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Exploring the Architecture of Doom and Urban Failure
January 28, 2014 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Architecture of Doom is a Tumblr that collects images of "bleak/ gloomy/ forbidding/ desolate/ unfortunate and totalitarian architecture" from sources like Fuck Yeah Brutalism and Failed Architecture. The latter bills itself as a "research platform that aims to open up new perspectives on urban failure – from what it’s perceived to be, what’s actually happening and how it’s represented to the public" and offers some interesting essays and case studies – for example: Hotel Jugoslavija: Spacio-temporal Mosaics of Memorabilia, Function Follows Form: How Berlin Turns Horror Into Beauty, and The Poetry of Decay.
posted by milquetoast (34 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
A lot of beauties here. Shame about the horrible, tiny, ill-focussed choices for photos.

But yeah, I love a lot of these.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:09 PM on January 28


The detroit redwing jacket on a guy standing in front of soviet decay is an interesting statement.
posted by srboisvert at 3:12 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


You know, I follow and unironically enjoy Fuck Yeah Brutalism. There's something about those lines and man, I don't even know.
posted by gc at 3:33 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I just went down a linkhole of The Christopher Inn, in Columbus, OH, seeing matchbox covers, album covers, old photos, advertisements and 8mm film of part of Eisenhower's visit.
posted by cashman at 3:40 PM on January 28


As I scroll, my grimace deepens.
posted by stinkfoot at 3:59 PM on January 28


A lot of them are actually, to my eyes, really interesting and beautiful buildings and don't deserve to be labeled as either failure or doom. This one, however, of apartment buildings in Estonia, makes my skin crawl to imagine living there (or worse, walking home drunk and trying to remember which building is actually yours).
posted by Dip Flash at 4:06 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


A lot of them are actually, to my eyes, really interesting and beautiful buildings and don't deserve to be labeled as either failure or doom.

No doubt. Putting the Inland Steel Building on a list of failure or doom is just silly.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:11 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Now maybe if it was built using cold-riveted girders, with cores of pure selenium and magnesium or tungsten alloys . . . . maybe.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:14 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


crap, gotta boot up the doom level editor now.
posted by hellojed at 4:26 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I'm with the Queensland state government and I've worked in a lot of those buildings.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:44 PM on January 28


Also, I like the strategically-placed kitties in these pictures. As you scroll through them your suicidal despair just about reaches the apex, and suddenly: BAM. KITTY.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:48 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Soviet decay looks like every state university campus I've ever seen.
posted by Yakuman at 4:49 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Omaha somehow became a sort of secret capital of brutalism in the last century, I think mostly out of the appeal of concrete as a cheap building ingredient. I explored it for a little bit in my blof Omaha Bunkertecture.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:11 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I can smell the urine in the hallways and the cigarette burns in the walls.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:12 PM on January 28


Colorado Springs Municipal Courthouse My architecture peeps call this one 'The Albert Speer Courthouse'.
El Paso County Courthouse
tiny photos, but the point is made...
posted by j_curiouser at 5:54 PM on January 28


I have many memories of sipping Fanta at the outdoor cafe at the Hotel Jugoslavija as a child, and post-bombing, still using its hulking facade as a meeting place and landmark.
posted by Aubergine at 5:56 PM on January 28


to be honest (as an architect) i love this type of architecture. it may not always work or provide, but it teaches so much in its failings. also, i'm all about ruin porn. bring it on. i like seeing all stages of life and death in buildings. they are living beings, same as us, brought into this world by some supposed all seeing creator - but as all living beings are there is that ever impending death attached. rust always wins.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 5:59 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


No doubt. Putting the Inland Steel Building on a list of failure or doom is just silly.

Perhaps it is a commentary of the building's insanely dangerous design with the elevators and stairs concentrated in the utility building in violation of just about every current fire safety law but grandfathered because of its architectural significance.
posted by srboisvert at 6:19 PM on January 28


Perhaps it is a commentary of the building's insanely dangerous design with the elevators and stairs concentrated in the utility building in violation of just about every current fire safety law but grandfathered because of its architectural significance.

