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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Underwater Ruins

The MSRA - Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates - is an organization that researches shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. I grew up (mostly) in Michigan, the state which is in the middle of the Great Lakes, so the subject is literally closer to home for me than ocean shipwrecks. They estimate that hundreds of major ships have sunk in these waters, with a page that links to the story of many of the ruins that they have located, complete with GPS coordinates and pictures of the ships pre-disaster.

Other similar organizations exist as well. Neighboring state Wisconsin boasts something called "The Ghost Ship Festival", devoted to scuba diving and Great Lakes Maritime History. NUMA - the National Underwater and Marine Agency - is a "volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts." Most of us saw the movie Titanic (and perhaps "Ghosts of the Abyss) which partially showed an expedition to find the famed ship, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean.

I came across the subject when I read a recent newspaper article about the discovery of a shipwreck in Lake Michigan.

Underwater, or marine archaeology is a recognized sub-field of archaeology. For example, in Israel underwater archaeologists have surveyed the ruins of Herod's harbor in Caesaria. While it used to be done by divers, today miniature submarines are often used, as well as sonar for surveying. This can include not only shipwrecks, but also underwater buildings resulting from changes in coastlines, rivers etc. One example is the so-called Seahenge.
Ship ruins are not commonly addressed in philosophical literature, and rarely appear in art. Symbolically, I image they are less poignant than land ruins, simply because while a building seems like something stable, strong, and long-lasting, a ship is far more fleeting. One doesn't think of a ship on the sea as something stable or tenable - it can't retain its position for long. Therefore, it is not so mind-boggling to think about a shipwreck. In addition, sea ruins are by far less accessible to the average person, so they are not in the public conscience in the same way. Nonetheless, they do play on our fears, and the ruins themselves are quite beautiful.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ruins in Contemporary Design

We've been looking for examples of ruins used as architectural elements. Although this isn't something that one would called common, there are certain circumstances where ruins are less uncommon. We found a number of examples of ruins within parks. Seattle's Gas Works Park, designed by Richard Haag, makes use of indstrials ruins as a feature on the landscape, and even used some of the ruins a children's "play barn." In Sydney, the Paddington Reservoir Gardens by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer is a sunken garden in the ruins of an old waterworks plant. The Landscape Park in Duisburg-Nord, Germany by Peter Latz and Partners reuses a steelworks plant. Colored lights illuminate the structure, and new functions such as a climbing wall have been introduced onto the ruins. Latz also designed Harbour Island at a destroyed harbour in Saarbrucken. Mill Ruins Park in Minnesota features - you guessed it - the ruins of an old mill. France boasts the Parc du Haut Fourneau from this century and the Parc des Buttes Chaumont from the 19th century. Fundidora Park in Mexico uses the ruins of an old steel mill. Another example is the Altes Huttenareal in Neunkirchen.

We also tried to find examples of reuse of military architecture from World War II, as this is particularly pertinent to our work in Rosh Ha'ayin. At the Charles Darwin National Park in Australia, concrete bunkers are reused. Quonset Point in Rhode Island used to be a WWII naval station, and there are attempts to redesign it for new use as well. It's interesting to note that most WWII base ruins are in the middle of nowhere. In a sense, the situation in Rosh Ha'ayin, where the ruins are inside a city, is quite rare.

Other projects have used ruins for public community functions. Foster+Partners designed the Essen Design Center in the 1990s, reusing "the site as a cultural centre and to transform the old powerhouse - a masterpiece of industrial archaeology - into the home of a design centre for the promotion of contemporary design in Germany and abroad." The Bethlehem Steel Plant in Pennsylvania has been redesigned as a casino. Although I'm not certain if I consider it ruins, the High Line by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with James Corner also enter the conversation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Edmund Burke

Several books and articleſ that I've read about ruinſ have mentioned a particular work of Edmund Burke, the 18th century English philosopher, entitled A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideaſ of the ſublime and Beautiful. I therefore came to the concluſion that it was worth my trouble to read it. I downloaded the fifth edition and plunged right in, long ſ be damned.

