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Indispensable Eyesores

Indispensable Eyesores: An Anthropology of Undesired Buildings

Mélanie van der Hoorn
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Indispensable Eyesores
    Book Description:

    Collapsing concrete colossuses, run-down overgrown skeletons, immutable architectural misfits: the outcasts from our built environment, which we are dying to dispose of - and yet cannot do without - have inspired many ghost stories, crime novels and urban legends. Such narratives reveal the significance of architectural eyesores for the people who live or work in or near them. After exploring various approaches to building lives and deaths, the author presents a rich variety of undesired edifices in Germany, Hungary, Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina and investigates the different methods used to dispose of them: eliminating, damaging, transforming or 'reframing' them, abandoning them to progressive dilapidation or virtually rejecting them. Discarding an edifice, however, need not bring its social life to an end. This analysis continues with a reflection on the afterlife of unwanted buildings, and concludes with a discussion on the life expectancy of buildings, their multi-sensory materiality and 'thingly' agency.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-921-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Scientific writings cannot be a purely individual product; they always grow out of concerted action: thanks to the precious contribution of people confident enough to support hesitant research proposals still ‘in the egg’, others patient enough to carefully read and comment on earlier drafts, still others willing to disclose the required information, and, last but not least, a variable constellation of people – whether professionals or laymen – repeatedly manifesting their interest for the subject. Without all of them, authors would have a hard life. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who supported the realization ofIndispensable Eyesores....

  5. Chapter 1 Dragons, Tunnels, Gold and Russians: Narrative Introductions into the Bowels of ‘Corrupt’ Architecture
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about buildings that people reject, or would like to reject. It describes how people come to perceive specific buildings as undesired elements in their built environment, as well as how they dispose of them, or imagine doing so. How do people affect undesired architecture, and how does undesired architecture affect them?

    Buildings, especially mysterious and inaccessible edifices which find themselves in a marginal state, appear to be very inspiring: they call up narratives in the form of ghost stories, crime novels, urban legends or even tourist guides. Such narratives form a valuable source of information about the...

  6. Chapter 2 Between Pragmatic Clearance and Pure Iconoclasm: Theoretical Perspectives on the Life and Death of Undesired Buildings
    (pp. 11-38)

    As expressed in the titleIndispensable Eyesores, this book focuses on the seemingly inherent contradictions that surface in situations where the disposal of buildings is taken into consideration. For several reasons, undesirability is no synonym for irrelevance. Firstly, it challenges people to express themselves, to justify and motivate the rejection of buildings which, until that time, have belonged to the status quo.¹ It is not only politicians, investors, architects or city planners who have ideas about what the built environment should (not) look like; journalists, (former) tenants or neighbours, or people otherwise concerned by the fate of a building also...

  7. Chapter 3 13 May 2001, 8.01 A.M. – 1 Building, 20,000 People and 450 Kilograms of Explosives: The Elimination of the Kaiserbau in Troisdorf as a Secular Sacrifice
    (pp. 39-57)

    In all cases of undesired architecture, elimination occupies a central place. The deliberate destruction or waste of goods that are not completely finished has often been related to the expression and acquisition of power. Not only must the destroyer be in the position to permit such luxury, but vice versa (and cumulatively), ‘the conspicuous waste of goods always confers power and authority on their destroyer’ (Connor 1992: 75). In the realm of architecture, too, destruction and disposal have an important significance. People who have the power to reduce buildings to rubble can effectively express their control over the built environment....

  8. Chapter 4 Witnessing Urbicide: Contested Destruction in Sarajevo
    (pp. 58-79)

    Following an analysis of the staging and significance of complete elimination in a situation of relative consensus in the preceding chapter, the present chapter focuses on the threat of destruction and damage in a context of extreme conflict. During the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from April 1992 until February 1996, widespread and very serious damage was caused to innumerable buildings in the city, and a number of edifices in the surroundings were completely eradicated. For the inhabitants of Sarajevo, that certain pieces of architecture would be totally cleared away from the townscape emerged as a very serious threat. We...

  9. Chapter 5 From Nuclear Waste to a Temple of Consumerism: The Recuperation and Neutralization of the Ex-would-be Nuclear Power Plant in Kalkar
    (pp. 80-98)

    When people reject a so-called architectural eyesore, they tend to imagine the site without the undesired building. At one point or another, its elimination appears as a possible option. There are many situations, however, in which this is not ultimately realistic or desirable, and people start conceiving plans for alternative uses and a related transformation of the building. Such a situation forms the focus of the present chapter.

    The recent history of the nuclear power plant in Kalkar, near the Dutch–German border, strikingly illustrates how a so-called architectural eyesore can be stripped of its negative connotations, and disarmed of...

