Dicey dioramas of ruin porn

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Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber have fashioned what might be described as apocalypic dollhouses to create an end-of-the-world sensibility. The result, from an article in Architizer titled “The Beauty of Decay: These Stunning Dioramas Depict Perfect Post-Apocalyptic Architecture,” brings to mind “ruin porn,” specifically photographs recording the decay of buildings in Detroit, and especially rooms in those buildings. But Detroit may be on the rebound, and revival is definitely not on the Nix/Gerber agenda.

What may also not be on their agenda, something they may not even have noticed, is the division in their work between traditional and modernist interiors. This has ramifications for the broader world of architecture. It seems that of their twelve dioramas, the first six show decay in rooms designed with traditional or even classical features, whereas the last six are, more or less, modernist interiors – one seems to be traditional renovated with a modernist sensibility (the old optometry classroom).

Like films whose set directors subconsciously have the good guys inhabiting traditional settings and the bad guys inhabiting modernist settings (see the Star Wars series), the Nix/Gerber dioramas show that intricately embellished interiors decay more elegantly than modernist interiors featuring purity of line and unembellished surfaces.

In these dioramas things seem to have gone beyond the point where, despite the headline, actual beauty has been lost. But it seems evident that, based on their relatively late stages of decay, it probably took longer for the first six rooms to lose their charm than the last six rooms.

Be it on an interior or exterior, time and weather apply a graceful patina. Architecture ages more like human beings than machinery. Age reveals character in people, whereas it haunts the unnatural materials of which machinery is made. Nowadays, of course, a room can often be made of materials common to machinery. They warp, rust, fade, stain, spoil and streak without the guidance offered by detailing and ornament, be it in buildings or antique machinery. Just compare an old Royal that has sat in an attic for twenty or thirty years with a Macintosh of like vintage.

It’s a good thing Architizer used the photo at the bottom at the top of its article, or I might have sat here wondering where they found these deliciously grubby rooms. What virtuosity of assembly, of art!

Hats off as well to Kristen Richards for putting the provocative set of photos by Nix and Gerber on her indispensable (and free) ArchNewsNow.com compendium of daily news from the world of architecture.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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