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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.

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