Saturday, December 15, 2012
Architecture is made of memory. The slope of a roof, the shape of a window, and the color of a door contain the record of the minds that conceived them and the hands that crafted them. Anthony Lawlor
I call architecture frozen music. Goethe
Architecture is inhabited sculpture. Constantin Brancusi
And when a building is emptied, then abandoned, who or what inhabits it then? What music do we hear? Do the memories of the minds that conceived it and the hands that crafted it linger or vanish? These are questions I ask whenever I see an abandoned building, and I worry that they're precious questions because 1) they've been asked before, and 2) there are no answers for them. But I proceed in a kind of erotics of wondering, indulging a scene that gives back little but emptiness and weird pleasure. There is something in me so paradoxically rooted to abandoned buildings that I have to trust it as a kind of knowledge, or at least an urgency that has value beyond the sentimental and romantic. That is: I hope (believe?) that gazing at something faded and fading has value beyond the indulgent act of gazing itself. The speed at which buildings are razed and replaced in culture now is slowed figuratively in the brakes-on ballast of the slow deterioration that you can still see in smaller towns and rural areas. (The above building is part of the old veterinary clinic in DeKalb, IL.) Time stretches: as buildings are emptied, pulled down, and replaced across the country in rapid succession, there are at the other end of the spectrum buildings decaying of their own accord, at their own speed, time and nature doing the slow work of bulldozers and cranes. And that is a kind of music, and a kind of memory that's given the time to deepen, become mythic, if only in my own grasping imagination and reflective tendencies.
Many years ago in West Virginia I drove past a small abandoned shop on a main street in some forgotten town. Glancing as I went by, I saw that the large front window remained, though it was gravely cracked, and behind, inside the store, improbably grew a large bush that in its immense size and wildness pushed up against the window and front door. I'd say it was threatening to burst through except that everything was going so slow that the threat felt more like a slow exhalation. I wish that I'd had my camera with me. But the frozen music and memories and inhabited sculpture of that no-name little store front in Somewhere, West Virginia exist anyway. I summon them often as I hurry through.