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On A Fairy's Wing: Demolition and Fragility.

Part 2 Dissertation 2004
Louis Scott
University of East London London UK
“On a fairy’s wing: demolition and fragility” is an exploration of the demolition of buildings. It discusses various issues concerned with demolition, but the main contention I make is that the process reveals impermanence within the built world which may not be immediately apparent.

The dissertation has a narrative structure which reflects the process by which I pieced this argument together. It is divided into three sections: “the rock of the world”, “insecure foundations” and “on a fairy’s wing”. These move from an idea of solidity to one of fragility.

The first section discusses permanence and solid ground -an element which defines others as being more transient. For most of us I think that this backdrop is formed by buildings. The second section questions this with the knowledge I gained from investigating demolition processes and talking to Holly Bennett, an explosives engineer. In the hands of engineers like Holly, previously stalwart structures are effortlessly reduced to hardcore, which feels strangely at odds with the attitude presented in the preceding section. The final section is an answer to the questions posed in the second. It looks at an attitude toward lightness in architecture, and discusses the work of other architects whose work reflects this.

Each section is introduced with some of my personal recollections of Ely Cathedral. The cathedral remains a powerful presence in my mind, and I use it as a test case to manifest my argument. As the argument unfolds my perception of the cathedral is changed. Initially I picture it as a solid rock, firmly embedded in the land around it. Doubts regarding its imperviousness begin to creep in as I discover collapses that it has suffered. Finally the cathedral is revealed to be on the flimsiest of surfaces, with the landscape shrinking and sinking around it.

I began the dissertation as an open ended exploration, but the basic question I wanted to investigate was this: can demolition affect our perception of the built environment? We perceive our surroundings by comparing them to past memories, and I wondered what point of view demolition might add to this.

Louis Scott

‘On a Fairy’s Wing: demolition and fragility’ is a profound meditation on the transience of buildings in which ‘demolition’ is not mere destruction, but emerges as a form of architectural knowing. If most architecture attempts to deny the fragility of building, demolition finally reveals it. Louis resists the shock tactics or stylistic uses surrounding this topic, instead it drives a serious and open ended enquiry that is mostly beautifully written and always fascinating.

Louis draws on a wide range of sources: from the precise techniques of demolition engineering, through art and architectural works concerned with decay and change, to social and philosophical accounts of man’s struggles against impermanence. He explores demolition as a creative process, with its own temporalities and beauty, and as a response to social change and necessity - ideas he also pursued in his design project. This is work of great individuality with moments of unique insight into the built world.

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