Nonuments to the past

The Nonument database is saving forgotten 20th-century buildings

The Transgas Complex, a member of the Nonument database of uncelebrated 20th century built forms (Courtesy Ondrej Kohout/MAPS)

Nonument is committed to not only recording but celebrating the 20th century’s most important non-monuments. Founded in 2011, the multidisciplinary artist and research collective has amassed a record of built spaces that stand, if barely; forgotten by time through decay, technological or political changes, Nonument is preserving them even as they fall out of favor in a changing 21st-century society. 

Rather than present “a glorified collection of obscurities” or focus purely on architectural styles, founders Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga seek to develop a deeper understanding of public space and art, and how politics shape these spaces in our world today. In partnership with Mapping & Archiving Public Spaces (MAPS) project, the collective has a goal of cataloging more than 120 forgotten sites around the globe and bring them back into the public eye. 

A concrete house with two silos in the center

The Bankya Residence in Bulgaria, a member of the Nonument database. (Courtesy Emil Iliev)

Created by the Museum of Transitory Art, MAPS shares many of the goals of Nonument: its mission “aims to identify, map and archive public spaces, architecture, and monuments which are part of our cultural heritage, but are not yet identified as such.” And that’s where Nonument began.

NONUMENT01 was a response to the demolition of a Brutalist icon, the McKeldin Fountain in Baltimore. A decision made with limited public engagement or input, the fountain had been an important gathering point for protestors and creatives, and the visual centerpiece of McKeldin Square. Upon its removal in 2016, Lisa Moren, a professor of visual arts, enacted the first art installation of Nonument, debuting an augmented reality app that allowed users to recreate the fountain on their screens, and interact with memories like protest signs and koi fish to discover their stories. The app and its launch event at the site continued the legacy of the lost monument and its role within the city, setting a precedent for Nonuments of the future.

The database is just one component of Nonument. Case studies on architectural theory and live art, and performance events like Moren’s, are also an integral part of the collective’s mission, making it more than just an encyclopedia of degrading buildings. While the act of listing the monuments breathes back a certain degree of life, critical discourse and real-life opportunities for interaction with the listed structures completes a circle of study and renegotiation with the space they occupy—aligning with the overarching goals of the group. 

A tower with octagonal canopy

The Rafut Villa in Slovenia (Courtesy Danica Sretenovic/MAPS)

From nuclear power plants in Austria to stone sculptures in Serbia, the database is set to become a comprehensive collection and research resource for the 20th century, and continue to unearth the stories that matter, and rewrite the rules for sustainable management of our cultural heritage. 

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