Monday, January 15, 2007

Ruin Value

By far the best thing about maintaining one of these things, making up for their tendency to make one unduly obsessive-compulsive, is when people e-mail you links to interesting stuff. So this morning I was sent a page of Socialist Modernist bus stops in Kazakhstan: truly gorgeous stuff, amalgams of ruralist decoration and jagged concrete brutalism; a link to the palimpsetic Middle Eastern sites of Lumpen Orientalism; and a page of de Chirico dreamscapes.

Oddly enough, they all seem to compliment each other in some way, all records of dead cities and absent urbanism, a commonality of pretty ruins: the sort of thing that Albert Speer probably didn't have in mind when he coined the phrase 'ruin value'- none of this has the kind of imposing quality, of 'look upon my works ye mighty and despair': but the end result is much the same.


Blogger it said...

Is Speer's 'ruin value' phrase related to a fetishisation of the 'Picturesque' as a volkish aesthetic and architectural category?

12:44 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

That's a tricky one, bear with me...

Nazi architecture was united by little other than hostility to modernism, and its volkish wing. An example of this would be the 'homeland protection style' of Paul Schultze-Naumburg. This was the Nazi picturesque, and pitched roofed cottage estates and rural follies was their speciality.

This was rather separate from Speer. He's a midway between straight classicism and the odd classical-modern of someone like Ernst Sagebiel (who worked with Mendelsohn before '33, and you can sort of tell) Speer's minimal/classical government buildings were more about maintaining the continuity the Nazis claimed with ancient Greece (cf their preposterous attempts to find a Nordic root for Greek civilisation).

It's a taking literally of the distortion induced in Greek architecture by its ruined state. Eg, think of how 18th c neo-classical knew Greek classicism without the garish paint, gold leaf etc that originally adorned it- so their response was an imitation of the death mask of the buildings rather than their original form. Speer takes this a step further into imitating/anticipating the ruined state that the tourist would find the Parthenon in.

So Speer's ruins weren't really about the picturesque, I would argue, but about awe, the sense that 'there was a big and powerful civilisation', which is what I was getting at with the Shelley quote. But obviously Speer was missing Shelley's point. (a crasser man than me would say it had an element of 'live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse')

Incidentally, Doug's been to the ruins of Speer's Zeppelinfeld, which is one of the ruins on this rather grimly fascinating site...

3:01 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

bit second para should run '...hostility to modernism. An example of its volkish wing...', and then it will make sense. sorry...

8:29 pm  
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