Death in Architecture

A funeral procession of
Marching ants carrying a dead bug,
Or a discarded bandage after the wound has healed.
Orange peels decomposing in the winter sun-
Like an old couple relaxing on the beach
So much is useful only to spell out its own end.
But where does life go
When the will has died?
Where does love go
When the lovers have denied

As a general conscience, it is understood that death is a crossing from one form of existence to the next. It is a period of time, or a span of any variant against which there happens to be a constant rebellion of temporary recognition attained. It could simply be that or the reason for maybe a silent message to the generations that there once existed an unmatchable power of art, wealth, position, knowledge, dominance etc.

Everything, living or non-living, may have to come to an end. Civilizations have existed through centuries, slowly becoming ruins; evolutions dictates new cultures and empires on top of the rubble that eventually become a part of the ground itself. Some are forgotten, other ruins are still looked at in fascination. They live beyond their time. However, death can be of anything, a good person inside, death of evil maybe, of an era, of a purpose, of decay, or can be of a declining of a power.

Death in architecture can be looked at from a number of different perspectives. Death of a building is not just a physical demolition of its existence but could be the death of its value, which for a human is spiritual death. Now it is just a body that is occupying space, useless, wasted and unimportant to itself and to others. It can now be demolished, or it can keep standing in the midst of other architectural pieces .

Death ‘and’ architecture can also literally refer to death-related architecture- to monuments and other funerary architecture. That depends on different cultures on which it depends, and how that culture translates the complex correlation between life and death. It is that cultures hopes, fears, and beliefs that make this architecture what it is. (Carta, 2013) The Egyptians built their enclosed pyramids, burying their kings with possessions for their afterlife. The Hindus have open cremation temples where they burn bodies, freeing the soul for its next birth. And other cultures believe in death as the end to human existence and simply bury their bodies.

Daniel Libeskinds Jewish Museum in Berlin, was constructed with the sole purpose of creating something that commemorated the dark history that intertwined the Jews and Berlin: the three major experiences being continuity, exile and death, thus it starts by taking visitors down a tight staircase into a dim basement. There are a number of passages and hallways, making the visitor decide for his own, some with dead end to echo the grave significance of death. Libeskind says it’s ‘in order to disclose how the past continues to affect the present’. (Schneider, 1999)

Another dimension to the concept of death in architecture can mean the evolution of architectural styles and eras. Man resorts to Romanticism at the end of every declining era to express its emotional instability and suffocation; that’s when a new era takes birth. Arts and Crafts gave way to Modernism, which flourished under staunch but simple ideas, which gave way to Postmodernism and now its Deconstructivist architects that are dominating the world. Perhaps the world awaits a revolutionary transition in architecture. It is yet to come.

The problem with this evolution is that it makes a lot of courage for man to accept something that goes beyond his perceptions of the art. Famous Modernist photographer, Julius Schulman retired from his profession when architects like Robert Venturi changed Mies’ “Less is More” to “Less is bore” and encourages the world to ornament their buildings a bit. Man, as his nature dictates him, did not accept the absurd ideas of deconstructivists like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid when they were originally introduced to the world by Frank Lloyd Wright. Man resorts back to the past, never letting die what he loved, always trying to incorporate a bit of it somewhere in his new ideals. This is when rebirth of an old era takes place. As Ruskin stated once, “Death in architecture is reversible.” However, architecture should be worthy in its main task as the interpretation of a way of life valid for our period. There can be no question of ‘Death’ or ‘Metamorphosis’, there can only be the question of evolving a new tradition, and many years of signs have shown that can and is in the doing.

The term urbex stands for urban exploration. Urban exploration is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment, including amusement parks, factories, fallout shelters, asylums, poor houses, sewers, drains etc.

If thought of critically, the idea of urbex reminds me of an igloo. An igloo is a temporary structure, for as long as it serves a purpose. After which, the essence of it dies. This igloo is nothing but a block of ice which will melt into the origin of its existence. Similarly, a house is a home only once living souls settle in it. These souls give life to this house turning it into a home.

Age is a process of growth, spiritual, mental, growth of ideas, growth of perception, of creativity or even the growth of abnormality. A building here literally is an imitation of a living being, where it eats, nurtures, lives, takes influence from the surrounding and tries to adapt to its environment, in its own meaning; with also its ability to outlive.

Peter Zumthor talks about the reality of buildings. He talks about how they don’t just exist as fragments of imagination, but also have a concrete standing in the real world. Aging is a process that the outer skin shows, like it does in the case of humans. Similarly, a building has a number of layers to itself. The way human anatomy tells us about the many organs and parts under the skin. Layers of a building are the play of lights in it, the sounds, smells, sensation of touch. Now, as a building ages, the layers sort of remain contained and intact within the main structure/skin, like an atmosphere, with the space contained. The materials on the skin show the traces of aging in the building that adds to its beauty and experience. The light falling on one wall shall always be different from the light falling on its opposite wall, but this play of intangible element will always remain the same and be as captivating in years to

come. What’s tangible is the material itself, used on the skin of the structure. And that shall show the signs of aging. Or shall it not?

Alvaro Siza says something along the same lines, A building is never finished. There’s a life that goes on after our work on it.” The building is dictated by its surrounding, it acts as a constant stimulus to reconsider space. On the other hand, it is also a reaction to the buildings surrounding it. It ever dies. There are a number of aspects to its existence that keep unrolling as its years pass. It can outlive, in the real essence of the word, and exist long enough to survive the tests of time.

Thus, it can be understood that death in the sphere of architecture, can have a number of different meanings. What matters is its purpose, as every building has a purpose, even if it is just a Temple dedicated to Man himself, as Frank Llyod Wrights famous Unity Temple. It does age, it can also outlive. But if it runs out of purpose, it has to be demolished. It has to be killed.

Works Cited

Carta, S. (2013, May 15). Death and Architecture. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from Beyond Icons 2.0: http://silviocarta.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/death-and-architecture-2013-v/

Schneider, B. (1999). Daniel Liberskind: Jewish Museum Berlin: Between the Lines. New York: Prestel.

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