The Basilica of San Vitale is the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture. Its golden mosaics are thought to be the finest in the world. The building has stood for over a millennium and its golden tiles…
…they’re not the ones you see here.
These have existed since 1961 and they occupy the public consciousness as tacky, tasteless and – God forbid – kitsch. They adorn the columns of a cookie-cutter, no-nonsense, utilitarian office building which houses the chambers of local government. Rather than channelling Gustav Klimt, the impression is more that of tinsel hanging on a weedy pot plant at Christmas time.
“Precisely the reason we should preserve it!” Argues Dick Watson, chairman of the Alliance of Public Conservation. “We need to preserve it like our grandfather’s malfunctioning watch, our mother’s tacky jewellery chest and our dad’s box of old Playboy magazines.” He’s standing inside the very building he‘s trying to protect, appealing to the members of the house to preserve this architectural time capsule. “Speaking of Playboy, do you know how much the first issue of Playboy goes for today?” Asks Dick. Without waiting for a prompt he informs the house “Ten-thousand dollars! That’s twenty-thousand times its cover price of fifty cents. The cultural value of this building is in the same vein. We cannot pull it down!”
The members deliberate. The process in intense and involved. They reach a conclusion.
“In light of the economic situation in which the state finds itself,” begins the leader of the government, “the offer put forward by Acommodo Hotels Group International to develop this site is too advantageous to refuse. As such, the building will be razed to make way for construction of a new high-rise, mixed-use hotel complex.”
Six months later, the old building is no more. Some of the little golden tiles are reclaimed and made into souvenir pendants for the few people who care. The pendants are cute and cheap – the kinds of things that mums forget about in their tacky jewellery chests.
Even Dick Watson forgets the old building eventually. Everything is forgotten, eventually.