Seeing Beauty in Urban Decay

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/arts/design/andrew-moores-photographic-take-on-detroit-decay.html?ref=design

Andrew Moore’s photographs of Detroit reveal an eerie beauty in the abandoned buildings of Detroit.  These images, which some have lambasted as ‘ruin porn’, evoke Piranesi’s 18th century paintings of Roman ruins, a popular backdrop used by artists since the Renaissance.  Why do these images, which evidence the decline of civilizations and the fragility of life, have a sad beauty?  Firstly, Adam Moore has an almost painterly style of capturing these spaces, almost breathing life into the buildings.  His skill  as a photographer doesn’t however does not explain the inherent beauty of once great structures forgotten by the vagaries of time.  Rome, the eternal city, has fueled it’s architectural rebirths over the centuries through a cannibal reuse of ancient abandoned buildings. Or Palermo, once the jewel of the Mediterranean, is like a former beauty queen ravaged by time but alluringly tragic in it’s collapsing state.  As one walks the streets of these cities, the history and time is evident in the ruination.

A street in Instanbul Turkey

Perhaps I am predisposed to be drawn to architectural deterioration.  A childhood visit to Rome sparked a lifelong love affair with ancient civilizations.  Texts have never produced the same personal connection I felt in the Forum to the generations of humans who came before me and inhabited this space.   The romance of decaying buildings is not limited to grand spaces with important histories, although structures with illustrious pasts have fallen farther and therefore pull more at the heart strings.  A street in Turkey evoked the same emotion, the same longing for a past which I new never existed.  The crumbling walls and fading paint of these buildings suggest an earlier time, when these structures were newly built.

Things fall apart. Entropy is one of the laws of the universe.  Decaying and forgotten buildings remind us of our own mortality, of the men and women who poured their ingenuity into creating these structures.  The world is ever-changing around us and it is the stone achievements (stonehenge, the pyramids etc) which outlast us and, though worn by time, affirm our existence.

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About projectpatrimonio

Helena Boyden Lamb, born 1985 in New York, has studied and worked in Politics, Heritage Ethics and Politics, and Opera Singing. Most recently, she is working in Brussels where she started in a European Think Tank and is now the Executive Office of a NGO which facilitates Youth Politics across the EU. She has a Bachelor with Honors from Stanford University, California in Classics: Politics and Heritage and a Masters with Honors from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK in European Identity. She has conducted academic or independent grant-funded research in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and Albania. She was, previously, an archaeologist and an opera singer. Cynthia Querio is a Museum Educator currently living and working in Los Angeles. She is interested in heritage and identity politics and the role of museum education departments in the trajectory of this debate. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a 9 month graduate internship at the Getty Villa's education department and has continued to work in many museums in Los Angeles including LACMA and the Autry National Center. Her academic background is in the Classics, which was her major at Stanford University and which she continued to pursue with a Masters in the History of Classical Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
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