The numerous crises of the past two years have presented us with images of neighborhoods on fire, cities closed to human activity, vandalism and rioting inside normally secure facilities such as the United States Capitol, and the brutal suppression of protests in spaces designed specifically for peaceful public gathering. Central to these all is the glaring but almost never discussed presence of architecture and the urban environments it defines—and more importantly, its intentional abuse, destruction, forced occupation, and purposeful misuse. Architectural destruction such as this, or even general decay, indexes not only the failure of individual buildings, but also of technologies, economies, communities, or, at times, entire civilizations. These acts against architecture, therefore, can oftentimes be far more impactful than the creation of the buildings themselves-functioning as architecture does as the backdrop of our lives if not our very physical definition of reality. And yet architecture is rarely discussed in these terms—as a framework of human reality that itself can be damaged or destroyed, thereby producing significant psychological effects on individuals, communities, and nations. Rarely do we consider the buildings that we propose as architects or those that surround us as citizens through decay, destruction, or their end-of-life, or afterlife. This is a course about such ruination in physical terms, but also philosophical ones that will help us determine new relationships between architecture, meaning, cultural value and the act of building.

The raw materials for this course will emerge from the study of various forms of ruins from not only the past and present, but also the future, through research into the speculative territories of online ‘ruin porn,’ new genres of art practice, and in particular dystopian television and film projects that reveal an intense contemporary cultural interest in apocalyptic themes. Such fetishization of civilizational collapse can be found in recent television programs such as Station Eleven, Silent Sea, The Walking Dead and Black Mirror, but perhaps even more surprisingly in teenage-literature and film releases including The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner series. More evidence of this trend can be found in televisions programs such as The Handmaids Tale, Westworld, Altered Carbon, Colony and The Rain, as well as films such as Don’t Look Up, Ready Player One, Snowpiercer, Elysium, Mad Max: Fury Road, Children of Men, Mother, and the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is an unusual phenomenon–when a significant form of entertainment for a society is imagining its own destruction. The massive destruction of architecture and the physical infrastructures of daily life feature heavily in these narratives.

There, of course, lies another aspect of ruination that is also relatively neglected within architecture, which is the ruination of program, or the near inevitability of adaptive reuse. Rare within human history is the building that remains used in the exact same way as its architect intended. Our own Rudolph Hall was renovated by Charles Moore nearly immediately after it was constructed. The Roman theater of Marcellus is now high-end apartments, the iconic power station on the Thames in London is now the Tate Modern. Examples abound. The point being that program ruination, in either partial or full forms, is nearly always accompanied by some form of reuse-even if that reuse is seemingly non-programmaic and entails merely leaving ruins as ruins to be ogled by masses of tourists (which is a new program). Along these lines we will be addressing reuse in our class discussions and it may be the basis of some of the students final projects.


All Semesters

1228b
Spring 2021
Ruins and Ruination
Mark Foster Gage
1228b
Spring 2020
Ruins and Ruination
Mark Foster Gage