From Dust to Rust: The Beauty of Decay

detroit1The Michigan Central Station, Detroit

Whether capturing in oil the crumbling remains of Tintern Abbey in 1794, maintaining the chaotic atmosphere of a stately home frozen in the 1950’s, regenerating a failed utopian experiment in Sheffield or witnessing the city wide decay of Detroit. There is an undeniable draw and intrigue surrounding the decline and decay of these once great landmarks.

These fallen symbols are perhaps so appealing because of the way they eloquently capture the passage of time, an intangible yet very present symbol of the human life-cycle. They draw us in and make us question the ways in which we view the world today and how we examine our collective history. This is by no means a new phenomenon, artists and others have viewed such ruin; Turner and other Romantics spent much of their time in the late eighteenth century visiting such sites and longing for a return to a golden age of Medieval England, just as the country began to feel the bite of the Industrial Revolution.

Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey circa 1794-5 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851“Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey” by J. M. W. Turner (1794-5)

It has became inevitable that certain landmarks that are now so engrained and celebrated within the rich fabric of our lives be preserved, if not restored. Few could imagine a country void of country houses and ancient castles, institutions that faced extinction following World War II, but saved largely thanks to organisations such as The National Trust. These houses for the best part are preserved during their nineteenth century heydays, although in the case of Calke Abbey this is turned very much on its head. Here the idea of decay is very much celebrated; embodying a time machine like quality that marks the houses fall from grace.

824%2F28%2FSir+Vauncy%27s+Bedroom+-+John+Parkinson+_thumb_460x0%2C0An Un-Stately Home, Calke Abbey (Derbyshire)

Not all however are deemed worthy of preservation. The argument to preserve or not preserve can have profound effects and raise passionate argument. One of the most contentious contemporary issues is what to do with old Nazi monuments and relics. Should we leave them to rot and slide slowly into the past or preserve them in order to educate and allow them to stand as a warning to future generations? What to do with the Nazi rally grounds in Nuremberg, Germany is a highly publicised example of this argument; some want it left untouched, others want it destroyed entirely and others want it preserving. Such passions bring to light the enduring effect ruins can have on the people they touch and society as a whole.

Our interest in ruins is not just about a celebratory obsession, but a remembrance of the past, celebrating creativity and mourning of a time gone by, lost but not forgotten.  A standing testament that encapsulates: Not only design and taste, but social thought and the cultural ideals that effects our very understanding of today’s world.