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Sunday, January 23, 2011

World Trade Center Ruins

The most dramatic ruins that any of us will ever (hopefully) see were the ruins of the World Trade Center, destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001 by two commercial jets. The story is well-known, so I won't recount it here.
I remember the day very well - I was on campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I left for class on North Campus early that day, because I needed to buy a blue book for an upcoming exam. At the checkout counter, a radio was on and we heard a news bulletin that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. At the time the newscasters believed that it was a small propeller plane.
I continued to North Campus, and because I had a few minutes until class, I stopped in the computer lab and opened up cnn.com. There again I saw reports about an airplane, but still it wasn't clear and didn't seem like such a big deal. I walked out of the computer lab, and noticed that one of the larger classrooms was packed with students and a projection screen was pulled down. A live broadcast of the WTC was being shown, and moments after I walked in, the first tower began to collapse. (It was at 9:59 am, and class was set to begin at 10:10). That was when I realized the enormity of the situation. Class never happened, and I went back to Central Campus. On the bus ride back students who hadn't heard were asking what was going on, and at one point I told someone that the WTC had been attacked and collapsed, and that classes were canceled.
I didn't have a television that year, so I went to the grad library where some t.vs had been set up and they were showing coverage. I sat on the floor, cross-legged, for about 4 hours, watching with other students. At some point I went home. Classes were canceled the following day as well.

In the New York: A Documentary Film episode "The Center of the World," Ric Burns interviews a number of people regarding the destruction of the World Trade Center. Two interviews caught my attention:

Kenneth T. Jackson: "Well, I think one of the sad things to me is to remember the enormous human effort that went into building those buildings, the gigantic endeavor, the thousands of construction workers, the millions and millions of man hours and effort, and how quickly it could all be torn down. The fact that just this physical creation, you know, could be destroyed that took years and years and years to do, to conceive, to plan, to execute. I guess, again, it's like us, you know. We're, it takes us a lifetime to create the person we are and can be wiped out in a single mistake or accident. And so it is with cities and buildings."

William Langewiesche: "I think it's precisely like death. I mean, death of someone you know or someone you love. I don't [know how] many people loved those buildings, but certainly a lot of people knew them. And then they were gone. I mean, how can it be that something that extreme can happen so quickly and so irreversibly? Can't we just kind of reel that backward a little bit? No, we can't. We can't do it any more with those buildings than with death, and I think the emotional reaction is very similar. This was a public death."

Here we have two different takes on the destruction of the building. One thinks about it in terms of vanitas - all the hard toil that it took to build the World Trade Center, undone in an instant. The other connects it with death.

A design competition was held for a memorial at Ground Zero, and the winner was actually an Israeli, Michael Arad, and famed landscape architect Peter Walker:

"The Memorial will consist of two massive pools set within the footprints of the Twin Towers with the largest manmade waterfalls in the country cascading down their sides. They will be a powerful reminder of the Twin Towers and of the unprecedented loss of life from an attack on our soil. The names of the nearly 3,000 individuals who were killed in the September 11 attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, and the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing will be inscribed around the edges of the Memorial pools."
Although the memorial is on the site and creates a hollow where the buildings once stood, it doesn't really make use of the ruins of the building. However, very soon after the event, New York started giving out pieces of the rubble to towns and cities around the world to incorporate into local 9/11 memorials.

Another piece of rubble, akin to the cross found in the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral, was shaped in a cross. Like in Coventry, the cross was set up on site and was later reused. It should also be noted that some of the steel from the WTC was recycled and used for an new U.S. battleship.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yiska Raveh and Rosh Haayin Research

There have been a number of people who have preceded us in the study of Rosh Haayin. This includes both professional archaeologists, such as Moshe Kohavi and Israel Finkelstein; historians like Avi Sasson; architects, including Itai Horowitz, who has given us some guidance; and a number of political historians, social workers, government agents, etc. Today, one of the people who is most actively studying the history of Rosh Haayin is a woman named Yiska Raveh, who has helped us in our project. She has been pushing historical preservation in Rosh Haayin for years.

On the municipal website of Rosh Haayin, there are a number of articles about the history of Rosh Haayin that were written under Yiska's guidance, along with Avi Sasson. In Feb. 2008, the city put out a call for local volunteers to undertake a series of historical studies of Rosh Haayin, as part of a course on the city's history. I believe this effort is still ongoing, and several papers have been published on the website as a result. Topics included the city's short-lived branch of Hadassah Hospital (about which we also posted a blog entry), traditional Yemenite styles of learning, the British military base, and synagogues in the city.

A push was also made to collect historical pictures from local residents.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ruin Uses in Art, Part II

Our most popular blog post to date has been Ruin Uses in Art. That entry brought examples of art from the last 500 years which showed reuse of ruined sites. In light of the popularity of that entry, I felt it appropriate to add some more examples of ruin uses in art.

