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A Critical Discourse On The Provocation Of Memory by Ruined Architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 2009
Claire Johnston
University of the West of England | UK
‘Buildings may only be accepted by their surroundings if they appeal to our emotions and minds… since our understanding is rooted in the past, our connections involve a process of remembrance’ (Zumthor 2006 p18).

This investigation uses existing literature to explore the aesthetics of longevity in architectural ruins, and in particular, questions how the effects of time and decay provoke memory. Ruins are distinguished from dilapidated buildings and this investigation considers both celebrated, preserved ruins and modern ramshackle, unappreciated ruins.

Architecture witnesses life, and therefore displays signs of a past life; it is these qualities of ruined architecture that convey a sense of time and are examined within the study to determine how they provoke memory. This study also examines the contradictions that ruins portray: on the one hand, offering comforting images of permanence, whilst on the other, explicitly symbolising the inevitability of life and death. The significance of textural surfaces and sensual experiences in ruins are also explored within their relationship to memory.

‘A building may live on though it may be slashed to pieces, recycled or transformed, for it can continue to live in fragmented form and acts an intermediary onto which people can project their own memories’ (Edensor 2005 p149).

Ruined buildings, from the purpose built ruins of the Picturesque, to modern, unintended ruins are critically assessed in terms of their potential to trigger memory, and then analysed to determine the qualities that ‘bare witness to the reality of a past life’ (Zumthor 2006 p26), questions are then raised regarding how we perceive ruins and whether the freezing of time and the preserving of ruins is always justified. Memory is the thread that ties the various elements of this investigation together.

Claire Johnston

Claire Johnston has developed an excellent dissertation based on a personal fascination of ruined architecture and its provocation of memory. She brings a level of thoughtfulness, understanding and subtlety to this study that is outstanding at the RIBA Part 1 stage of her architectural education. In this beautifully illustrated essay the discussion is fluid and perceptive, exploring the complex inter-relationships of weathering and memory, ruination and mortality. The range and variety of references used, from the Villa Sayove to decaying satellite dishes, from a Hopper painting to the Berlin Wall, signals the challenge of the study in bridging between different perceptions of ruination and decay and between iconic architectural symbols and the everyday. It is within the nuanced analysis that the study shines, the author not seeking to be definitive but demonstrating the value of detailed and mentally agile questioning, directed discussion and ensuing open-endedness within the academic environment.

Mr Jonathan Mosley
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