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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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The Most Serene Sinking Ruins: Fragments from the History of the Aesthetics of Venice


Max Ryynänen

The Most Serene Sinking Ruins: Fragments from the History of the Aesthetics of Venice

“Lorenzo: How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon the bank.”

The Merchant of Venice (V, i)

Abstract: What can we learn from the history of the aesthetic impact of a city? Venice might be the most suitable city for this question, as its architecture has not changed much during the centuries due to its fragile infrastructure, which makes it hard to implement architectural changes. Being a dynamic marketplace, a centre for arts, a sinking ruin (as Byron called it) and in the end a tourist destination shows how the same features can in the long run gain so different aesthetic roles, that one might ask: what is the future of the city, if this cavalcade of uses and appropriations is its history?

Keywords: Venice, cultural heritage, urban history, history of aesthetics, aesthetic experience

Shakespeare had a clear image of the waterfronts of Venice – but he saw them only in his imagination.1 Still he definitely did not choose a stranger to host The Merchant of Venice and Othello, two of his seminal plays.

Elizabethan Venice was a literary commonplace at the time. Just by mentioning its very existence, one could point to a cluster of other works, ideas and images people had of this city, which had an incredibly broad reputation. And why would it not have had that? It had...

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