It was a disappointment. The book was an attempt to argue scientifically what it means to be beautiful or sublime. Living in a Postmodern world, these arguments come across as archaic. Even worse, there was hardly anything about ruins in the entire 350 page essay! All there was fit in one small section: Part 1, section 15, entitled "On the Effects of Tragedy." Burke argues that ruins are exciting because they are authentic, and because we like seeing things that cause us outrage. He writes that if London were to be destroyed, it would get more tourists as a ruin than it does as a major European city.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Quonset Hut - Military Huts + Sheds Cont'd...

Quonset Hut, converted into a house post-war, U.S.
Recently Josh found a wonderful quote from one of the designers of the American Army's Quonset Hut (or its British equivalent the Nissen Hut), which goes as follows. When asked if he ever anticipated the long post-war life the quonset hut has enjoyed, McDonnel said that the members of his team never gave it a thought; "It was an ugly thing, and its purpose was not to grace the landscape."
Although, in my eyes it is a wonderful snug-looking hut, and has since been converted/recycled to serve a variety of uses and programs.
Nissen Huts in Australia, below top, in the Northern Territory left to ruin, below bottom, in South Australia, converted to a Church.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Elisabeth Clemence Chan's "What Roles for Ruins?"

Elisabeth Clemence Chan's essay, "What Roles for Ruins? Meaning and Narrative of Industrial Ruins in Contemporary Parks" (Journal of Landscape Architecture/Autumn 2009) is an essay that directly pertains to our project. Chan writes about industrial ruins in parks, such as the Gas Works Park in Seattle and Landschaftspark Duisburgh-North in Germany, noting that most often the ruins in these parks are used just as aesthetic objects, akin to follies in English gardens of the 18th century. This, she feels, is a lost opportunity to use the ruins as a way of remembering the past and considering both the positive legacy of various industries and the negative ones.
"The ruins are not typically used in ways that project the environmental consequences, production practices, economics, or legacies of the industry. Instead, it is my view that parks containing industrial ruins are designed and built because people enjoy ruins, especially in parks."
The ruins end up serving as the type of limitless, vague monument described by JB Jackson that celebrates a vernacular past, just beyond memory, that never really existed. Chan also references Tim Edensor's book on Industrial ruins and points out that a park with industrial ruins can
"also cultivate a certain social cohesion - or at least a perceived cohesion through a broad sense of nostalgia and pride in a community's history and melancholy at its decline."
Rather than beautifying the ruins and turning them into objects, she writes that some ruins should be left untouched, which will help people view them realistically and think more critically of what these ruins denote, where they came from, and what they tell us about the past. She asks what would happen if we
"Let the crumbling ruins of industry stand, in this eroding state, as monuments? What if we simply left industrial ruins alone in all their ambiguity, with the broken glass, the graffiti and corroding structures? Parks could be built around them and among them (with many fences), but the structures and artifacts could continue to tell the fragmented stories of history. Ruins provide an opportunity for memory that is totally different from written history. The structures of industry left in their gloomy eroding state eschew "preferred memoreies" (Edensor 2005:172) and offer the uncertainties, vagueness and confusion of history that is impossible to articulate, other than through the artifacts in ruin...It is this set of meanings that is lost when industrial ruins are polished, painted and planted."
Although Chan is dealing entirely with industrial ruins, we can easily ask the same questions about the military ruins which we are dealing with in Rosh Ha'ayin. We do not want these ruins to become simple aesthetic objects in the landscape. Rather, we want to use them to remember Rosh Ha'ayin's past. Just as Chan comes to the conclusion that to achieve this effect ruins should not be cleansed and beautified, we also have concluded that we must strive to keep our ruins authentic, and that only by doing so will they be true witnesses to history.

Chan recognizes that leaving industrial ruins untouched is "an impractical position" for a number of reasons: Communities want improvements and do not necessarily want to be shown symbols of the past that they regret. Recreational space is viewed as more important that monuments, so any open land for redevelopment will probably need to be prepared for public use. And finally, there is a need to protect people and the environment from unsafe conditions. These, of course, are the same problems we face with preserving ruins in Rosh Ha'ayin. Nonetheless, she presents a series of guidelines for the purpose of making this more palatable, at least in order to achieve a middle ground.

