Tagged: Rust Belt

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.


SC Johnson Frank Lloyd Wright Research Tower – The Journal Times


SC Johnson Headquarters Research Tower. Image via SC Johnson

“SCJ is currently in the middle of an eight-year, $30 million restoration and conservation plan.  ‘Our family’s long partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright led to these architectural treasures that we’re honored to work in every day,’ company President and CEO Fisk.  Johnson said Friday via email. ‘The Research Tower represents the completion of the work that Wright began here in the mid-1930s with our Administration Building.  As we have made significant investments in these historic buildings and expanded our free public tour program, including the Tower was the natural next step.'”

Locally Owned Businesses Can Help Communities Thrive and Survive Climate Change – The Grist

“Cities where small, locally owned businesses account for a relatively large share of the economy have stronger social networks, more engaged citizens, and better success solving problems, according to several recently published studies.  And in the face of climate change, those are just the sort of traits that communities most need if they are to survive massive storms, adapt to changing conditions, find new ways of living more lightly on the planet, and, most important, nurture a vigorous citizenship that can drive major changes in policy.”

Never Altered Modern in Cali to be Demolished – Curbed Los Angeles


[Photograph courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions; original photograph by Julius Shulman of the J. R. Davidson Kingsley residence, to be sold with the corresponding lot on Sunday, May 19, 2013]

“On Sunday, Los Angeles Modern Auctions is selling off the custom-built furniture from the Kingsley Residence in Pacific Palisades, designed by JR Davidson, the underrated architect who designed three houses for the Case Study House program (Numbers 1, 11, and 15). Why? Because the 1947 house has recently sold and the new owner is planning to demolish it very, very soon, according to the seller (members of the Kingsley family). Boo! Hiss! According to a LAMA press release, this is “One of the last remaining Davidson houses in its original form … The Kingsley residence was never altered in terms of the structure, and aside from minor updates by the architect in the 1950s, the interior of the home remained almost identical to the [Julius] Shulman photographs for over 60 years.”

Boom or Bust? Saving Rhode Island’s ‘Superman’ Building – NPR


“The iconic Industrial Trust Tower, knows as the “Superman building,” stands in downtown Providence, R.I. The art deco-style skyscraper, the tallest in the state, lost its last tenant when the bank’s lease expired in April.”

“In Rhode Island, the issue [shrinking revenues, lost jobs and general economic malaise]has come to a head around the future of the once-iconic Industrial Trust Tower, or, as it is known more affectionately, the Superman building — named for its resemblance to the building the Man of Steel leaped “in a single bound” in the . The building is empty for the first time in 85 years, and casts a shadow over a city struggling to reinvent its economy.”

Repurposing Streets with No Name – Rustwire

“In a number of cities, there are certain derelict streets that are nearly denuded of dwellings or businesses. Desolate and forlorn, these streets resemble something out of a post war apocalypse. Detroit may be the poster child du jour of such stark and sad emptiness, but there are many other examples across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. What to do with neglected streets has long been a source of planning discussion and conjecture.  In some instances entire abandoned neighborhoods have or are being converted to urban agriculture or community gardens.  However, this avid bicycle commuter has another suggestion for a few of these lowly streets without names – repurpose them to active transportation byways.”

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation stories from around the web and in the news.

Architecture has dominated the headlines this week.  Check out some great stories about Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives,  architectural drawing, and the nation’s biggest architectural toy collection below!

FLW moves to NYC

More than 23,000 architectural drawings, about 40 large-scale, architectural models, some 44,000 photographs, 600 manuscripts and more than 300,000 pieces of office and personal correspondence that have been in storage at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West since his death in 1959 are moving  to New York  City.  In an unusual joint partnership between the Museum of Modern Art and Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library,  the Wright’s archive will be more accessible to the public for viewing and scholarship.   Because of his innovative use of material and form,  Wright’s oeuvre represents a particular challenge for preservationists.   No doubt, access to his original drawings and notes can only help with preservation efforts!



Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing

An argument for architectural drawing in a digital world from architect Michael Graves, whose architectural drawings can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt. This is an issue that effects preservationists too!



Drawing of Lower Manhattan Skyline (video)















Take a minute (ok – one minute and 20 seconds) to watch UK illustrator Patrick Vale draw the lower Manhattan skyline – freehand!  Cityscapes and skylines are close to this preservationist’s heart.  Plus, it’s mesmerizing. Just go watch it!



Lessons From the Nation’s Biggest Architectural Toy Collection

A selection from the Architectural Toy Collection  will be exhibited in PLAY WORK BUILD  in November at The National Building Museum in Washington, DC, reports The Atlantic Cities.  The collection was assembled over 25 years by English Teacher George Wetzel. Architectural toys were sold to parents as an education in logic disguised for children as fun.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother bought into this trend and his genius will forever be connected to the Fröbel’s Gifts set he played with as a child.  His son John didn’t fall far from the tree – he invented Lincoln Logs! A history of American architectural toys is a social history – from the he blocks of Richter’s World War I-era “Fortress Series” set (gun turrets and bunkers) to the Sky Rail Girder and Panel Building Set (“Build and Operate Sky Rail Systems of Tomorrow”). Check out the article for more info on this fascinating exhibit!



