Maybe It’s Okay

by Don Friedman on March 30, 2018

Almost anything taken to an extreme is bad. If we say every building is worthy of preservation, then we condemn the centers of our cities to obsolescence as all development is forced elsewhere; if we say nothing is, then we lose the physical presence of our past. This is not a particularly deep thought, but it’s what came to mind as I browsed the virtual Museum of Collapsed Buildings. There’s a wide range of pictures there, ranging from actual collapsed and collapsing buildings, to ancient ruins, to architects’ visions, to active demolition. There’s nothing distasteful there, but in some ways it feels like ruin porn.

For example, in the “actual collapsed and collapsing buildings” link above, we’re looking at what’s left of a house in a decaying neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey, a poor city that has seen better days. In other words, we’re looking at the remnants of people’s home, in the remnants of their neighborhood, in the remnants of their city. It’s hard to avoid the accusation of voyeurism or slumming.

I need to make it clear that I’m not saying there’s something wrong with the Museum site. Several of my posts here are obviously open to the ruin porn accusation. I’m saying that there may be something wrong with how we look at abandoned and decaying buildings. Buildings are inanimate objects and cannot have their feelings hurt or be disrespected. But historic preservation is based on the idea that those objects are cultural focal points and therefore can represent a great deal to people in terms of memories, emotions, and a sense of their society. That doesn’t mean that abandoned buildings should be treated as shrines – I’ve been in a lot of buildings that were abandoned and near the point of demolition, and they are generally unpleasant and often dangerous – but maybe we need to work harder to strike a balance between aesthetic and technical analysis on the one hand, and the cultural values being lost on the other.

Electronics As Architecture

March 21, 2018

There are probably better examples to be had, but the west concourse of the World Trade Center is the one nearby, so that’s where the pictures were taken. There are a few ideas that seem to have been circling around in architecture for as long as I can remember and probably longer. One is modular/factory-built […]

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Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

February 16, 2018

If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass. Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the […]

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February 9, 2018

I’ve been reading Designing Culture by Anne Balsamo, which is largely a sociological study of how engineering affects everyone around it. It’s interesting, if a bit off from my usual reading. One sentence in it grabbed my attention: Balsamo refers to a famous book in the same field, Aramis, or The Love of Technology, and […]

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Response to a Manifesto

January 31, 2018

Old Structures is an engineering firm, not an architecture firm; our technical employees are all engineers. That said, we work with architects every day and the two professions are closely related and to some degree mirror images of each other. The Architecture Lobby Manifesto therefore resonates a great deal with me. The text at the […]

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Analyzing Sisyphus

January 7, 2018

You can’t really see it, but I took that picture during the snowstorm on Thursday. The somewhat hyper maintenance staff in Battery Park City had already plowed this section of park walkway once, as you can see, and were plowing elsewhere at the time. They were obviously on some kind of schedule to rotate through […]

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Fluid Mechanics

January 6, 2018

I only remember two things from the one semester of fluid mechanics I studied in college: (1) if you can’t have smooth flow (which the most efficient) you’re better off with turbulent flow than with sort-of-smooth flow, and (2) it was a hard topic to study. That said, I can watch the wind blow snow […]

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A Joke Until It’s Not

September 1, 2017

Plenty of building sites in 1903: It’s not often you see a parody as well executed as the website for One Liberty, the redevelopment of the Statue of Liberty as condos. From the “One [Something]” name to the tagline “Goodbye Huddled Masses, Hello Muddled Cocktails” it manages to encapsulate everything mockable in the current real […]

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An Added Benefit

August 27, 2017

We climb scaffold for a single purpose: to see some aspect of a building up close in order to better understand it. But a lot of the time (click on the panorama above to enlarge it) the view is worthwhile in itself.

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What Do We Do All Day? Revisited

August 15, 2017

Internet discussion can be many things, with good and bad. Once in a while, a reply is more interesting than what triggered it. This short essay by Yonatan Zunger was a response to a “manifesto” that I’m not going to link to, on the topic of diversity. It should come as no surprise to anyone who […]

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