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Learning from Decay

Essays on the Aesthetics of Architectural Dereliction and Its Consumption

Max Ryynänen and Zoltan Somhegyi

Architectural decay as well as the reasons, effects, appearance and representation of ruination have always been important sources of understanding the state of our culture. The essays in this co-written book offer broad perspectives on the potential of ruins, on the use and appropriation of derelict architecture and on the aesthetics and also touristification of places by analysing a variety of phenomena in the range from classical to fake ruins, from historic city centres to hot dog stands, from debris to theme parks. The survey travels from Tallin through Venice and Istanbul to Beirut, discussing among others actual spaces, allegorical monuments and nostalgic aestheticisations of the past in high and popular culture, thus showing numerous inspiring opportunities of learning from decay.

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Introduction: Learning from Decay – Learning What? And What for?


Max Ryynänen and Zoltán Somhegyi

Introduction: Learning from Decay – Learning What? And What for?

Our constant curiosity and desire of understanding better our world and ourselves within it leads to a never-ending learning process. Practically anything may merit our attention and can be qualified as a possible subject of our investigation. Even the visions of decay and examples of dereliction may guide us to invaluable discoveries by the questions that arise through the observation of these sites and sights. This interest in the questions that ruins urge and generate we can also read at the very beginning of Brian Dillon’s catalogue text for an exhibition titled Ruin Lust that surveyed the centuries of fascination of artists with ruins: “The ruins are still standing – but what do they stand for? It seems that the harder we think about destruction and decay, the closer we stare at this or that crumbling mass of stone or concrete or steel, and the further we explore the very idea of ruin itself, the less the whole category holds together. (…) We ask a great deal of ruins, and divine a lot of sense from their silence.”1 Hence ruins in particular, just like the reasons and results of dereliction in general, have always been a question, and every period had its own approach towards answering it. Or, we could also say that each era felt the need to learn from decay, which also means finding the exact way of asking...

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