(Hubert Robert, Young Girls Dancing Around an Obelisk, 1798.)
Here, much as the title describes, we find an imagined scene of merrymaking around the ruins of an obelisk. It is unclear what is being celebrated, and if it has anything to do with the destruction of the obelisk. Presumably it does not, and the ruin simply provides and exciting scene and focus for the party.

(Piranesi, The Forum, 1775.)
Piranesi is known for his wildly imaginative depictions of ruins. Here, however, we find a much more banal scene, in which the forum, neglected for centuries, is filled up with what we can only presume is garbage and other refuse. Ruins, one can presume, have always been a good place to dispose of unwanted things.

(Hubert Robert, Fountain of Minerva, 1733)
In this scene, it is surprising to find that the ruin is still being used for its original purpose, even after its destruction. The water still flows into the fountain, and women still come to do their laundry. It raised an interesting question - can a building that is still in its original use be considered a ruin?

(Friedrich, Abbey Near Eldena in Ruins, 1825)
Friedrich depicts this massive ruin with a house set within. The house blends in well with the ruin, and one wonders if it too is in ruin. However, the presence of two figures implies that this is indeed still an inhabited, sound house. We have seen several interesting examples of ruins reclaimed as residences in Rosh Haayin.

(de Machy, The Arc de Triomphe, 18th c.)
In this depiction of a future state, the Arc de Triomphe is the locale of sheep herders.

(Cannaleto, Roman Forum, 1742)
A number of gentlemen inspect the ruins of a Roman building. However, other people also make use of the open space, including a man with a wheelbarrow and someone to the right with another wheeled contraption of some sort.

(Jan Both, Roman Ruins with Card Players, 1600s)
The title is self-explanatory.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Burnt House and Horrific Ruins

When I was ten, I came on a family trip to Israel for the first time. My family did a lot of tourist things: we went to Ein Gedi, the Kotel, the beach, and Ben Yehuda. While touring the Old City of Jerusalem we also visited the Burnt House, which is the ruins of a house destroyed in 70 CE, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. The ruins were similar to a lot of others that we had seen, so being a curious child I wandered around reading the various signs, which contained a lot of semi-interesting information about the site. This continued until I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

On one of the signs, there was a picture of a single arm, the only human remains discovered in the structure. The sign indicated that this was the arm of a young girl, possibly a resident of the house. In my mind I pictured the girl, running from the fire and trying to climb up the stairs, grabbing for the handrail while the fire engulfed her. I wouldn't say it stir my imagination as much as it just plain terrified me, and for years after I would have nightmares. 20 years later it still freaks me out.

As a result of that one picture, I relate to the Burnt House in a completely different way than I do any other ruins I have visited. While I can study other ruins with a detached bemusement, it is much, much harder to think of the Burnt House as anything except a place of horror.

This is an important thing to acknowledge in our study of ruins. There are a great many causes of ruins, ranging from benign neglect and peaceful abandonment, to natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis, to man-made disasters and war. But as years pass, the potency of a ruin dies down and it becomes a peaceful place. Even if we know fully well the story behind the ruin, and even it many people died, there is still a calm about them. However, sometimes a single image is enough to prevent this from happening, to keep the wound fresh and breed horror. Like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, designed to send chills up your spine, certain things keep some specific ruins from resting in peace.

When I consider the various ruins of Rosh Ha'ayin, there is nothing that particularly raises the shackles of fear in me, though dozens of wars have been fought and countless people have died in and around Rosh Ha'ayin over its 7,000 years of habitation. There are ruins of Aphek, Antipatris, and the British pumping station, ruins of Migdal Zedek, Mirabel, Majdal Yaba, ruins of the British army base, of Amidar houses, of buildings that have burnt to the ground, been demolished, or collapsed, but they all seem peaceful to me. I wonder whether others view them differently, just as I will never see the Burnt House as a mere tourist attraction. In particular, I wonder about former inhabitants of Majdal Yaba, still within living memory, and the nearly-invisible ruins of that village. I wonder about the British buildings that formed the skeleton of Rosh Ha'ayin and immigrants whose children went to the hospital and were never seen again. I wonder what it is that makes a site horrific. These are sites that will, almost certainly, universally rest in peace as serene ruins or redeveloped sites in the future. For now, I wonder if there are any who still think of them in horror.

Didron's Dictum

Adolphe Napoleon Didron was one of the predecessors of historical preservation. In the mid 19th century he wrote:

"Regarding ancient monuments,
it is better to consolidate than to repair,
better to repair than to restore,
better to restore than to rebuild,
better to rebuild than to embellish;
in no case must anything be added and, above all,
nothing should be removed."

He wrote critically about restoration, and argued against intrusive procedures. To remain authentic, he felt that the least amount of intervention should be performed as possible. At the acme of his chart, he puts consolidation, i.e. keeping an object from decaying further, but doing no repair work and certainly no restoration or, chas v'shalom, rebuilding, lo aleinu.

