Disheveled Geometries: Ruins and Ruination


Design and Visualization



Architectural ruins index the total failure of individual buildings, technologies, economies, or, at times, entire civilizations.  The irony of late capitalism is that now these failures, through their ability to generate vast amounts of capital through tourism and regional identity, are more financially valuable than ever.  Architecture is unique in this quality—that evidence of its total failure can now be among its more profitable assets.  While architectural education encourages the study of the design, construction, and the maintenance of buildings- the study of their ruination and decay, despite the potential value and use of such considerations, is a topic rarely addressed.  This course will research these topics of ruination and architectural ruins- what produces them, what defines them, and how they impact individuals, cities, and civilizations on levels from the visual and formal to the philosophical and psychological.

The formal and visual materials of this course will emerge from the study of ruins from not only the past and present, but also the future, through research into the speculative territories of online ‘ruin porn,’ new genres of art practice, and in particular dystopian televisions and film projects that reveal an intense contemporary cultural interest in apocalyptic themes. Such fetishization of civilizational collapse can be found in recent television programs such as The Walking Dead and The Leftovers, but perhaps even more surprisingly in teen-lit and film releases including The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner series.  More evidence of this trend can be found in recent and upcoming films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Independence Day: Resurgence, World War Z, X-Men: Days of Future Past, After Earth, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, and The 5th Wave.  

While significant 19th century  theories of architectural ruination including those of John Ruskin (anti-restoration) and Eugene Emmanuel Viollet le Duc (pro-restoration) will be addressed, the primary intellectual position of the course will emerge from readings and discussions of the philosophical methodology of “ruination.”  Emerging tangentially from the “Inherent Stupidity of All Content” by Slavoj Zizek, the concept of philosophical “ruination” was developed by Philosopher Graham Harman in his ongoing development of  Object Oriented Ontology (OOO).  Ruination is a philosophical tool by which a literary statement, or by extension an architectural project, can be analyzed to determine  its most essential qualities through speculating on where it can be made to fail -  and yet still maintain its identity.  The oft-cited simplistic example of such ruination is to show how one can determine the key aspects of a joke by replacing key words and analyzing the overall ability of the joke to maintain its humorous content.  For instance the joke: Why did the chicken cross the road?....To get to the other side, can be tested in terms of ruination were one to change the joke to: Why did the cow cross the road? ….To get to the other side.  In this example the joke remains intact.  However, if one were to change the joke to: Why did the chicken touch the road? ….. To get to the other side, the joke is “ruined” and it can be determined that  “crossing” the road is more ciritically significant to the joke than the fact that the protagonist was a chicken.  This technique can be applied to architectural projects as well--- would Le Corbusiers Villa Savoy remain iconic had it had its piloti been replaced with thin metal Doric columns? Or giant garden gnomes?  What aspects of Villa Savoye can be speculatively replaced and yet it still retain  its essential iconic importance to architecture?  Would it have been as significant had it been extensively tiled with mult-color pastel mosaics? Or if its strip windows had been replaced with a row of adjacent Pella arched windows? Or if it had a false mansard roof? Such architectural arguments can be made in terms of statements, but more precisely understood through visual arguments. The production of such visual acts of ruination, or visual rhetoric, will be a key aspect of the course. Tutorials will be offered on professional matte-painting Photoshop techniques that will allow students to produce such visual arguments.

Student projects will involve the philosophical and aesthetic ruination of iconic architectural projects to determine not only their essential qualities, but hidden, latent ones as well. Subsequent group discussion of this work will vacillate between these philosophical and aesthetic poles in an attempt to tease out new observations on these projects as well as the nature of ruins and ruination. The self-designed final project will be determined pending consultation between the  students and instructor, but may involve photo-realistic failure of past, present or future architectural or urban projects, dystopic visual speculations, fabrication experiments that test actual material decay and failure, or involve attempts to reproduce the aesthetic ambitions of ruin porn through the manipulation of existing, or design of new, projects. The goal of the course is not to convey to the students an existing body of architectural knowlege, but unearth a new architectural discourse that considers architecture in reverse—emphasizing its decay rather than its creation in an effort to reveal new territories of architectural agency.  No prerequisites. Course limited to ten students.