Urban Ruins

I do love the grand European cities; Rome, Paris, Vienna, and Barcelona. The old centers of knowledge like; Heidelberg, Oxford, Edinburgh… Museums, churches and parks … cultivated interiors and exteriors 

But then there are all these messy in-between-areas. Forgotten by the urban planners. Places which contains a kind of magical and frightening charm… like the one I experienced on this tiny peninsula in Stavanger. The place is about to be developed into an expensive housing are, seafront apartments close to town – what more can one wish for?

But right now the place is just a mess. And I kind of like it! Walking around in this area today made me think of the essayist Rebecca Solnit.Rebecca Solnit has some great reflections on urban jungles in her book: A Field Guide to Getting Lost. I love her style, and the way her writing strolls around in the world of history and literature, putting together thoughts in a way that makes the ordinary seem unfamiliar and exotic, and I am impressed by how her text is drawing lines between situations and events I never before saw as connected.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a piece of Nature Writing, but it is also a book on human relations and civilization.

What is a ruin, after all? It is a human construction abandoned to nature, and one of the allures of ruins in the city is that of wilderness: a place full of promise of the unknown with all its epiphanies and dangers. Cities are built by men (and to lesser extent, women), but they decay by nature, from earthquakes and hurricanes to the incremental process of rot, erosion, rust, the microbial breakdown of concrete, stone, wood, and brick, the return of plants and animals making their own complex order that further dismantles the simple order of men. This nature is allowed to take over when, for economic or political reasons, maintenance is withdrawn.

Ruins are also created by vandalism, arson, and war in which humans run wild.

A city is build to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, manufacture. Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly brings it to life. With ruins a city springs free of its plans into something as intricate as life, something that can be explored but perhaps not mapped. This is the same transmutation spoken of in fairy tales when statues and toys and animals become human, though they come to life and with ruin a city comes to death, but a generative death like the corpse that feeds flowers.

An urban ruin is a place that has fallen outside the economic life of the city, and it is in some way an ideal home for the art that also falls outside the ordinary production and consumption of the city.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Caroline says:

    Very interesting. I’m fascinated by abandoned houses, factories and the like. They are maybe not useful but picturesque. We see time at work. And nature claiming bacl her territory. Have you read The World Without Us? I liked it a great deal. Weisman explores places that have been abandoned because of a war, imagines what it would be like if humans wouldn’t exist anymore. I found it quite thought-provoking.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you so much for the Weisman recommendation – I haven’t read it, but it absolutely sounds like a book I will enjoy reading!

  2. Dorothy W. says:

    Rebecca Solnit is so awesome! I haven’t read A Field Guide yet, but I loved her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Loved it!

    1. Sigrun says:

      A Field Guide is fantastic!!! I’m so glad she is around, writing these fascinating texts for us to delve in!

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