1. Ruins should be treated as historical evidence first, and as aesthetic objects second.
2. Designers should recognize that their designs will influence how people read the history of the site.
3. The historical context makes a big difference and should be preserved as well.
4. Interventions should be minimal.
5. At least park of the site should be left in ruins.
6. Park of the design should allow for a process of discovery.

We independently have arrived at similar conclusions as guidelines for our work, and it is exciting to find someone who carried out a similar study and came to the same conclusions.

Friday, March 18, 2011

ECLAS 2009: Landscape and Ruins

Two years ago, the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools held their annual conference on the subject of "Landscape & Ruins - Planning and Design for the Regeneration of Derelict Places." The conference included 4 sections that relate to our project:

  1. Regeneration of Rejected Landscapes
  2. Catastrophic Events and Landscape Change
  3. Plants in Ruined Landscapes
  4. Archaeological Landscapes
Shmulik: Do you know if there is a catalog from this conference available? I'd like to see the abstracts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Riegl, Dehio and Ruin Preservation

Along with Ruskin and Didron, another early Conservationist who believed in minimal intervention was Georg Dehio (1850-1932), a German art historian. He influentially wrote that the first commandment of preservation was "conserve, do not restore." Dehio felt that unless monuments were valued based on their historical significance, rather than their appearance, conservation would simply be a whimsical, subjective practice with no real rules. He claimed that "To protect monuments is not to pursue pleasure, but to practice piety," [my emphasis] making it a far more egregious error to intrude on an existing building that if it were mere aesthetic considerations at stake.

Dehio famously argued with Alois Riegl (1858-1905) on the subject of conservation. Dehio felt that Riegl had placed too great an emphasis on aesthetics Rudy Koshar writes that:
"Opposed to any form of restoration, Riegl favored a radical conservation policy by which buildings were maintained but eventually aloowed to deteriorate and amortize their full age value "naturally." Although he supported this critique of restoration and by no means discounted other motivations for preservation, Dehio thought Riegl had replaced national memory with hedonistic contemplation of decay for pleasure-seeking individuals uninterested in collective visions of the past." (Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century, p. 34)
In "Authenticity and Historic Preservation: Towards an Authentic History" (History of the Human Sciences 15:1 5-23) Randolph Starn refers to Riegl's theories and writes:
"Supposing ruins to represent the highest age-value, it could be argued that monuments should not be conserved, let alone restored. The documentary value of a monument could just as well justify making facsimiles as conserving disintegrating originals. Dismantling and reassembling an original in a museum might be the best way to safeguard its integrity and intelligibility; once properly surveyed and published for the historical record, it could be altered or even destroyed without its historical value being lost."
To read Riegl and Dohio one understands the extent to which preservationists tried to split hairs with their theories. They are both essentially agreeing with one of our basic assumptions, that buildings should be allowed to turn into ruins. Our understanding of ruin-preservation exists somewhere on the continuum with them. We agree with Riegl's assessment about monuments being allowed to decay into ruins. We also agree with Dehio about the historic value for national, sectoral and tribal importance. We are claiming that buildings can both be allowed to descend into ruin AND maintain their historical importance. In fact, their very ruination is part of what allows the structures to enhance their importance.

Monks and Ruins

A nice thing about working on our project in a studio is that we see the projects of our classmates and have some give-and-take with them. Topics that get discussed during other presentations can work their way into other projects as well. Amazingly, many of the subjects that are being covered by our classmates have come up in our research as well.
So with that in mind, here is a post about monks and ruins, which is connected to Gonen's project.

We've seen previously that ruin symbolism appears frequently in the Bible, as well as in Roman literature. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find it in Christian sources as well. For example, Christian writers describe the Jews in relation to ruins, particularly the ruisn of the Temple, and juxtapose this image with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as a way of denoting that Christianity has replaced the dead Jewish religion. Accordingly, Jerome writes in his commentary on Zephaniah:
"You can see with your own eyes a piteous crowd gathering on the day that Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Romans. Woebegone women stand with old men who appear weighed down with years. Bodies and clothes demonstrate the wrath of God. This mob of wretches congregates and groans over the ruins of their temple while the manger of the Lord sparkles, the church of his resurrection glows and the banner of his cross shines forth from the Mount of Olives."
One of the clearest places where ruins enter the Christian landscape is in relation to monks and holy people, who would often take up residence in deserted pagan temples. These temples were often said to be inhabited by demons with whom the saints had to contend. If the monks succeeded in driving out the demons, it helped demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over the old religions. Stylites, who lived on columns, may also have been dwelling within ruins.