Rust Belt Cities Best Places to Live

Rick Brown over at rustwire parses this year’s best places to live list.  Turns out that despite all of the ruin porn coming out of the rust belt,  its cities comprise about a quarter of the list, including first place.  Carmel, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, is the best place to live in the United States. See the rest of the rust belt cities to make the list after the jump.

Ruin Porn

Ruin porn is an artistic movement characterized by photographs of the blight, decay, and abandonment of structures in post-industrial cities, most notably Detroit.  It is a trend that seems ubiquitous and is only growing.  It was named Trend of the Year in 2011 by Architzer, the web’s fastest growing database of architecture.  Type “ruin porn” into any search engine (even Pinterest!) and millions of results pop up within seconds.  It can be found in museums and galleries, in newspapers, and on TV news.   So what is with the provocative name? Why are so many people into this trend? Is it good or is it bad?

Why “pornography”?

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, image from “The Ruins of Detroit” (2005- ) (image from thestapleton.com)

por·nog·ra·phy 3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction < the pornography of violence>

Ruin porn elicits an emotional reaction from the viewer – as does the word pornography. Both the term and the movement are tinged with sensationalism. They are both considered a guilty pleasure.   There is also a sense that these photographs are being taken by outsiders and that the photographs are exploitative.   People who don’t have to deal with the effects of the urban decay they photograph swoop into an economically depressed area, get their images, leave, and then show everyone what they saw for their own personal gain.

The word pornography is attention grabbing.  It gets press. The Germans have a word for a love of ruins and abandoned places. They call it ruinenlust.  Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same, does it?  I really can’t see ruinenlust grabbing headlines the way Ruin Porn has.

What is the appeal of ruins and decay?


The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit. The cinema was built in 1928 by C Howard Crane, and finally closed in 1974. Photograph: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Germans love it. Americans love. The Romantics of the early 19th century were fascinated by decay and ruins. Painters of the Renaissance obsessed over Grecian ruins… But why?

Done right, the images are beautiful, provocative, and nostalgic. They stir the emotions.  They draw you in and peak your curiosity.  They beg the questions, “where, why, how?”  (Don’t believe me? Check out abandonedamerica.us).

Psychologically, ruin porn images are appealing because they are startling.  According to Tim Edensor, a professor of geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, they “offer an escape from excessive order.”  It takes your brain more effort to sort out what its seeing, and it enjoys the challenge.

Though I’m not a huge fan of the term “ruin porn” because of its sensationalism and its silent accusation of wrong-doing, I am a fan of the genre.  I find the images arresting. They elicit an emotional response from me – one of nostalgia and wistfulness.  As a preservationist, it troubles me to see an historical structure crumbling due to neglect.  At the same time these images offer a unique look at historical spaces.  The deconstructive narrative of the images is as informative as it is beautiful. Flaking paint layers, crumbling plaster, exposed structural elements – all reveal something about the space and how it has been used.  The debris remaining in a space also offers clues about how it was used and who used it.  Ruin porn offers an uncurated link to the past.

Harmful or Helpful?

Old Courthouse Rotunda Lexington, KY

Ruin porn is more than an artistic movement. It is a comment on society.  Post-industrial cities are falling to ruin because of a changed economic climate that has given birth to the “rust belt.”  Ruin porn highlights how this economic change has effected the built environment.  Its critics claim ruin porn is condescending to the residents of the rust belt.  Ruin porn ignores them altogether – there is rarely a human element in a ruin porn image.  Therefore, ruin porn is not an accurate portrayal of the cities in which they live.  Citizens  have pushed back with ant-ruin porn rhetoric and and projects that actively  combat these misconceptions, like Can’t Forget the Motor City, a collaborative photo-project showcasing the vibrant culture of Detroit.  These cities have more to offer than urban decay.

Proponents of ruin porn believe in its possibility.  According to Richey Piiparinen of Rust Wire, ruin porn “outed” ruin. It pulled back the sheets and exposed the blight caused by a failed  system.  “… By outing and framing it—not to mention capturing the inherent beauty in broken things—Ruin Porn exposed the  failure and decay, thus clearing the secrecy, the shame, and leaving perceptual room to see less emptiness and more space.”  By raising awareness, ruin porn has the potential to change the way America responds to the economic failure of its cities.

Ruin porn has attracted tourists to cities – both foreign and American. It  has brought artists and professionals in search of urban decay.  Edwin Gardner calls this “intellectual disaster tourism.”  In a poll last month, the Huffington Post asked, “does photographing urban decay actually aid the communities at stake?” I think the simple answer is yes. Tourists spend money in the communities they visit – on food, accommodations,  transportation and maybe even souvenirs.

I agree that ruin porn has exposed decay and blight. I believe the awareness it has raised can save important historical structures.  I also believe that ruin porn documents structures that might otherwise have escaped notice; ruin porn photographs have the possibility of being useful to future research. For those reasons and more, I am a fan of ruin porn.

What do you think? Is ruin porn friend or foe?