Academic journal article Visible Language

Palimpsest: The Future of the Past

Academic journal article Visible Language

Palimpsest: The Future of the Past

Article excerpt


Palimpsest is a manuscript or parchment that has been reused by writing over the original writing, sometimes more than once. Scarcity has driven this practice of reuse. Here it is expanded into an appreciation of a representation that reveals past and present as the core for the study of heritage preservation by design. This paper seeks to propose a framework that applies tradition and modernity with the aim to preserve heritage and acquire modernity simultaneously. It begins by evaluating the meaning of heritage and its value, followed by introducing 'palimpsest' as a design concept framework for future design practice. In this study, 'palimpsest' examples from different fields are examined. Relationships between heritage, design value, culture and identity are identified with the intention to enrich the quality of design as a complete perspective on which to build future heritage. This study concludes with a concept framework that presents patterns that demonstrate practical ways in which heritage preservation can complement and support contemporary life.

We usually like to keep the present in the present tense, only note that today, but it was not today, but yesterday that things get changed.

Gore Vidal, Palimpsest, A Memoir

It's the notion, for instance, behind a persistent argument in Berlin, where architects, city planners and citizens periodically squabble over how much of the footprint of the Berlin Wall should be remembered along the streets of the quickly redeveloping united city

Richard Lacayo, Walk on the wild side

Fostered by political change and economic advancement in the process of modernization, the world undergoes inevitable change. The rapid modernization of the world extracts a price - that of loosing linkage with past history. Issues from the emotional debate on preservation of the remains of the Berlin Wall to the recent (2006) demolition of Clock Tower at Star Ferry Pier1 in Hong Kong despite the public's strong protest, caught the attention of the world. These issues reflect not merely the conflict between development and conservation, but demonstrate a more assertive approach to preserving symbols of our roots. The threat of loosing the history of self, society and the future generation must be envisaged. Preserving heritage, however, is not merely about historical architecture; aspects of mankind personally, socially and culturally also have to be considered.

This report is an attempt to highlight the heritage value for mankind and to examine the relationship between heritage and design value - to expand awareness of heritage preservation in design practice. It focuses on investigating the concept of 'palimpsest' through examples in our daily life, with an intention to allow new design opportunities to emerge.


The word 'heritage' is naturally associated with 'antique,' 'traditional,' 'old' and 'outdated.' Actually, what is heritage? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines heritage as follows. "Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage is both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration."2

Cultural heritage is the numerous events, significant moments, sequences of life, childhood and old age, work and travel, love and war, chains of thoughts and images, together with accumulated experience and imagination, both tangible and intangible. Significant cultural heritage evokes special meaning and reflects particular customs and beliefs for us as individuals or members of a community. Natural heritage is also an important part of a culture; encompassing the countryside and natural environment, which serves as an important component in a country's tourist industry. Industrial heritage is the monuments from that culture and also the manifestation of technologies of the time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.