense if there is nothing left to preserve.

However, other essay writers and opinion leaders, like an architectural historian and educator Calder Loth, call for the accurate rebuilding of noteworthy lost monuments, stressing this activity’s emotional, aesthetic, scholarly, and educational significance. Provided, however, that such an undertaking will be sufficiently researched and funded to ensure authenticity. In short, a lot must be written before the first stone will be laid anew. This post will look into the general rules of writing about authentic reconstructions.

What is reconstruction?

In its broadest meaning, reconstruction is a process of restoring something that no longer exists or is damaged to its original, complete state. For example:

  • linguists reconstruct common ancestor language by analyzing similarities of several contemporary languages
  • forensic facial reconstruction recreates the physique of a person from their skeletal remains
  • archeologists reconstruct ceramics using fragments of pottery retrieved from the dig
  • investigators reconstruct the crime scene using eye witnesses’ accounts

Still, despite the variety of modern meanings, this activity is genetically connected with architecture since the very word “reconstruction” can be translated as “building anew.” Since monuments and buildings such as temples and palaces have been of great cultural and spiritual significance, representing shared values of the communities, reconstruction has been a common practice for centuries.

However, historic reconstruction now means, first and foremost, conservation, that is, preserving monuments in the current form or restoring the earlier known state. Ways of determining what that earlier state actually was is a subject of serious scientific research.

How to Write an Essay on Reconstruction

Reconstruction is a fascinating interdisciplinary topic. As a student, you might get a reconstruction-related assignment even if you don’t major in Architecture and design. You can be asked to write an essay about reconstruction for your history class, as a part of a community heritage preservation program, or within an artistic workshop.

Just as architecture has many dimensions, reconstruction can be approached from multiple angles: engineering, technical, economic, societal, political, legal, historical, religious, ethical, artistic, and so on. Before you even start planning your essay, you must first understand what aspect of the reconstruction will be your focus. For example, it can be:

  • a reconstruction proposal essay nominating a site for the rebuilding, describing techniques that could be used to restore or conserve the original, and your vision to integrate the reconstructed heritage into the current context
  • a descriptive essay detailing a current state of a monument marked for reconstruction
  • an analysis essay dealing with the technical side of the reconstruction
  • an expository essay exploring the sources that inform the reconstruction (measurements, descriptions, surviving images, material evidence, such as salvaged pieces of inner furnishing, etc.)
  • a case study that analyses a finished reconstruction from a cultural/political/artistic perspective

For example, here is an approximate outline for a proposal essay you might write to suggest a local monument in your area for reconstruction:

  1. Introduction providing background information about the monument and incorporating your thesis statement (“The X building needs reconstruction” or “The Y method must be applied for the X reconstruction”)
  2. Justification for reconstruction (Why this monument must be replicated as opposed to contemporary reimagining or repurposing of the land? What is its cultural/historical significance?)
  3. What physical remnants exist?
  4. What must be built?
  5. Materials that inform the reconstruction (surviving original specifications, images, measurements, similar structures in this historic region, etc.)
  6. Architectural and engineering method, techniques, and materials your propose
  7. Sources of funding (municipal budget, federal budget, private fund grants, fundraiser, etc.) 
  8. Conclusion cementing the relevance and viability of the reconstruction

As with any other writing project, your reconstruction essay will include several stages:

  1. Choosing the topic

Select the subject you are passionate about or something you know well already. Reconstruction is a complex topic, and you will spend a fair amount of time researching it. It makes sense to choose an object you can access, so you can visit the site or at least have a VR tour. Seeing the landmark in the context of a larger environment is crucial for understanding the reasoning behind the reconstruction.

  1. Conducting the research
  • Visiting and studying the monument can be seen as a part of the research. No matter how many materials are available online, take photos. Note anything you find interesting, whether it’s a sweeping vista or a piece of decoration. 
  • Your research will also include a copious amount of archive work. Dig for anything you can find: photos, reports of cornerstone ceremony, mentions in memoirs, political and social context of the era, etc. Reconstruction is akin to the investigation – every puzzle piece is priceless.
  1. Outlining

With oodles of notes and impressions you must have by now, outlining is vital to keep focus and plan your work. Otherwise, you will never finish on time.

  1. Writing

Write your essay section by section, but don’t bother starting at the very beginning. The introduction and conclusion are better written last when the main body is drafted – at least in the rough.

  1. Editing and proofreading
  • Once you have finished, read your text for structure and coherency. Does it make sense? Are there any gaps? Are there “slow” places that you can dispose of? Amend your text accordingly.
  • Then, read again, this time for accuracy. Double-check if the information you give is true. Make sure you cite all your sources – quoted or paraphrased. 
  • The third and final reading should be devoted to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just as one dislodged brick sticking out of the wall, an out-of-place comma can ruin the impression.

