With time, the city grows upon itself; acquires its own consciousness and memory. In the course of its construction, its original themes persist, but at the same time the city modifies and renders these themes of its own development more specific
Aldo Rossi [i]
The spaces portrayed throughout this book – the cinemas – are testament to a particular period of our history, as well as to a generation of architects, local and other, who contributed to constructing the image of our cities. If on the one hand, the more technical observer notices the details, the materials and the spectacular nature of the architecture, on the other hand, they also allow us to imagine the life that was lived and dreamt of there. In some cases, one could talk of an ideal for a society or style of life that no longer works – for example the case of the cine-esplanades: distinctive structures, whose design and construction arose from local culture, geography and climate, and are not found in any other part of the world. Others, in a more modest way, reflect an interpretation of the ideas of international architecture in the local context.
More than the splendor of the architecture, we are talking about public buildings inserted in contexts where they can acquire a more social purpose – to bring other cultures to their users, even the very memory of what spaces were. As art, the cinema itself brings the symbolism of a society that is eager to be modern. Paradoxically, we are currently faced with a race towards this modernity, leaving behind an important legacy.
Restoring them means not only recovering their architectural forms, but equally their functional forms [ii]: It is important to establish a dialectic between the future and the past among their new users, (re)creating experiences and memories and establishing links between the communities and the buildings designed to serve them.
In an increasingly global context, identities become more distinctive and singular. With advances in technology and the shortening of distances between countries and cultures, there has been a conspicuous and ever-increasing search for references that help us to understand the path that has been traveled thus far, and to plot the future. The transitory nature of contemporary society reveals our fragile and ephemeral nature as historical subjects and brings to light the search for elements that transmit the sensation of continuity and perpetuation – the processes of preservation comprise not just the physical and formal question, but also, and above all, the preservation of an identity, of the activity and memory of different social groups, turning it into a primordial element for promoting social well being, citizenship and sustained growth.
In Angola the legislation that establishes the political basis for heritage conservation has been in effect since October 2005 [iii], having been created to provide the State with instruments and the legal basis for the classification and protection of all the assets incorporated in Cultural Heritage.
The decree covers not only works considered important in the past (churches and castles), but defines as heritage all assets of significant cultural interest, such as national languages, historical, archeological, architectural, artistic and ethnographic documentary evidence, and photographic and audio recordings, amongst others, which reflect uniqueness, local memory and authenticity, and by their nature, deserve the protection of the State.
What makes our cities distinctive is precisely this heritage that translates the customs of their peoples, but also the spaces and buildings constructed along the centuries, the accumulation of references from other epochs and other lives. It is also that which unifies communities – a unity which is always the product of differences (regional, ethnic, social, ideological, religious, etc.), but which should be accepted in its plurality. To know our past and preserve its memory and culture should be a prerequisite for actions in the present. And it is by knowing how those who preceded us behaved, in the most varied situations, that we can act critically, whether or not we copy them in our actions. To reflect on memory is to cherish the past and its legacies, it is to be subject to the construction of history, and this is a basic prerequisite for exercising citizenship.
To reflect on the importance of the conservation of historical heritage, means thinking about the concepts related to the development of Modernity. Although rooted in earlier times, it was in the 18th century that methodologies began to be devised for the conservation and restoration of historic buildings, giving rise to the first laws on the subject. In 1965 ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) was created to regulate this activity.
The drawing up of these documents was important, among other aspects, for the technical definition of Heritage – tangible or intangible assets, natural or cultural, that hold value for any society, and for this reason are worthy of being preserved. Its symbolic significance encompasses all the products of “human thought and creation”, that is, all that which sustains a specific culture and identity, and which differentiates us from one another.
Even so, it is essential to state that the implementation of the policies and procedures of conservation needs improvement and more education and awareness, at various levels. In a young society, coming out of a war in which many structures were wholly or partially destroyed, reflecting on heritage, on what should be restored and demolished, must be part of the process of building a national identity.
i. Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City, Edições Cosmos 2001, p. 31.
ii. Here I am referring not only to restoring them to their previous purpose, but also the restoration of the structures with new uses, which do not damage the memory of the spaces: Museums, libraries, house -museums, schools, etc.
iii. Executive Decree No. 94/05 – Law No. 14/05 of October 7, 2005, National Archive, Luanda
Published at ANGOLA CINEMAS, Walter Fernandes & Miguel Hurst, 2015