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Monday, February 28, 2011

Ruin Preservation and the Etzel Museum

When we first presented our idea to study ruins, our advisers immediately warned us not to try something like the Etzel Museum in Tel Aviv. So what is this "infamous" building, which appears on the cover of White City, Black City as a metaphor for all that is wrong with Tel Aviv's hidden agenda?

The museum is designed within the ruins of a building that once was part of the Menashia neighborhood outside of Jaffa. It was designed by Niv, Schwartz & Schwartz, and completed in 1983. The only other remains from Menashia is a mosque. The neighborhood was conquered in 1948 by Etzel, a right-wing Jewish militant group from before the State of Israel. The ruins were primarily cleared, leaving only these two buildings.

The idea to turn this ruin into a museum arose in 1976, as a monument to Etzel members who died in the conquest of Jaffa. In a 1984 edition of Architecture in Israel, the architects explain that while visiting the site, they found a lone building which drew their attention.
"On the spot we suggested that it would be the site for the monument, to be used as a living museum that would explain to future generations both the story of the battle for Jaffa and the story of the Menashiya neighborhood, which was alive but is now gone, as it has made room for Tel Aviv.
...The uniqueness of the building is not its architecture but rather its power of survival, which allows it to be used for preserving the memory of the place. "(p.3)
In describing the design principles, the architects explain that they wished to freeze the ruins in time, and they wax poetically about the ruins and how they have been ravaged over time by the sea winds. However, they then epxlain that they want to introduce a glass box into the ruins to form the new museum. They felt this would not be intrusive and would allow the ruin to remain a ruin, and that the old and new would melt together.

In White City, Black City, Rotbard writes that this is the ultimate expression of his thesis. A Miesian glass box, set in the ruins of an Arab neighborhood, illustrates his point that Tel Aviv's pure white persona is a fraud. (p. 235) It should be noted that Rotbard follows this up immediately with an anecdote about Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, which is interesting but unrelated, and seems only to have been included to insidiously draw a parallel between the museum and fascism. (p. 237) Still, Rotbard sums up the oddity well, writing:
"In a strange way, the building makes use of ruins and ruin aesthetics in order to cover up the destruction and hide it. The building says the truth about the killing of Jaffa but in the same breath it also lies, when it uses the drama as "architecture" and "environmental art."
From my standpoint as a ruins researcher, I can understand why the architects thought this would work and would be nice symbolism, but I also understand why it falls flat. As in so many cases, the ruins here have been ruined. Had they been left alone, they truly would have been powerful. If a memorial had been built nearby, it could have been a tremendous space. I even feel like if the glass box had been built outside the stone walls, it would have been better. But instead what happened is that they stone walls have been robbed of their ruin-beauty and left sterile. This is particularly true on the back-side of the museum. In the front, the ration is perhaps 75% stone and 25% glass, and this proportion is at least palatable. Furthermore, the stone has enough detail to distract the eye and make the glass fall into the background. But in the back, we simply see too much of the glass - it is too dominant, too jarring. From a preservation point of view, there is a clear distinction between the ruins and the new museum. But from a ruins-preservation point of view, different rules apply. The intrusion of new, blatant walls to the ruins take away from the aesthetic and make the symbolism collapse. The ruins become a veneer, rather than the essence of the place.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ruins in White City, Black City

Babel is one of the few Israeli publishing houses that deals with architecture. It both translates existing works from other languages, such as Learning from Las Vegas and Towards a New Architecture, and publishes original works in Hebrew. One of the co-owners of Babel, Sharon Rotbard, is a studio adviser in Bezalel and has authored two books. Two years ago, Rebecca and I were in Rotbard's studio, where we, along with Yiska Katz, produced egg crate architecture.

