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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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Historical Cityscapes as Museums and Theme Parks


Max Ryynänen

Historical Cityscapes as Museums and Theme Parks

Abstract: Many of us think that old townships should only be used as museums. Why can we not see that their use in a theme park fashion has cultural potentials as well? For many, it is easier to approach cultural history when it is touristified. And if normal life has become hard in many historical townships, why could we not we grant them at least some kind of a life, and not just leave them to be silent, museumized spaces?

Keywords: theme parks, infotainment, cultural heritage, urban studies, Paris, Montmartre, Tallinn, old towns, urban history, environmental aesthetics, aesthetic attitude

I shall never forget my first visit to Montmartre, the Parisian hill famous for its impressionist history of the late 19th century. Portrayed countless times by early modernists of the stature of Picasso, Renoir and Utrillo, the charm of the hill owes more to history than to its looks.

Right at the spot of the most touristified of the famous quarters, I encountered a man standing on the street with a dirty beret on his head and a bottle of red wine at his feet, painting something which could be called anachronistic impressionism. Along with a couple of shop windows and bars that were living off the same myth, he was the main target of a group of Japanese tourists and their cameras.

Historical imposters are only one visible...

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