Reconstruction Essay Topics

Examples of successful authentic reconstruction that you could write about are few and far between. Still, they do exist, providing rich material for academic research and essay writing. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

  1. Temple to Church: How Christianity adopted and appropriated the pagan architecture
  2. Reforms of Renaissance papacy: Making Rome the capital of Christendom through architecture
  3. Timeline of Yellow Crane Tower reconstructions in Wuhan, China
  4. Controversial reconstruction of Stoa of Attolos in Athens, Greece: plausibility vs. authenticity
  5. Phoenix out of ashes: the resurrection of St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy
  6. The symbolic meaning behind the reconstruction of the Abbey of Montecassino in Italy
  7. Many faces of St Paul’s Cathedral in London: Timeline of reconstructions
  8. The reconstruction of Gothic Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium
  9. The reconstruction of Frauenkirche in Dresden and its symbolism for reunited Germany
  10. The reconstruction of Kommandantenhaus in Berlin and its place in the historic quarter of the city
  11. The archeological investigation for the rebuilding of Fortress Louisbourg in Canada
  12. The reconstruction of Greenwood Plantation House, West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
  13. The reconstruction of Dartmouth Hall in Hanover, New Hampshire: a case study of replication vs. improvement
  14. The reconstruction of Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia
  15. The reconstruction of McLean House in Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia
  16. The reconstruction of the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois
  17. The role of Historic American Buildings Surveys in heritage preservation (on the example of St. Michael’s Cathedral reconstruction in Sitka, Alaska)
  18. Making our past into our future: Reconstruction and active care for the historic environment
  19. Forensic Architecture project: A case of practicing reconstruction as evidence in crime investigation
  20. VR 3D reconstruction of historical sites for gaming purposes

The Reconstructions Essay Example Word by Word

Many masterpieces we cherish today were built on the ruins – expressly to replace them. For example, many temples predating the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt were destroyed to make place for the new, reformed complexes. To create Michelangelo’s version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Sandro Botticelli’s and Pietro Perugino’s frescos were destroyed. A similar fate betided Constantine’s Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (intentionally replaced by Papal Basilica) and Saint-Denis in Paris. Does it mean they are lost forever? Not anymore, thanks to the computer-generated archeological reconstructions.

If a significant edifice was damaged or destroyed by war, natural disaster, or the passage of time, people would strive to restore it as a symbolic gesture: a return to order and affirmation of what they hold dear. Similarly, when conquering lands, new overlords would establish their dominance and mark their ownership of the land by altering buildings and monuments to represent their values. For example, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was converted from a Christian church to a mosque by surface-level architectural means: for example, adding minarets, removing bells, altar, iconostasis, and mosaic iconography from the walls. Likewise, many pagan temples were earlier “repurposed” as Christian churches by disposing of statues and moving altars inside.

We are lucky to have merely an inkling of what the originals looked like, as images and descriptions have survived for only a handful of the destroyed landmarks. For others, all we have is our educated guess. Since the “newer models” that replaced the lost monuments have become priceless heritage in their own right, deconstruction and excavation are also out of the question. Yet we have measurements of the site, comparative analysis of the similar surviving landmarks – pools of data collected bit by bit by architects, archeologists, and scholars.

That is why historically informed digital reconstruction is the tool to finally unpack many monuments hiding in one like nesting dolls. By restoring many layers of renovations and reconstruction, we can look into the past and see a particular moment not set in stone forever, but the way people inhabiting that moment would see it – dynamic, in motion, looking forward, and building for the future. We can track the progress of architecture, society, aesthetic tastes, materials, and technologies. With the help of computer reconstruction, we can place the building in the context of the economy, logistics, politics, and mores of the era. However, more importantly, we are able to digitally resurrect something that can no longer exist in a physical form.

Art and architecture were always used to assert political power, mark one’s reign, and leave a legacy that outshines or replaces the predecessors’ legacy. Unfortunately, many splendid monuments of old were lost to the “reconstruction” as it was earlier understood, while new, bigger, and more splendid versions of churches and palaces were built to replace “old and shabby” landmarks, effectively destroying the original. Yet, with the help of computer-generated reconstruction, we can give them a second life and learn from our past – both its great achievements and even greater mistakes.

While writing an essay about reconstruction might take more preparation and research than other types of academic papers, it is quite manageable for a college student. We hope this post was helpful and inspired you to an ambitious writing project!

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