Rotbard's first book, White City, Black City, touches on the subject of ruins. The book discusses how Tel Aviv gained a reputation as a "white city," which refers both to its supposed concentration of Bauhaus architecture and its ideological purity, having been built on a clean slate as the first Hebrew city. Rotbard points out many inconsistencies with this view, and contrasts the mythical view of Tel Aviv with a hard look at the concurrent development of Jaffa, the ancient Arab city next to Tel Aviv. Rotbard writes that Jaffa was systematically displaced and dismantled by Tel Aviv. This image of a "black city" contrasts with the other vision of Tel Aviv.

There are a number of things I like about the book. Firstly, I've found that many Israeli books of this type are remarkably un-scholarly. It is quite common to find information repeated as fact in multiple books, only to trace the footnotes and find that all secondary sources lead back to a single, questionable reference that is itself a secondary source and has no footnote. I found it particularly welcome that White City, Black City brought a number of primary sources, such as writings of Ben Gurion or Herzl. Secondly, Rotbard does a good job of pacing, and intersperses his thesis with interesting anecdotes, such as the marketing of Jaffa Oranges (p.245). This makes the book interesting and highly readable. I read through it in a week, and normally it takes me a month to finish a book of this size in Hebrew. On the downside, there were a number of paragraphs in which radical left-wing ideas are thrown in as if every sane person believes them, but this is practically to be expected in Israeli academia.

The book raises a number of interesting and compelling points about ruins, particularly in the Israeli narrative. Early in the book, Rotbard makes the point that the destruction or preservation of a building is a way of writing history:
"The decision to destroy an old building, to build a new building, or to preserve an existing building, sets what will be forgotten, what will remain and what is worth remembering." (p. 15)
When it comes to ruins, this is true as well. A decision to leave ruins, rather than bulldoze them, sets in action a certain historical memory. In many ways, this is even more powerful than deciding to rebuild a building or replace it. The ruin is actually a super-powerful way of reinforcing memory. One of the lasting impressions I took from the book is that ruins can be very important reminders of the past. Only once a building is completely removed it is "out of sight, out of mind." In Jaffa, this seems to have, for the most part, been the goal. Rotbard describes the destruction as complete, going as far as saying that it was more thorough than the destruction of Hiroshima and Dresden (p.191. Comparing destruction is an interesting sport, but it takes a certain mindset to make a claim such as this.) The point seems to be that removing buildings completely leaves no historical record whatsoever. In contrast, leaving ruins gives a remarkably good historical record of a particular past event or process.

The most relevant section of the book begins with the chapter titled "The Large Area" (השטח הגדול). This refers to the large section of the old city of Jaffa that was left in ruins after 1948. Most of the buildings in Old Jaffa were destroyed, while others were given to new immigrants to inhabit. In 1961, a decision was made to rehabilitate this area and turn it into a tourist site/artists colony. This is seen as a further act of erasure of the history of the city, with only Crusader and Napoleonic remains displayed, as a type of exotic ruins that one would find on a grand voyage. (p.239) This is certainly the vibe in old Jaffa today. I would have to agree that, as someone who visited the site as a high school student, the architectural record does not attempt to tell the story of displaced Arabs at all.

Another section of the book, which deals with the Etzel Museum, will be dealt with in a later post.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Giving Tree and Reuse of Ruins

In Deserted House, a poem by Shel Silverstein, we looked the imagery that Silverstein used for ruins. Another of Shel Silverstein's stories, The Giving Tree, is also relevant to our research. The story tells of a relationship between a boy and tree, who love each other and play together during childhood. As the boy grows, the tree gives him more and more: her apples to sell, his branches to build a house, his trunk to make a boat. Finally, as an old man, the boy returns, and the tree is sorry that she has nothing left to give. However, it turns out the the boy only wants a place to sit, which the tree can provide.

We've been talking a lot about the "life-cycle" of a building, and how most buildings can be renovated, reused, reconfigured etc. as a normal part of their existence. Some historical preservationists may choose to freeze a building at a certain point in time, to prevent further changes. However, this is an unnatural act. Rather, a normal building would continue to evolve. It may also continue to decay. At a certain point, the building passes a point of no return, a threshold beyond which it is a ruin and is no longer an active building. However, even as such, it can still continue to serve the needs of mankind.

Buildings are built to serve our needs, both as individuals and as communities. Like the tree, they can be used and reused. Even as a ruin, they can continue to serve a purpose.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Archaeology and Historical Preservation

The field of Historical Preservation is in many ways an offshoot of Archaeology. Archaeology was certainly one of the early inspirations, but as Historical Preservation developed, it created its own methods and grew apart from Archaeology. In dealing with the preservation of ruins, we have in some ways returned to this kinship, and have been keeping archaeological practice in mind when thinking about preservation.

When archaeologists excavate, one of the primary concerns is to record the provenience of each artifact discovered. It is of vital importance to know the stratum of each item, as stratigraphy is the key to understanding a site and the only way to understand which items were contemporary with each other.
There are two main types of techniques for excavating, which allow the archaeologists to go layer-by-layer. The first creates deep cuts but retains sample berms that reveal the stratification, and the second peals back one layer at a time. One of the most common methods is the box grid, which:
"seeks to satisfy both vertical and horizontal requirements by retaining intact baulks of earth between squares of the grid so that different layers can be traced and correlated across the site in the vertical profiles. " (Renfrew and Bahn, Archaeology: Theories Methods and Practices, 108)
Essentially, a part of the site is set aside to help give archaeologists a method and model with which to piece together history.

A similar archaeological method relates to what percentage of a site gets excavated. Today it is widely recognized that an excavation should only dig a percentage of a site, leaving some area intact for future explorers. This ensures that in the future, when new and more precise methods will undoubtedly exist, enough of the site will exist for investigators to use these new methods.

When it comes to Historical Preservation, we believe these practices point to another potential model. Preservationists most often seek to return a building to a certain time period, which in a sense destroys the historicity of the building. Rather than knowing precisely what is original, we have a mix-up of new and old. We think that it should be common practice to leave portions of a building untouched, in a way preserving it's true state without contamination. Then if a future person wants to know the original paint color of the building, or plaster, or wall section, it is still around to be found. Alternatively, part of a building can be renovated, while another part can be left to continue its natural decay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch, NZ: A City in Ruins

Yesterday, the 22nd of February 2011, a large 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand. The buildings and streets of Christchurch had the feel of a lovely, picturesque 'Kiwi' country town, much of which has been destroyed by the recent earthquake. The streets are frighteningly different today, seen in the ruins of what is left of many of the once beautiful buildings of Christchurch.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ruins of Gaddafi's Compound

Current events occasionally connect to our topic of research. Right now, Muammar Gaddafi is #2 in google trends, due to the unrest in Libya that may (hopefully) lead to a revolution. Gaddafi seems unwilling to go, and just recently the AP has been reporting that he stated "I will die a martyr" rather than leaving peacefully. In this latest video address, the Washington Post reports that:
Wearing a brown turban and cloak, Gaddafi spoke from a bombed-out building that was struck in a 1986 airstrike by U.S. and British warplanes in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin discotheque by Libyan agents.
In a similar article, the Jerusalem Post elaborates, saying that the building was left in disrepair as a sign of defiance. You can see a video of his address, with the building in the background, here.

Some background: In 1986, President Reagan authorized Operation El Dorado Canyon in response to the bombing of a Berlin discotheque. One of the targets was Gaddafi's residence in the Bab al Aziziya compound, but Gaddafi was tipped off by the Maltese Prime Minister and fled the building with his family before the attack, escaping. The site was chosen as a target for symbolic reasons. Joseph Stanik writes in "El Dorado Canyon: Reagan's Undeclared War with Qaddafi" that
"Bab al-Aziziyah (the splendid gate) was the nexus of Qaddafi's political power structure. The two hundred-acre compound was enclosed by a fifteen-foot wall, it was guarded by Soviet-made tanks, and the area was honeycombed with underground bunkers. In addition to barracks for his personal security services, the compound contained communications facilities, military staff headquarters, the house where his wife and seven children lived, and the Bedouin-style tent where he received visitors."
He also described that in the aftermath, New York Times reporter Edward Schumacher visited the compound and found eight large bomb craters . Bombs came close to the ceremonial tent and to the residential area, blowing out doors and windows, collapsing ceilings, and generally wreaking havoc. The attack was recorded on tape, and apparently was far more dramatic than the actual damage caused, "turning a mediocre damage assessment into a dramatic strike against terrorism." in the words of David Martin and John Walcott.

On the first anniversary, tours of the bombed residence were held as part of the Libyan commemoration. U.S. News and World Report wrote at that time that the ruins "have become a shrine to the colone's political endurance."

The idea of leaving a building in ruins as a commemoration is not new. This has been done both by the attackers, to show their domination, and by the victims, to show defiance and as memorials. It's surprising that the head of state would choose to live in a ruin to prove this point, but I guess that's the kind of guy Gaddafi is, the same type of guy who would insist on living in a tent when visiting New York.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ruins of Lifta

Lifta is an abandoned Arab village at the northern edge of Jerusalem. It sits on the site of ancient settlements, but was a living village up until 1948. Since the founding of Israel, there has been a question what to do with the remaining architecture of Lifta, with plans ranging from preservation to bulldozing. In 1965 many abandoned Arab villages were bulldozed, but Lifta was not.
In 2005, the magazine Architecture of Israel reviewed the master plan of Kertesz-Groag Architects for Lifta. Though I won't go into the details of the generally negative review, I found two interesting points in the article, written by Ami Ran.
  • First, Ran writes that "One can still sense in it the way of life that was halted in the start of the last century." It occurs to me that this is part of the special magic of ruins. While reconstruction and preservation tries very hard to bring a site back to life, it often falls short of the magic that ruins possess. Somehow a site that is returned to a moment in time feels like a museum - somehow fake - while a ruin feels genuine and captures, or rather, retains the spirit of the past.
  • Secondly, Ran quotes Yochanan Mintzker as writing that three possibilities exist for Lifta: complete destruction, partial reuse, or preservation as is. Of these three, the last is the most preferable. However, as we have pointed out on a number of occasions, a fourth possibility is not preservation, but rather, letting the buildings continue in their current state without intervention. The case of Lifta is specifically susceptible to this treatment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hurricane Katrina

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern Gulf coast of the United States and caused severe destruction. New Orleans, LA was hit particularly hard, and 80% of the city was flooded. Five and a half years later, there are still people living in temporary accommodations. The U.S. government made the decision to rebuild New Orleans, and a study was carried out to decide which parts to abandon and which buildings needed to be elevated.

In a recent news report, the AP reported that 43,000 residential properties are sitting abandoned in New Orleans. Every night 3,000 homeless people squat in these house. Another video, produced by National Geographic, shows the impact of the storm on Southern Mississippi University.

Shel Silverstein's Deserted House

This is the first of two posts on Shel Silverstein. Silverstein wrote books and poems for children that often had adult themes. He performed many of his works publicly while accompanying himself on the guitar. His first big job was working as a cartoonist for Playboy, where he produced the material for his first book of original material, Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, which is hilarious.
"H is for hole. See the hole. The hole is deep. You can bury things in the hole. See the toaster. You can bury the toaster in the hole. See the car keys. You can bury the car keys in the hole. See grandma's teeth. See daddy's shoe. See mommy's diamond ring. Oh-oh - little sister sees you burying things in the hole. Maybe she will snitch on you and you will get a licking. What ELSE can you bury in the hole?"
Or, my personal favorite:
"O is for Oz. Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off land of Oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green? Well, you can't because there is no land of Oz and there is no Tin Woodsman and there is NO SANTA CLAUSE! Maybe someday you can go to Detroit."

But that is besides the point. His other most famous books were The Giving Tree, which will be a subject of a later post, and a series of books of children's poetry, including Where the Sidewalk Ends.

In the latter, the following poem appears (p. 56):


But please walk softly as you do.
Frogs dwell here and crickets too.

Ain't no ceiling, only blue
Jays dwell here and sunbeams too.

Floors are flowers-take a few.
Ferns grow here and daisies too.

Whoosh, swoosh-too-whit, too-woo,
Bats dwell here and hoot owls too.

Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee, hoo-hoooo,
Gnomes dwell here and goblins too.

And my child, I thought you knew
I dwell here... and so do you.
Here is a link to the audio of Silverstein reading the poem himself. The poem is accompanied by a black and white ink sketch of a house falling to ruins.

I suppose one could read many things into this poem, and a simple search will turn up all sorts of theories. But in our context, it seems clear that he is expressing the idea of vanitas.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More British Building Ruins, and the Discovery of Rubber Stores

Today we discovered the remains of two previously unidentified British buildings and classified an entirely different type of building, unlike the Stonehenge Sheds.

First of all, we identified the remains of site 32 on the attached map (which shows the Ras el Ein base overlaying the current map of Rosh Ha'ayin). All that remains of this building is a concrete platform with a brick apron around it. On the Ras el Ein map it is labeled S.16, meaning it was formerly a Stonehenge Shed. We do not know when this building was leveled. It is one of two sites that we have found in which only a platform remains. (The other is site 31, or site #95 in Sasson's list).
More excitingly, we identified a British building north of the current city limits of Rosh Ha'ayin, along Highway 5. This confirms our belief that Highway 5 runs along the route of the former Ras el Ein road. This building is in quite poor shape, though it is still being actively used as a garage and seems to have undergone minimal alterations.
What surprised us most about this building was that it did not have the iconic curved profile that the Stonehenge Sheds have. At first we thought this building's roof may have been altered, but upon further consideration we felt it was original. Then it occurred to us - perhaps this building was labeled differently on the Ras el Ein map? Sure enough, instead of having an S.x number, it is labeled R.3. According to the key, this makes it a former Rubber Store, and it makes sense that this building looks different that the others.

Once we had this piece of information, we realized that we had seen another building with a similar design - site 29 on the map. When we rechecked the Ras el Ein map, we noticed that this building was also labeled as a Rubber Store - R.2. (site #93 on Sasson' list). Thus we feel we have convincingly shown that a third type of building existed in Ras el Ein - the Rubber Storage building. It should be noted that there were two other R buildings on the map - R.4 next to R.3, which we did not see and may have been demolished, and another that once stood on Mantzura Street- site 11 on the map, or R.1 on the British Map. We will have to recheck this neighborhood to see if it is still standing.

Yemenite Heritage Center

This afternoon we met briefly with Naftali Simhi, the chairman of the Yemenite Heritage Center in Rosh Haayin. He told us a bit about the history of the museum and the building, and offered to meet with us again in a few weeks to show us some old pictures of the building prior to its renovation.

According to an article in Etrog Magazine from April 2009, the museum was conceived of and founded by Moshe Oved, a local history teacher. In the 1980s he began gathering historical material and oral traditions in the school and established a display which grew in size until it occupied an entire floor. Eventually it was moved to a different location, until in 2006 the museum moved into its present home in a renovated Stonehenge Shed.

In our proposal for our final project, we prepared a plan for a series of satellite museums spread throughout the city that would compliment the Yemenite Heritage House. Although many of these satellites would focus on traditional Yemenite culture, there would also be sites dedicated to other stages in the history of Rosh Ha'ayin. Despite our claims that locals were pushing this agenda, our plan was heavily criticized for being condescending toward the local culture. From one side, we were criticized for Disney-ifying the city, while on the other we were told that this was putting the local culture in a museum, rather than letting it continue on its own.

I want to again emphasize that this is not the case. We look at this less as a museum and more as a living heritage center. In addition, it is very important to understand that this is a plan that locals have long requested, and have long been trying to achieve.

In a 2006 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Simhi is quoted as saying:
"I want visitors to be able to come and be exposed to the folklore. To experience the cooking, the tabun, the malawah, the dance, the Yemenite choir...I want visitors to come and experience four or five hours of Yemenite hospitality, including clothing...I want to turn Rosh Ha'ayin into the center of Yemenite Jewish heritage."
The same article quotes the mayor of city, Moshe Sinai, saying something similar:
"One of the challenges for me as mayor is to preserve the [Yemenite] heritage. They preserved the tradition [in Yemen]. It is my job to protect them, to provide a supportive foundation."

The article in Etrog Magazine quotes local historian Yiska Raveh as saying that:
"The experience of visitors to the place cannot be limited to visiting one building...Rosh Ha'ayin is a community that lives and breaths the Yemenite culture and it in its entirety a historic-ethnic museum."
She also envisions a multi-layered museum with "dress, aromas, song and dance, ethnic workshops" and other branches that tell the local story.

Perhaps most telling is an entry in an Ariel compendium from 1990 which tells of a similar plan, already existing 20 years ago:
"The plan is to establish in Rosh Ha'ayin a center for Yemenite Heritage with workshops alongside the museum: metalworkers, weavers, embroiderers, braiders, etc. The activities will include workshops, song, Yemenite center and also a restaurant for Yemenite cuisine."

Amidar Convenience Store

Between 1950 and 1953, the Israeli government, via the Amidar corporation, built a number of small "public" buildings in Rosh Haayin, including a synagogue, a nursery, and day care center. As we previously posted, these buildings were listed in David Zuslavski's Shikun Olim B'Israel. These buildings, along with the first-generation houses built in Rosh Haayin, represent another stage of Rosh Haayin's development, and their ruins are another layer in the history of Rosh Haayin. It is relatively easy to locate the many houses built during this period, and to note their often-decaying appearance. However, for the most part we do not yet know where the public buildings were located, or of their statuses.

The one exception is the local Convenience Store, or Tzarchania. It is located at John Kennedy 43, and is in a fantastically ruinous state. The skeletal roof is particularly intriguing, as well as crumbling stares and cracked concrete walls. The time schedule on the door, however, is still clear and legible. We do not know how long the building has been abandoned. The buiding is #97 in the Avi Sasson list of

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "Ruin Value" in Nazi Architecture

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler
Albert Speer (1905-1981) was Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Hitler commissioned him to design multiple structures for him including the New Reich Chancellery in 1939 and the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuremberg where the Nazi party rallies were held from 1933-1938. Today little remains of Speer's architectural works, other than plans, photographs and theory. Speer pioneered the idea of the "Ruin Value", in German, die Ruinenwert. This was the concept that a building should be designed so that if it eventually collapsed it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins which would look and last best left to fall to ruin on its own. Speer coined the idea in 1936 as Die Ruinenwerttheorie, The Theory of Ruin Value. This idea was supported by Adolf Hitler who planned for such ruins to be a reflection of the greatness of the the Third Reich, just as ancient Greek and Roman ruins reflect their great civilisations. Interestingly, Speer sold the idea to Hitler by drawing a sketch of the Haupttribune, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds as an ivy-covered ruin. As Speer later wrote in his memoirs,
"Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of great epochs of history was their monumental architecture."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ikea Ruins

New ruins today in Netanya:

The iconic Ikea branch was gutted by fire and left a smoldering ruin. Thankfully, no one was hurt, though all the merchandise went up in smoke. On facebook, a number of my friends posted things like "Where will we shop for furniture now?"

Ikea, which has branches all over the world, has become somewhat of an Israeli institution. I've personally never been there, but I have friends who go there for fun, to hang out. As the first branch that opened in Israel, do the ruins of this building deserve preservation? Probably not. In any case, I have to imagine that they will start rebuilding almost immediately.