  10. Chapter 6 Consuming the ‘Platte’ in East Berlin: The Revaluation of Former GDR Architecture
    (pp. 99-119)

    Evolving from radical eliminations towards less intensive material intervention, this chapter investigates edifices with a negative reputation, which, after revaluation, were cast in a better light. The outward appearance of these buildings remained unchanged and, at most, light transformations were realized inside. Yet this example shows that even a new image with almost unnoticeable material transformation is enough to arouse disturbance, notably from those with a special attachment to the edifice. In these cases, the intensity of reaction to change in each building is not proportional to the extent of material intervention.

    Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and...

  11. Chapter 7 If Not Clearing, Then At Least Thinking Them Away: The Significance of Unrealized Proposals and the Viennese Flaktürme
    (pp. 120-137)

    Value assessment of undesired buildings is a complex process that can spread over many years. The complexity is increased by the emergence of divergent alternatives to the original purpose intended for the building. The biographies of the six Viennese Flaktürme, previously mentioned in the introductory chapters, are illustrations of such as case. Their very existence might at first appear contradictory and raises the question: if the towers are as unwanted as many suggest, then why have they been left intact for almost sixty years?

    Built by the Nazis during the Second World War, most of the towers have remained unused...

  12. Chapter 8 ‘L’ like ‘Left to Its Own Devices’: The Progressive Dilapidation of the Kulturhaus in Zinnowitz
    (pp. 138-152)

    The many unrealized projects developed for the Viennese Flaktürme reflect changing perceptions and attitudes to undesired edifices. Doing nothing at all, and leaving such edifices to their own devices, is the last step that can be taken on the scale of physical intervention. The Kulturhaus (‘Cultural Centre’) in Zinnowitz, on the island of Usedom in north-east Germany, illustrates such a situation of non-intervention.

    Zinnowitz rapidly expanded as a seaside resort when, in the early 1950s, the Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (the GDR holiday organization) and the Wismut (a state-owned non-ferrous metal company) built and occupied new facilities in the town. The...

  13. Chapter 9 Exorcizing Remains: Architectural Fragments as Intermediaries between History and Individual Experience
    (pp. 153-170)

    Discarding a piece of architecture need not bring its social life to an end. Smashed into pieces, recycled, transformed, the object can live on in fragmented form and act as an intermediary onto which people project memories, frustrations or experiences associated with the original architectural form.

    A striking example of this is the postwar biography of the National Socialist seaside resort Prora, on the island of Rügen in northern Germany. This building, almost five kilometres long, was not entirely destroyed, but its ‘active life’ came to an (temporary) end in 1991 after both the National Socialist initiators and the later...

  14. Chapter 10 In Fond Memory of a Rejected Edifice: Reaffirming Agency by Rehabilitating Vanished Eyesores
    (pp. 171-190)

    In the previous chapter the afterlife of eyesores was analysed through tracing the relevance of fragmentary remains of rejected buildings. It was shown that extremely undesired architecture can become attractive once it is fragmented, or once fragments from it are made available. The transition from a complete and undesired to a dismembered and desired edifice might seem to represent primarily a radical break with the previous biography of the edifice. In this transition, however, the persistence of a continuous (though altered and challenged) material form appeared to be of crucial importance. Especially in times of sociopolitical upheaval, the fate of...

  15. Chapter 11 Eyesores Are Indispensable: Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 191-201)

    Wherever there are people, there are undesired buildings. As Mary Douglas has noted, in her discussions on taste, ‘The discourse about dislike and ugliness is more revealing than the discourse about aesthetic beauty’ (1996: 50). The aim of this book is precisely to delve into such discourses of dislike and ugliness, and to provide keys for how to approach the fate and significance of so-called architectural eyesores. At the beginning of the third millennium, in which many world-wide developments have been determined by the terrorist attacks against the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, investigating the...

  16. Epilogue. Taboos on the Multi-Sensory Materiality of Buildings and Their Agency
    (pp. 202-213)

    If the present investigation has enabled us to draw parallels between examples that were, at first sight, rather divergent, it has also revealed, however, a number of stubborn presuppositions affecting, in a wider sense, perceptions and analyses of material culture. These issues can be more clearly identified by reviewing the questions that have been raised in the course of the analysis.

    Questions related to the Kaiserbau and theOslobođenjeheadquarters expressed a need to explain how people could possibly have such a strong emotional interest in the fate of an edifice, and what made them so upset, affected or combative....

  17. Notes
    (pp. 214-237)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 238-253)
  19. Index
    (pp. 255-265)