Perhaps, but the author failed if that was the intent. The link is pretty much focused on building exteriors - with some exceptions.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:06 PM on January 28


I love brutalism, and watching wonderful pieces of brutalist architecture being destroyed left and right reminds me of what it must have felt like when they were tearing down "awful" old Victorian masterpieces, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and all the other pieces of amazing architecture that has the bad luck to not be the fad du jour.

I hope people come to their senses before it's all gone.
posted by sonascope at 7:37 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


One of my all time favorite buildings was brutalist, the geosci building at my alma mater. Outside, it looks alien, but inside it's one of the most humane buildings I've ever been in.

The entryway is made almost entirely out of brick and the ceiling is a little lower than I'm accustomed to; the end effect is that I feel like I'm being swallowed up, like the earth is giving me a nice warm mantle-y hug. There's also some resonance with the idea of a hearth. The concrete walls make moving between floors feel like traveling between geological strata.

Overall it does a way better job of communicating the work that goes on there than any of the new campus buildings. The biological sciences building is a chintzy piece of garbage, and you risk being impaled by an icicle at another new science building. The newest dorms on campus are far more sterile and institutional than any brutalist building I've seen.

I think a large part of why I don't like these is materials. They just don't make cheap building materials like they used to. All of this glass and cladding makes each building seem disposable, as if they'd crumple under a good punch. Like they're not even trying to hide their profits/costs calculations.

I've always hated fiber cement siding because it looks too manufactured. Like formica, it falls into the uncanny valley of naturally ocurring materials.

These buildings seem impossible to heat properly, so in the winter I'd always shiver under a sweater near any of the massive glass windows.

Faced with these, I'd say give me brutalist brick and concrete any day.
posted by taromsn at 9:00 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


The Christopher Inn! I didn't know it was gone. Mrs H. stayed there many time as a child.

Preserving, Recognizing African American Landmarks: The Christopher Inn
A prominent example of mid-century modern architecture, the Christopher Inn was designed by Leon Ransom and built in 1963. Simplicity of style, ample windows to let in light, and open interior spaces, are some of the characteristics of the mid-century modern period (1940-1970). The Christopher Inn . . . displayed these elements in a memorable circular motor inn. . . . Demolished in 1988, the Christopher Inn had the shortest lifespan of any Columbus high-rise.

Fortunately, other examples of Ransom’s distinctive style still exist in the OSU Hospital East tower and Mechanical Building, Columbus Fire Station #8, St. Paul AME Annex, Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch public library, and the Franklin Park Medical Center.

Leon Ransom was the first African American architect of prominence in Columbus. . . . [He] received a bachelor’s degree in geography in 1950 and a master’s degree in architecture in 1953. . . In 1957, [he] passed the state licensing exam to become a registered architect.

Ransome was one of the first African Americans to work on major projects like fire stations, libraries and hospitals. In 1963 Ransom formed a partnership with Sylvester C. Angel, another black architect [and] in 1966 started a solo practice. . . . [Ransome] gave up the practice in 1970 due to failing health and died in 1971 at the age of 42 following a long illness.
posted by Herodios at 10:02 PM on January 28


I think I am a fan of brutalism overall, but the combination I love is blocky, exposed concrete in a wooded landscape - something like this, though the photograph isn't doing justice to the effect without color.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:56 PM on January 28


The Gordon Matta-Clark pics reminded me of working in Liverpool when a mysterious circular cut appeared on the abandoned building two doors down. I worked in the evenings, so I never saw them altering the building. I'd just arrive at dusk and walk past it as it got weirder and weirder.

I hadn't heard of Matta-Clark at the time and my co-workers and I spent a long time discussing what the purpose could be.

Then it started to move.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:53 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Y'all can hate on brutalism all you want - it just means there's more for me to love.

I used to work in the Tower Building, this epic hulk of concrete, and everyone hated it but me. But how can you hate it when you can take photos like this?

And then there's the Brunswick Centre in London, which I swear I would kill to live in. Even at £625,000. Jeez.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:05 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I'm with the Queensland state government and I've worked in a lot of those buildings.
Heh, one of my first thoughts was that a lot of these look like Education House!

