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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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Cheap Thrills: On Low Architectural Decay and Its Pleasures


The pennycandystore beyond the El

is where I first

   fell in love

      with unreality

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

Abstract: The Western metaphysics of high and low is usually based on a polarization, where the high is seen to hierarchically dictate the low. But what if our low is actually quite autonomic and more based upon mainstream than elitist culture, and what if the category is based at least partly on quite basic issues, for example, the lack of material and technical quality? At least sometimes this could be the case. A look at hot dog stands and other forms of cheap lowbrow architecture shows that at least one category of lowbrow stands quite indifferent in reference to classical and modernist values, at the same time as it provides aesthetic delights more than most modern architectural practices.

Keywords: entertainment, high and low, architecture, decay, popular architecture, Coney Island, Tivoli, television

If the Italian traveller Antonio Baratta, who, as we were told in Zoltán Somhegyi’s Chapter 1, listed different types of monumental architecture which he found in Istanbul in 1831, visited New York today, what would he write about? If Istanbul, an enchanting stranger, inspired him with amphitheatres, triumphal arches, baths, temples and aqueducts, what would he with his foreign, innocent eye pick up in the “Big Apple”?

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