Here are some pictures of the building, and for comparison, a mock ruin of a similar type of store, The Best Produces Company Showroom in Houston, from 1975.

A Revelation

Historical Preservation: neither history, nor preservation. Discuss.

Spiro Kostof and the Ruins of Cities

Spiro Kostof was a noted architectural historian and expert on the urban form. I first became acquainted with his work as a student in the University of Michigan, when our textbook for History of Architecture was Kostof's A History of Architecture. However, as a student in Bezalel, where there are a surprising number of classes about urbanism, I also read through his landmark pair of books, The City Shaped and The City Assembled. Spiro died in 1991, while the latter was still being prepared, and his assistant, Greg Castillo, completed the book.

In The City Assembled, the fifth and final chapter, "Urban Process," deals with the role of ruins in the development of cities. This treatment of ruins, in the broader concept of cities, is interesting on a number of levels. During our presentations we have received a number of comments about how it would be interesting if we focused on the life-cycle of buildings. Kostof takes this line, and shows how buildings and their ruins go through phases and contribute to regeneration of cities. This is especially true when huge disasters strike, like the 1666 fire in London or San Francisco in 1906. But in such instances, ruins don't really remain as ruins for long, and the whole city is rebuilt en masse. A future post will be dedicated to the ruins of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

One interesting test case that Kostof discusses is World War II. He writes:
"Of all the dozens of cities devastated by the Second World War, almost all chose to rebuild. It was rumored that Polish leaders considered relocating Warsaw, and the Soviets debated moving Stalingrad. St.-Malo gave some thought to leaving its rubble as a war memorial, and rebuilding farther south on the mainland. But practical reasons and local national symbolism won out in the end."(Kostof, p. 251)
Cassino in Italy was moved after 1945, and its ruins were declared a national monument, though Kostof notes that the remains were so thoroughly leveled by bombs that they are hardly recognizable. At one point, in the 4th c. BCE, even Rome considered relocating to Veii, partially because its ruins were considered "polluted."

Perhaps the most interesting section is where Kostof deals with Damnatio Memoriae, when a structure is destroyed as an attempt to erase or curse the memory of a previous regime. Usually these sits are either redeveloped in a manner that emphasizes the new order, or the existing building is given a new use. There are a number of famous buildings constructed on the ruins of previous structures that were destroyed for this reason. Most famously, the Colosseum in Rome is building on the site of Nero's Golden House. Kostof does not, however, list a third option - leaving the site as a ruin indefinitely. (p. 254)

Kostof also points out that in war, it is often prohibitively difficult to completely destroy a city and leave it razed to the ground. Even when histories describe cities as being completely destroyed, there are often ruins remaining, which can then be redeveloped or rebuilt. This is almost always true, with a few exceptions: Carthage in 146 BCE (which, even then, was rebuilt a century later by Julius Caesar), the Czech village of Lidice, and various cities conquered by the Mongols. The Nazis attempted to do this to Warsaw, with partial success.

Kostof discusses archaeological strata, when remains from various layers exist underground. (p.250) This is an interesting model for ruins, and from a historical point of view, it does a good job at preserving sites in a stable climate for future historical study. However, it has two main shortcomings - the site is not visible, and thus does not accomplish what is presumably one of the main goals of historical preservation, and it does not preserve buildings as living sites with day-to-day functions. This begins to touch on bigger issues with Historical Preservation, a movement which is basically not interested in either history or preservation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nolli, Roman Ruins, and Ruin Redevelopment

One of the most iconic maps is the one of Rome produced by Giambattista Nolli in 1748. There are many amazing things about this figure-ground depiction of the Eternal City, such as the minute detail with which he rendered the interior of public buildings. Nolli also numbered each building, a total of 1320 sites. Of these sites, he lists 60 of them as being in ruins. Truth be told, however, a large portion of the ancient footprint of Rome had become depopulated over the centuries and lay in ruins. This area, the disabitato, was becoming resettled in Nolli's time and contained villas, gardens and agriculture.

