MemberDecember 13, 2023 at 1:02 pm
So excited to hear about your new project. I have been thinking a lot about decay recently too–although less about ways to build sustainably and about modern ruins. As countries shift from industrial to postindustrial economies the American Rust Belt is being globalized. With more natural disasters, increased urban war, and the possible worldwide population decline by 2100–the rate of ruin production seems unlikely to slow. The next two century may create more ruins than at any other point in human history (which says a lot considering how many ruins were created in WWII). This raises numerous ontological, technical, and ethical questions about what to do about the explosion of ruins throughout the globe.
On the ontological side, there is the question of what makes a ruin a ruin.
-One way of approaching this question is by asking, for whom is it a ruin? What is a ruin to a human being is the perfect home for a fox or a bird. While ruins are often presented as ecological blights (and many are)–this is not the case for all ruins. Ecologies are more plastic and adaptable than many give them credit for. Ruins quickly become heavily integrated into ecosystems, some even becoming akin to terrestrial coral reefs. Often it is human inhabited landscapes, rather than ruins, that cause more damage to ecological communities.
-Another way of approaching this question is to ask, when does a building become a ruin? When it is abandoned? When nature colonizes? When the roof caves in? The most persuasive answer would seem to be when it ceases to be maintained. But even this answer needs nuance. Many ancient Greek ruins receive more maintenance and care than vacant lots in Baltimore–yet they are both “ruins.”
On the ethical side there is the question of what ruins–if any–are worth preserving? Which ruins should be demolished? And how do we decide?
-Which ruins should and shouldn’t be preserved has always been contested. As we move further into the twenty-first century we will have to start thinking about what modern ruins are worth preserving and what criteria to use to make such decisions. How do we balance cultural memory with future development? Whose cultural memory gets to be preserved? When does cultural memory trump environmental considerations?
-The ethics of these questions are made all the more complicated by the legacies of colonialism and capitalism. Many modern ruins are built upon native land. Does preserving colonial buildings perpetuate literal architectures of oppression? Does preserving colonial ruins continue the erasure of indigenous memory?
-This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ethical consideration of modern ruins.
Finally, on the technical side, there is the question of what we should do with the ruins we decide to keep?
-Should they be left to nature to decay or should they be carefully preserved? Should they be turned into parks, museums, and ruin gardens, or left alone? There are many interesting design experiments with modern ruins, some of the most famous being Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Germany and New York City’s High Line.