Monday, 7 December 2009

Week 8- Palimpsest/ Decipherment in Architecture

A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.
An object, place, or area that reflects its history: "Spaniards in the sixteenth century . . . saw an ocean moving south . . . through a palimpsest of bayous and distributary streams in forested paludal basins" (John McPhee).
A palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book that has been scraped off and used again. The word "palimpsest" comes through Latin from Greek παλιν + ψαω = (palin "again" + psao "I scrape"), and meant "scraped (clean and used) again." Romans wrote on wax-coated tablets that could be smoothed and reused, and a passing use of the rather bookish term "palimpsest" by Cicero seems to refer to this practice.
The term has come to be used in similar context in a variety of disciplines, notably architectural archaeology.

Extended usages
The word palimpsest also refers to a plaque which has been turned around and engraved on what was originally the back.
In planetary astronomy, ancient lunar craters whose relief has disappeared from subsequent volcanic outpourings, leaving only a "ghost" of a rim are also known as palimpsests. Icy surfaces of natural satellites like Callisto and Ganymede preserve hints of their history in these rings, where the crater's relief has been effaced by creep of the icy surface ("viscous relaxation"). They are characterized by fast projectile which penetrates the cold, icy crust. Inward flow of slushy surface causes the surface to retain this upflowing of water from the past.
In medicine it is used to describe an episode of acute anterograde amnesia without loss of consciousness, brought on by the ingestion of alcohol or other substances: 'alcoholic palimpsest'.
The term is used in Forensic science or Forensic engineering to describe objects placed over one another to establish the sequence of events at an accident or crime scene.
Several historians are beginning to use the term as a description of the way people experience times, that is, as a layering of present experiences over faded pasts.
Palimpsest is beginning to be used by Glaciologists to describe contradicting glacial flow indicators, usually consisting of smaller indicators (i.e., striae) overprinted upon larger features (i.e., stoss and lee topography, drumlins, etc).
During the opening credits of the film version[1] of The Name of the Rose, it is described as "A palimpsest of the novel by Umberto Eco".
Gore Vidal titled his 1995 memoir "Palimpsest".

Decipherment in architecture

Example of an architectural palimpsest in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Architects imply palimpsest as a ghost —- an image of what once was. In the built environment, this occurs more than we might think. Whenever spaces are shuffled, rebuilt, or remodeled, shadows remain. Tarred rooflines remain on the sides of a building long after the neighboring structure has been demolished; removed stairs leave a mark where the painted wall surface stopped. Dust lines remain from a relocated appliance. Ancient ruins speak volumes of their former wholeness. Palimpsests can inform us, archaeologically, of the realities of the built past.

Thus architects, archaeologists and design historians sometimes use the word to describe the accumulated iterations of a design or a site, whether in literal
layers of archaeological remains, or by the figurative accumulation and reinforcement of design ideas over time. An excellent example of this can be seen at The Tower of London, where construction began in the eleventh century, and the site continues to develop to this day.

Archaeologists in particular use the term to denote a record of material remains that is suspected of having formed during an extended period but that cannot be resolved in such a way that temporally discrete traces can be recognized as such.

Egyptologists use the word for texts and representations inscribed in stone that have been scraped away, either completely or partially, often with a plaster filling being applied, and then a new inscription carved on top.

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