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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jet Star Roller Coaster Ruins

Hurricane Sandy did a fair amount of damage to the U.S. east coast last month. Some friends of mine lost power for almost two weeks, and there were certainly dramatic pictures of flooding, notably in the subway and Ground Zero. So of the pictures were so bizarre that Atlantic Monthly ran a piece trying to sort the fakes from the real ones. Of course, faking ruins is an old tradition, both in real life with architectural follies, and in photoshop. We've also talked about ruins from current events, and how they are premature ruins. When things are so fresh, you don't know how they'll look in a week, or a month, or a year, especially if the demolition crews haven't yet arrived.

My favorite ruins picture from Sandy is the Jet Star Roller Coaster in Asbury Park, NJ, which was totaled and left standing completely in the sea. Apparently it's not just that the roller coast was surrounded by water, but rather it was physically moved by the water, thrown into the sea. We've seen ruined Roller Coasters before, and it's always dramatic. It probably has to do with the juxtaposition of pure fun - riding a roller coaster in an amusement park - with total destruction.

This roller coaster is like a 3-Dimensional Spiral Jetty. Wouldn't it be great if people could go out swimming around it, watch it become encrusted with barnacles and whatnot, especially if it was in view of other, working roller coasters? There was some talk (by the mayor, Bill Akers) of leaving it as a tourist attraction, but that has sadly been shot down. Come on people, dream a little! This could be such a cool water park! Yes, there are safety issues, but the people of Asbury Park are missing out on a golden opportunity. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Does ivy ruin buildings or make them?

Pictured is a little ivy covered house in the village of Nomexy-Chatel on the banks of the Moselle River in the North East of France, taken on a recent trip.

Recently I read a magnificent article on ivy and the 'ruination' of buildings.
I am an ivy lover.
Ivy growing up, on, around and in buildings is the height of the romantic ruin, even on functioning buildings, it seems to me wonderful.
A combination of man made and god made.
A mix of the harsh, right angles of concrete/brick buildings, and the wild beauty of the green ivy climbing haphazardly up the building.
The article, written by Christopher Gray, in the NY Times, briefly goes into the history of the discussion as to whether or not ivy is destructive to functioning buildings.
It appears that in the late 1800's ivy was pronounced by both Chambers' Encyclopaedia of London and Edinburgh as well as the The New York Tribune as not only being harmless to buildings but as ''gracefully clothing'' them "with the interlacing vine". However, shortly after, The American Architect magazine, in the early 1900's described the climbing vine leaves as "coarse and rank" hiding beautiful architecture, and even quoted the English Builder magazine saying, "there exist two principal ways of destroying buildings, both equally efficient: a) dynamite, b) ivy." !!!
The argument went back and forth over the years, until recently, in 2010, an Oxford report was published, called Ivy on Walls, which gives a more scientific and decisive answer to the issue.
It seems that ivy does not damage masonry walls. On the contrary it even protects the brick surface from being attacked by 'airborne pollutants', and moderates the temperature and humidity around such walls, thereby reducing damage made to brick walls by extreme fluctuation in temperature/humidity.
This magnificent article even quotes from a a poem written by Byron in 1817 on the romance of the decaying Colosseum (I don't recall if Josh found this and already previously quoted this, if so, apologies, but it is nevertheless a superb quote regarding the romance of ruins...):

"Ivy usurps the laurel's place of growth
But the Gladiators' bloody Circus stands
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!"

If only the ivy had been left to climb the ruins of the Colosseum...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Way of All Flesh

Midas Dekker's book, The Way of All Flesh: The Romance of Ruins, is a meditation on life and decay. It covers an astounding array of topics without really forming an hypothesis. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and thought-provoking read that is at times also uncomfortable, such as when there are pictures of preserved dead babies.

The most pertinent chapter to our studies is chapter 2: Romantic Ruins. Dekkers writes that he understands the need to restore buildings, but also wishes that somewhere there should also be places where buildings, locomotives, and animal carcasses are free to "truly rest in peace", decomposing or falling apart without interference (p.28) Regarding trains, he writes that in Netherlands (his home)
"Nothing, ever, anywhere, can die a natural death there anymore. Still warm from their fianl fun, old locomotives are put out to pasture according a to a schedule. Nuts and bolts are collected as if they were evidence for a murder trial and then polished to become pieces de resistance in those mausoleums known as railway museums. There the locomotives stand, as unauthentic as can be, too new to be old, yet too old to be new - sterilized, social misfits. Somewhere, beneath all those layers of varnish, is supposed to be the real locomotive, but you certainly can't see it. How can such an anomaly ever evoke anything in anyone? As readily as I can imagine the engine driver standing in such a Bolivian wreck or hear the fire roaring on the grate or smell the stokers' sweat, it is difficult for me in railway museums to envisage anything but the men restoring it. The links with the past have been polished out of existence."(28-29)
Dekkers gives a history of ruins and ruin fascination, a story that does not require rehashing for readers of this blog. But he brings in a wide array of analogies that shed light on our discussion. He talks about spoiled food, old men, and bacteria. He elaborates on the forces of nature that cause ruins, in a way that is reminiscent of Simmel but with a wildly different tone. In the end he arrives at a similar plea to that which we have made for the preservation of ruins:

"Give us back our ruins! Throw a few crumbs to the fungi and the beetles - a little villa here, a little warehouse there, an abandoned waterworks site over there - something the creatures can really get their teeth into. A waste of old buildings? It doesn't have to be old buildings; nature loves new buildings too. Just make a few holes in the gutters or rain pipes and within no time they'll be the ideal mouthful, thanks to the sour urine of moisture-loving micro-organisms. As well as a Monuments List of old buildings earmarked for restoration, there should be a Ruins List of new buildings earmarked for ruin. I have a few suggestions, if anyone's interested."(p. 57)
A ruins list - what a lovely idea!