These stories are often very descriptive and tell of specific instances and trials that the monks underwent. They also demonstrate some of the stereotypical characteristics of ruins: that they are outside of normative civilization, that they are haunted, and that they are good shelters for vagrants.

Now all I have to do is find something ruin-related in Netivot, and I'll have all the other projects covered...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Ruins

Recent events in Japan have gotten me thinking about the various types of nuclear ruins, and what may await parts of Japan if things continue to escalate.

1) Nuclear Weapon Ruins. Japan certainly knows more about nuclear ruins than anywhere else, being the only country to have sustained a nuclear attack in warfare. The ruins of Hiroshima, from when the United States dropped the bomb, were devastating and thorough.

2) Typical Ruins that happen to be Nuclear. In some circumstances, nuclear facilities are abandoned and fall into ruin. This could happen to any facility, but it's striking when a state-of-the-art installation like a nuclear power plant is left to rot. I found an interesting photo of a bunker from nuclear bomb tests in Nevada, which is now abandoned. Another example is Yongbyon in North Korea. 3) Meltdown. My thoughts immediately go to Chernobyl. This includes the ruins of the actual facility, and the wide swath of land that had to be abandoned due to increased radiation levels. This may yet happen in Japan as well. Famously, in a nearby area there was a brand-new amusement park that was abandoned and never used. Its rides now sit in ruins, along with the surrounding towns.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Photo Effects Contests

Tower Bridge, London

National Congress, Brazil

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Brooklyn Bridge

US Capitol Hill
Whilst browsing the internet for modern ruins I came across a pretty wild website called Worth1000 (i.e. a Picture is worth 1000 words), found at the following link: http://fx.worth1000.com/contests
This website conducts what it calls, 'Photo Effects Contests'. The contests are competitions open to all, welcoming you to submit computer edited photos under whatever topic it might be. Among these contests are "edible architecture", "modern ruins", and others. Above and below are some of the fantastic images from the website of the Modern Ruins photo effects competition, with today's buildings "ruinised".

Epcot Centre Disney World

Gehry's Disney Concert Hall, LA

The Louvre

Big Ben

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sha'ar Hagai Part II

This is a follow-up post to what we previously wrote about Sha'ar Hagai. At the time, Itai Horowitz directed us to an article from 2003 about the Convoy Memorial found in Sha'ar Hagai, written in Katadra (106, p119-138). The article, authored by Maoz Azariahu, raises three interesting points, regarding (i) how ruins gain collective importance, (ii) why they make good monuments, and (iii) about authenticity.

(i) Azariahu tells the story about how the ruined convoys were preserved. He writes that immediately after the War of Independence, there was no consensus for leaving them in place. Ben Gurion, for example, wanted to replace them with a conventional memorial, and others wanted them moved to a museum. On the other hand, Yigal Yadin wanted them to remain in place. Two design competitions were held, one in the 50s which was rejected, and a second in 1961 which led to the existing memorial in Sha'ar Hagai, built in 1967. However, in the 19 years it took the government to decide on a memorial, the ruined vehicles established themselves in the collective conscience of Israel, and by then the public wished for them to stay in place. I think this kind of public emotional attraction is key to successful ruin preservation.