In built-up urban areas, ruins have long provided an extra open space, or provided the opportunity for redevelopment. This process continues today. In previous posts we have shown artistic depictions of ruins reuse, for industry and other activities. I can also think of instances in which ruins were cleared and the space redeveloped, though this is less interesting to me because of it's lack of concern for historical preservation. We see in the Nolli map some reuse of Roman ruins for new activities, but also some ruins which have since been cleared.

Anfiteatro Castrense (no. 20 on the Nolli map) is now a garden. The ruins of the villa di Mecenata (no. 39) were destroyed in 1877 for the new Via Carlo Alberto. The Arco di Tito (no. 73) was restored in 1821, while the Coserve d'acqua delle Terme Diocleziane (no. 200) was destroyed. Castro Pretorio (no. 202) is now part of the national library. Maus. di Augusto (no. 472) was restored in the 1930 with a heavy hand, wiping out some of the surrounding buildings. Remains of the Ponte Trionfale (no. 541), a bridge over the Tiber, is still visible when the water level is low. The Terme di Trajan Decio ruins (no. 1079) have been covered by 20th century housing.

An interesting study would be to survey those buildings listed as ruins by Nolli, and to compare the restored, reused, and destroyed buildings with the ones that were left alone.

All this is relevant to the previous post about Canopy Gap. Just the death of a tree provides opportunity for new growth, so too a ruin can provide either space for a new structure, or simply for a new activity within the ruins.

Ruined Doorways and Eternal Life

The following is an interesting quote from an ancient Jewish source, relating to ruins.

From minor tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta, which may be from the 9th century and deals with advise for how to live the good life:

אל תהא כאסקופה העליונה שמונעת את הרגלים (וסופה להסתר ס"א). ולא כאמצעית שכל היושב על ידו זועף וסופה להסתר. היה כאסקופה התחתונה שרוב בני אדם דורסין אותה לסוף כל הבנין כולה נסתר והיא במקומה עומדת. (סוף פרק שלישי)

Translation: "Do not be like the lintel, which denies entrants (and will in the end be destroyed). Nor like the jamb, upon which those sitting nearby lean, and in the end it will be destroyed. Rather, be like the threshold, that most people walk on and in the end, even when the entire building is destroyed, it will remain in its place."

In other words, strive to be modest and helpful during your life, and your good deeds will last forever.

(Photo above: Ruined doorway in Ambrussum, by Martin J. Newman)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canopy Gap

When I was a counselor at a camp in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, every summer we would take the campers away from camp for 3 days to live in tents on a property near camp. All the cooking was done on campfires, so we would send the kids to gather firewood in the nearby forest. In this forest, there was one tree that was clearly older than all the others. It was massive - thick, tall, and its branches had a huge circumference. It was interesting to me that nothing grew underneath this tree, as it blocked all the sunlight. Beyond its branches, however, there were many other trees of various size.
One summer, there was a massive thunderstorm, and later when we went to this forest, I saw that half this tree had fallen down. Suddenly, a large amount of sunlight was allowed to come through the tree canopy. The following year, when I visited the site again, I noticed that now there were a lot of small saplings growing, where once the huge tree had blocked out the sunlight.

This concept is known as Canopy Gap. To quote wikipedia,
"Gaps are formed after large trees die and fall which allows the regrowth trees and other plants as the shade is removed."
I mention this because it occurs to me that ruins have the potential to have a similar effect. While a major structure initially garners all the attention and is the focus of activity, when that structure becomes a ruin, it opens the possibility for a whole host of other activities to move in and fill the gap. These activities do not necessarily consume the ruins, but rather can take place both in and around them.

Perhaps this model is one we can utilize in our studies of preservation of ruins. While I still think that it can be acceptable to intervene in ruins, and that this is one potential model for ruin preservation, perhaps we need to expand our focus to include radically different methods, and this idea of Canopy Gaps can provide one such model.