I love this style of architecture and, done well, the style is very much timeless. Many of these photos are gorgeous buildings that, at worst, have been neglected or damaged. Even then, many of them still have that uncompromising character that typifies the style.
posted by dg at 3:08 AM on January 29


All the people who love Brutalism can go live and work in those buildings, and when that capacity has been filled, the rest should be meticulously documented, and then destroyed. To my mind, Brutalism is the most egregious imposition of theory on defenseless people--it's tyranny, exactly what it looks like. The theoretical underpinnings to me always sound like justifications after the fact; these are brutal forms, and no one should be forced--and most inhabitants and users of Brutalist structures didn't have other options, no coincidence--to endure that kind of remorseless aesthetic every day. I've lived and worked in two of these structures, and the only thing more depressing than approaching them for the day was thinking that someone had designed them that way and thought it was a good idea, with merit and aesthetic integrity.
posted by oneironaut at 4:59 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


these are brutal forms

All of the valid criticism aside, I have always wondered who thought it was a good idea to adopt a name that reads as fuck you to the users of your building.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:09 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I don't read it that way, any more than I read art brut as being a fuck you to patrons of the art. The literal translation of "brut" here is "raw," based on the fact that the architecture exposes the raw materials used to make it. It's not Le Corbusier's fault that "brute" in English has negative connotations, and I suspect most people who know enough about architecture to know the phrase "brutalism" also know it's from the words "concrete brut," or raw concrete.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:34 AM on January 29


By the way, I worked in the Moos tower for three years, a classic brutalist structure. It had its architectural idiosyncrasies, the way a lot of old buildings do, but I didn't feel like I was living in a Soviet dystopia. This isn't Mr. X's Radiant City, where corrupt architecture is literally driving the inhabitents insane. A lot of buildings already look like brutalist architecture, but then have some sort of decorative facade slapped on the front.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:38 AM on January 29


I don't read it that way, any more than I read art brut as being a fuck you to patrons of the art.

You don't, but you'll be hard pressed to find a negative opinion from a user that doesn't at least take a swipe in this direction.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:09 AM on January 29


Well, considering that "brutalism" doesn't actually mean "fuck you," that's criticism I can then dismiss as uninformed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:07 AM on January 29


To my mind, Brutalism is the most egregious imposition of theory

But is isn't, though. The reason I love it when brutalism comes up on the blue is that it's such a nice example of how we as rational people [sic] let discussion of a named idea subsume the need to discuss the processes that the idea contains or embodies.

Totalitarian architecture on inhuman scales is not in itself the cause of "the urine in the hallways and the cigarette burns in the walls": socio-economic processes and the political structures that allow them form do. If we just look at these buildings and say "this didn't work", we make it harder to see that organic built environments comprising individual living spaces at the personal scale that have emerged over a long period of individual action do not prevent poverty or disenfranchisement either.

If it failed (if it's even a single thing), brutalist architecture failed to create a space for societies for the same reasons that Victorian slums failed to do so, and that post-war suburban reconstruction failed to do so, and that new build apartment clusters will fail to do so: because we still fail collectively to address wealth inequality, healthcare provision, social mobility and universal education.

The selective censorship of these buildings is just another attempt to salve our conscience about the fact that we don't actually believe in solutions for everyone any more. We should value them because they remind us of the job we need to do.
posted by cromagnon at 8:09 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


There's a phenomenon now called ostalgia (or Ostalgie), which means nostalgia for the Soviet era. It's the opposite of the current trend, which is just to knock down old Soviet buildings, and I think it's an understandable impulse. Because these supposedly monstrous concrete buildings were, for a lot of people, what their world looked like -- not the pre-Soviet structures that are mostly maintained for tourists nowadays (in the same way most people in New Orleans don't live in buildings that look like the French Quarter.)

It's important to recognize that both tastes and historical viewpoints change. There is a tendency to knock over buildings that feel dated, or strike us now as ugly. There's an entire historic section of Omaha, Jobbers Canyn, that was leveled because, at the time, people saw the buildings as just being nondescript brick warehouses -- in the meanwhile, the few buildings that remain (now called the Old Market) are downtown Omaha's signature neighborhood, and the first (and one of the only) to be revitalized in the past few years.

I don't know that every brutalist structure needs to be maintained or has historical significance, but I think a certain amount of caution is useful when dealing with distinctive structures from the relatively recent past. Those are often the ones that the future treasures, even if they seem outdated or unattractive to us.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:00 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


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