From the Roman spas in Bath, the beautifully maintained temples in Greece, to the Arabic palaces in Spain, ruins worldwide are a part of modern society that we often take for granted. From their structure and materiality, to the religious beliefs and morals of the original inhabitants, ancient ruins contain valuable traces of lived history. But how to think of the times our structures today will become ruins? Will there be something left under tons of plastic, bricks, and mortar?
We put thought and creativity that go into creating contemporary buildings, just like the Romans and Greeks, such as modernised Victorian houses and skyscraper offices in our world´s metropolises. However, once novelty has worn off or there´s no use of them, these places are left abandoned and hollow, showing how fast paced and fickle our contemporary society is.
But what is it that’s changed that allows us to care less about our land and resources? How much have our values changed that we are happy for old buildings to sit abandoned, acting as land fill? Our buildings are constructed in a matter of months and can be destroyed in minutes, something that seem to reflect in architecture and structure. A building such as The Shard is created to pinpoint features of our time in a particular place: sleek glass and highly maintained aesthetics. There is a sense of paradoxical delicacy conjoined with the durability of this modern tower, an aspect that will speak to future generations of our contradictions, a mark of our limits and the desire to conquer them.
For centuries, Western European societies and cities have grown and evolved around emanating points of power and culture. Gothic cathedrals of the 12th and 13th centuries were such beacons of influence, buildings which stood against time, denying ruin. In other areas, such as Eastern Europe, the choice of structure consisted of wooden churches, defined by and subsequently defining the spirit of the people and standing witness to the evolution of these nations. The intention to build is coupled with an intention to last, to have an impact on future generations. Just like majestic cathedrals of France and Germany, the small wooden churches of Romania are still standing, refusing decay.
It´s worth discussing here the role and symbolism of abandoning, as opposed to destroying, acts that have equally great historical and cultural standing as building. The choice between the two speaks to a relation with time and to the significance societies assign to dissipation.
Our cities today contain demolished buildings and houses that remain empty, covered in boarded up windows, surrounded by shattered glass and defaced by graffiti. The wood is slowly rotting. Brick buildings fall apart with no use to anyone. Shopping malls, the cathedrals of our consumerism, stand forgotten. Olympic parks and villages are desolate sites of former glory.
The choice to abandon instead of destroying and rebuilding, or even keeping and maintaining is a social trait, a defining feature of our present. We pick and choose which pieces to keep and treasure, such as The Shard, however we consume resources and leave them to return to nature in the form of gravel and rust. For all accounts, we seem to be contemporary with our own ruins, witnesses of our dissipation, and inhabitants of slowly decaying structures.
Words: Louise Squire
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu