Alterswert in the concept of Riegl

Similar to historic value, Alterswert is an Erinnerungswert and not a Gegenwartswert. For this reason, Alterswert develops when a historic ob­ject has no practical meaning, when it has no more use value. Historic churches or residences may always continue to have use value, because they fulfill a need in the present.

Respect for the effects of nature is, according to Riegl, the culmination of the modern historic preservation movement because this value corre­sponds to a fundamental condition of human existence:

“Es ist vielmehr der reine, gesetzliche Kreislauf des naturgesetzlichen Werdens und Vergehens, dessen ungetrubte Wahrnehmung den modernen Menschen vom Anfange des 20. Jahrhunderts erfreut. Jedes Menschenwerk wird hierbei aufgefabt gleich einem naturlichem Organismus, in dessen Entwicklung niemand eingreifen darf; der Organismus soil sich frei ausleben und der Mensch darf ihn hochstens vor dem Absterben bewahren. So erblickt der moderne Mensch im Denkmal ein Stuck seines eigenen Lebens und jeden Eingriff in dasselbe empfindet er ebenso storend wie einen Eingriff in seinen eigenen Organismus. Dem Walten der Natur, auch nach seiner zerstorenden und auflosenden Seite, die als unablassige Erneue – rung des Lebens aufgefasst wird, erscheint das gleiche Recht eingeraumt wie dem schaffenden Walten des Menschen” (ibid, p 162).

This quote signifies that humans are moved by the cycle of nature. Each artifact is perceived as a freely developing organism in whose develop­ment intrusion is forbidden. The sole possible course of action consists of preventing the organism’s extinction. The modern human sees a part of his own life in a historic object and every intrusion into that object is felt as an intrusion into his own organism. The workings of nature, including its de­composing and destructive sides, have the same rights as the constructive activities of humans. This includes, as a consequence, a consciousness of one’s own morality as an awareness of one’s own mortality. The dignity of the historic object is determined, therefore, by the effects of nature that can be observed in it. In this way, for Riegl, human altruism finds fulfillment in respect for nature, which he saw as a trait particularly of the Germans (ibid, p. 162). Despite this nationalistically based interpretation, the sig­nificance of Alterswert lies in the fact that it can be understood as a de­mocratic value. Alterswert, in contrast to historic value or artistic value, can be perceived by everyone, not just by experts (ibid, p. 164).

With this in mind, the decay of historic objects is, for Huse, no loss of historic value, but rather a remarkable demonstration of the contemporary meaning of Alterswert, which – as the discussion of landscape architectural work with urban-industrial spaces shows – can be incorporated into appro­priate design concepts. For this reason, Huse characterizes Latz’s concept for the Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord as a stroke of luck for historic preservation (cf. Huse 1997, p 94).