(ii) The author points out that these types of ruins make great memorials because they serve a dual function. They are both witnesses, actively telling the story, and represent physical testimony. It is easier for someone to identify with them and feel as if they personally experienced and understand the events.
"Most of those who encounter the monument did not experience the event; for them the event belongs to the past, a historical event rather than a personal experience. Their personal memory in this sense is a memory of seeing the memorial as a representation of the historical event. The uniqueness of the convoy ruins is that they serve as witnesses that tell the story and as physical testimony that proves the veracity of the story. They don't just tell the story, like standard monuments that are built after the event takes place; rather, they are part of the story itself. The create a direct bond, above time, between the past and the present, and are a sort of bridge that allows the viewer to recreate the past in his mind."
(iii) Finally, Azariahu raises the problem of authenticity. These ruins succeed because they are taken to be authentic. However, as in nearly all situations, their authenticity is only partial. Firstly, they do not lie where they originally stopped. Rather, they had to be moved out of the way for traffic to pass. In addition, they were moved in 1970 when the path of the road was shifted. This was accompanied by landscaping the area around them; again in 1983, when the road was widened; And again in the 1990s, when, in addition to being relocated, the vehicles themselves were conserved.
It is a little disheartening to see just how difficult it is to retain authentic ruins. On the other hand, the fact that these ruins remain a powerful symbol perhaps shows that this requirement isn't total. In weighing authenticity v.s. total decay and loss of the objects, perhaps there should be room for compromise.

Photos from Israeli National Photo Archive

"Too Young and Vibrant for Ruins"

As details in a previous post, Ground Zero in New York is perhaps the most well-known modern ruin of our time. As such, it is a prominent case in which people have asked some important questions about ruins and suffering: is it okay to enjoy ruins? Is it okay to find ruins beautiful, when in fact they may have been the source of pain? How does our understanding of ancient ruins color our view of them?

In a recent article in the journal Afterimage from Nov/Dec 2008, entitled "Too Young and Vibrant for Ruins: Ground Zero Photography and the Problem of Contemporary Ruin," Weena Perry addresses these questions. She asks how we should relate to photographs of the World Trade Center ruins, and starts by drawing a comparison between them and ancient ruins:
"The remains of those interlocking perimeter columns--a High Modernist innovation for what briefly was the world's tallest building--became likened to the ruins of a cathedral. The invocation of religious architecture both expressed the sacrosanct nature of Ground Zero for many and connected the ruins to western culture's venerable past. Valid, too, is the comparison of the towers' shell to the pagan ruins of ancient Rome, especially the Coliseum."
Workers at Ground Zero are compared to the monks of Casper David Friedrich's paintings - both had a higher purpose in mind, and went on with their work despite the ruined nature of their building. However, a key distinction here is that while the monks were presumably doing what they had done while the church was intact, the Ground Zero workers were not going to trade stocks or write insurance premiums; rather, they were clearing the rubble and searching for remains.

Perry surveys various editorials that have been written about the ruins, in which people asked if it was perverse to find the ruins beautiful, and in which people looked at the ruins as symbols of resilience and survival, rather than as signs of destruction.

There is also an interesting distinction made between the ruins in NYC, a vibrant city, and those in midwestern cities, like Detroit, in which ruins are caused by neglect and decay. Despite the great suffering associated with the former, they are somehow more hopeful and less morose. Another comparison is between American ruins and European ruins. "America is considered 'too young and vibrant for ruins'", so when deciding how to preserve a memorial, it seemed wrong to many to leave actual ruins in place. Perry writes that the study of ruins has always been tied to a fear that this could happen to us as well. European and American scholars look at the ruins of Greece and Rome and fear that this will be our fate as well. The WTC ruins are unencumbered by this fear, as they happened in a thriving city and could quickly be rebuilt. However, even so politicians worried that this hit too close to home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rosh Ha'ayin Network of British Buildings

It seems that the majority of our posts deal with broad ruin issues. Some deal with Rosh Ha'ayin. But not that many deal with the combination of the two, which is actually what our project is all about. So here is a post about our project and how it is proceeding. I think there will probably be a few posts in this series of updates, including one about our current theories.

At the end of last semester, we had decided that we wanted to create additional branches of the Yemenite museum in Rosh Ha'ayin, located in various British buildings throughout the city. We talked about connecting these as part of a path, and assigned which functions would take place in each building. However, we neither justified the path well, nor did we come up with a good explanation for why each function was placed in each building. Finally, we did not convincingly explain why it was okay, according to our ruin theories, to redevelop some of the buildings and pass them off as "ruins." There was a big contradiction between the theory of ruin preservation and what we actually planned to do with some of the buildings.