We thus have the following chart:

Consolidation > Repair > Restoration > Rebuilding > Embellishment

From our point of view, two interesting questions can be asked:

Question 1: Is it perhaps possible to add an even higher plane to Didron's chart - leaving the object completely alone? If consolidation is better than repair, wouldn't it be better to go one step further and shun intrusion of any kind? Sure, this might result in the complete decay and ruination of the building, but isn't this more authentic?

Which leads us to question 2:

What happens if the object has already decayed or become a ruin? Is there a stage at which point consolidation becomes pointless? If a building has reached this stage, does restoration or rebuilding become more palatable? Or is it better to leave the the object in its ruinous state? And if the latter is true, wouldn't that strengthen the theory that passivity is better than consolidation?

Thus the chart ought to appear as follows:

Passivity > Consolidation > Repair > Restoration > Rebuilding > Embellishment

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

James D. Griffioen: Disappearing Detroit

I lived for 15 years in southeast Michigan. It's possible that my proximity to the city of Detroit influenced my interest in ruins. We have included a number of links to Detroit ruins, as they are disturbing and fascinating all at once. One of the most awe inspiring sites that deals with the ruins of Detroit is James D. Griffioen's website.Griffioen is a native Michigander, three years my elder. Clearly his obsession with the ruins of Detroit surpasses my own.

In particularly, I would direct you to the section which he calls "feral houses." There are dozens of pictures of Detroit houses that have literally been swallowed or chewed up by vegetation. It's amazing.

The Lost Neighborhoods section is also pretty amazing. You really get a sense of how the city has been abandoned and left to rot, with block after block of abandoned real estate.

In the Scrappers section, Griffioen explains how scavengers loot the buildings and strip them of everything of value. On the flip side is the Vernacular Security part, which shows how people defend their abandoned buildings. Finally, the section on the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository tells the story of one particular building, and how it became a ruin.

This site is worth exploring, so take you time and look through the pictures.

Ruins no more...

Top, the site razed, as seen yesterday, and bottom, the site with the five consecutive bays, as seen on our last visit.
Yesterday we visited Rosh HaAyin again. We had several meetings with people involved in preservation/planning/building in the City Council (on the committee for planning and building in the city) and independently, a historian passionate about the preservation of the old buildings and culture in Rosh HaAyin. After these meetings we went to measure the British Buildings, not having found any blueprints or plans etc. of any of this type of British army hangars. We decided to go to the British ruins which until recently functioned as a factory where blind people used to come to work. We came to the site and what a shock! Lo and behold the building, the ruins, was no longer in existence. The site was razed. However, the leaning British watchtower on site was left untouched.
The ruins as we had previously documented it, was a factory for the blind, whereby it seemed it has been completely abandoned, leaving piles of shoe soles all over (assumedly what the factory produced) and folders, papers, files belonging to the blind association. There had been a fire there, it is unclear whether the fire occurred after the building had been abandoned or if this was the reason for it being abandoned. Below, are some images of the Blind Factory British ruins before it was destroyed completely.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ruins on Israeli Money

In an earlier post I briefly mentioned that there have been some official Israel stamps that feature ruins. This is not the only place ruins have appeared in official state function; there have also been a few examples of ruins on legal tender.

The earliest example of ruins on currency actually predates the state. During the British Mandate, the Palestine Currency Board was granted the power to print money, as per a law passed on August 2, 1926 and put into action on February 7, 1927. Although there were paper bills of six denominations (500 Mils and 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Pounds), only three images were used, all of them of historic buildings: Rachel's Tomb, the Dome of the Rock, and the Ramleh Crusaders' Tower. The reverse side of each showed the Tower of David. I suppose that Rachel's Tomb and the Tower of David can each be considered ruins, but in particular I think the Tower of Ramleh qualifies. Some nice drawings were made of it by various traveler in Palestine. It appeared on the 5, 10, 50 and 100 Pound bills.
James Hurley, 1918

After 1948, a number of series of bills were issued that contained no pictures and used existing ornamental designs as the borders. Only in 1955 was the first set of bills produced that had images. This series, the third overall and the first Bank of Israel series of the pound, showed various landscapes around the country. on the 500 Prutah bill was a picture f the ancient synagogue at Bir'am in the Galil, one of the best-preserved ruined synagogues from antiquity.
A few years later, with the second series of the pound, the 1/2 Lira bill contained the image of the entrance to the Sanhedrin Tombs in Jerusalem.
In the past 50 years, however, the idea of putting ruins on the bills seems to have fallen out of vogue. Perhaps this is because they don't show the proper vitality or portray Israel as sufficiently modern. In any case, today the bills mostly focus on individuals. It should be noted that the current 100 New Israeli Shekel bill contains the Synagogue of Peki'in, which was at one point a ruin. However, the reason it appears on that bill, which contains Yizchak ben Zvi on the other side, is because Ben Zvi arranged for the synagogue to be renovated in 1953, and previously it had been renovated in 1873, thus destroying its ruin value.