Since then, we have been working to tighten our ideas and make the project stronger, hopefully solving these problems. Firstly, we decided that the idea of a path is not relevant. While we continue to think that the program of various other cultural centers / museum wings in the city is strong, we looked for different ways to model how they are interconnected. In addition, we wanted to strengthen the way that we assigned various functions to each building.

Most importantly, we recognize that not all the buildings are fitting to be left to decay. Some of the buildings have importance and deserve conventional preservation. We needed a way to rank the buildings and decide which should be preserved regularly, which could be partially left as ruins, and which buildings could be left as ruins entirely, with programming taking place around the perimeter. (More will follow about this final option.)

Continuing our past investigations, we have identified about 20 buildings originally built as part of the Ras el Ain base that are now part of Rosh Haayin. Some of these buildings are significant part of the city's history, while others have not. Some are in good shape or have been renovated, while others are falling apart. We settled on 4 main criteria for ranking these buildings and deciding which should be preserved whole, and which should be preserved ruined. The criteria were:
1) Uses - how important were/are these buildings in the history of Rosh Ha'ayin? Are they part of the city's culture? Were they public buildings? Do people think of them with nostalgia?
2) % Remaining - In what shape is the building? Is it whole, or mostly destroyed?
3) Vegetation - How much vegetation has invaded the buildings?
4) Location - How close is the building to the main museum? Is it on a main street? Is it surrounded by open area or tightly hemmed in?

Using these criteria, we ranked the buildings and made a list of three types of buildings:
A. Buildings that ranked high on uses, % remaining, had little vegetation and were located in the thick of the city were slated for conventional preservation. These buildings include the cinema, the central museum, one of the schools, and a few others.
B. Buildings that ranked medium were open for half-and-half treatment. Partial redevelopment, partial ruination.
C. Buildings that ranked low - that didn't serve important functions, are in poor to terrible shape, have been invaded by vegetation and are located in open fields or at a great distance were slated for ruin preservation.
Armed with this information, the next step was to map the various ruins and try to develop a new paradigm to replace the trail idea. Each map shows a different way at understanding how the various buildings relate to one another. 1. Trail; 2. Central Museum with radiating spokes; 3. Series of active spaces around each individual location; 4. Interconnection of each of the three types of buildings into independent networks that connect at the central museum; 5. three "perimeter zones" within which various activities take place; 6. One large ring path that encompasses all the various sites.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Ruins of Warsaw

I stumbled across a wonderful article about ruins in Warsaw in The Journal of Architecture, published by RIBA. The article is by Jerzy Elzanowski of the new Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, and is great for a number of reasons - it's a scholarly look at ruins in Warsaw, it tackles ruins from some perspectives I haven't yet encountered, and it deals with sources that I had never heard of, mostly because they are written in foreign languages. The article is called "Manufacturing Ruins: Architecture and Representation in post-catastrophic Warsaw," from Volume 15, Issue 1.

First, a little background: during World War II, Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis. 84% of the urban fabric was left in ruins. (The Warsaw Ghetto occupied 17% of the city and was razed completely following the uprising.) After the war the old city was rebuilt from existing photographs, and was given a unique UNESCO listing as a "Near-Total Reconstruction." Ruins were either demolished, reconstructed, or hidden away in courtyards behind buildings.

Elzanowski references a study by Reinhard Zimmermann, who divides the category of artificial ruins into types:
  1. Kontrastierenden Ruine (Contrastive ruins) - aesthetic shack designed to set up a contrast with existing, unruined architecture.
  2. Kontinuitatsstiftenden Ruine (ruins for facilitating historical continuity) - reconstruction that highlight historical buildings or styles from the past
  3. Transitorische Ruine (transient ruin) a middle category that helps us move from the past to the future.
Elzanowski writes that Warsaw's backyard ruins are comparable to category 1; reconstructions of historical buildings made from salvaged ruins belong to the 2nd category; and a third group, called manufactured ruins, align with third category. This final group, which is his primary concern, uses ruins "as a way of reflecting upon catastrophe in order to mediate between the nearly erased past and the inexplicable present." He gives an example:
"A series of brick memorial walls that mark places of wartime execution as well as Warsaw's old city walls - partially excavated and reconstructed in the interwar period and then constructed anew in the early 1950s to resemble decaying late mediaeval devensive structures - are examples of manufactured ruins."
The walls themselves are not original, or rather, have been so thoroughly redone that the original walls cannot be perceived. Yet this network of walls, scattered throughout the city, is a center of commemoration. The ruins were erased, yet these walls claim authenticity, and in recent decades have gained popularity and connected with the population.

Elzanowski laments that the once-existing and still-existing ruins are not more prominent in the city, calling ruins "a marker of reality in a post-catastrophic condition," and explaining that without ruins, it is hard to appreciate what the city endured, and the city is rendered in two dimensions rather than three. (I would say 3 dimensions rather than 4, but the point is understood nonetheless.) The development of the pseudo-ruined walls is, according to Elzanowski, part of the process by which Warsaw first rejected ruins and then sought to accept them into "public historical consciousness." He writes that the wall
"has become the only remaining link between the original post-catastrophic ruin and the purely graphic and entirely two-dimensional brick-as-logo that has recently come to embody Warsaw's commemorative culture."
Between total reconstruction and total demolition, the walls find a middle ground that is mentally healthy for a city coming to terms with its horrific past. As a parting shot, Elzanowski writes that this very dynamic, whereby an inauthentic ruin is the most authentic ruin in Warsaw, may be the best guide for understanding a city that has ironically lost both its built heritage - bombed and then simulated from scratch - and its ruins. As we have seen in our studies, ruins always contain these types of ironies and contradictions, and their symbolism is never simple. The situation in Warsaw highlights this fact, and gives us additional food for thought in our attempt to understand where ruins fit in existing cities and in the field of preservation.

As an aside, one of the most interesting parts of the article is regarding the decision of what to do with bombed-out Warsaw. While some advocated rebuilding, and others wanted to move the capital, historian Ebernhard Hempel wrote in an article, The Beauty of Ruins,
"...it will not be possible even to partially rebuild our old town centres, with their historic buildings...Witnesses of the past should not dominate our lives but they must rather inspire because within them we see the foundations upon which rests our present. Therefore, they should be preserved and maintained; where possible, they may also require a habitat where they can develop. Some parts of our inner cities will resemble the Roman Forum. Piously treasured ruins could also for us bear witness to the greatness of the past..."
What a wonderful and imaginative way to think of your city.

As a second aside, I found myself comparing Elzanowski's description of the walls in Warsaw with our very own ruined wall here in Jerusalem - the Kotel. The Kotel is not an original wall from the Temple - it is rather a remnant of a retaining wall to the Temple Mount built by Herod. Yet Jews had no access the the Temple Mount, and nothing today remains above-ground from that structure. As the only remaining piece of architecture connected to the Temple, the Kotel gained a certain importance in Judaism, as our sole link to that history and its traumatic conclusion. While its authenticity is greater than the walls Elzanowski describes in Warsaw, I still think the comparison is interesting and apt. In the case of the Kotel, the perceived reality is more powerful than the actual reality.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lebbeus Woods

Lebbeus Woods is an American architect and engineer (b. 1940 in Michigan). He studied architecture at the University of Illinois and engineering at Purdue University. He first started working in the offices of Eero Saarinen, but soon after decided to dedicate himself and his skills to purely theoretical and experimental 'paper architecture'. He is currently a professor of architecture at the Cooper Union in NYC.
His theory and architecture can be seen and read in his books, 'Radical Reconstruction' and 'War and Architecture'. Wherein one can begin to understand his connection to ruins. He proposes an architecture springing from the ruins of war-torn cities (Sarajevo) and cities struck by earthquakes (San Francisco). He talks of ruined buildings having scars once they have been reconstructed by him. He suggests a less materialistic world through the utilisation of 'poor' and 'found' materials, a recycling from and of the ruins, to reconstruct them. His magnificent, haunting drawings reflect visions of a great and deep architecture of ruins.