Death in Ruin: On beauty in the no longer Ruin

theory essays

Curiousity and questions based on my architectural studies.

Ruins are man-made structures that have fallen, yet have this ability to withstand time, the triumph of natural forces and gravity winning, the capability for to crumble or disappear. They are the remains of history, stories and the past, as well as a monument which encourages imagination of something more. They represent hints of myths that maybe true, and thus triggers us to picture the scene of history, imagine an alternative history and possible future. It makes us believe there is almost a magical touch to this discarded architecture, magic in the reversal and control of time. As Brian Dillion talks about ruins in his study; “The spectre of the city in ruins still haunts the contemporary imagination” 1. Ruins are the markings of time, but not restrained to it’s past, it is very much projections of the present and future. When you look and think about ruins, you are first reminded of what they were like at their original state, what the intention of it was for. Somewhere in between what they actually were and your thoughts, there is a gap for your imagination to create something that may not be exactly accurate. There already it creates an ‘alternative past’. Then you look at a ruin for what it is now, the present, questioning it’s value. Why keep a ruin - an abandoned, fallen structure? That then leads to the idea of a projected future. What they ruins could have been, and what they can be, leading to conversions in ruins and rein habitation of them. The idea of ruins also makes us question, when and how or will the current structures, architecture, building we inhabit in right now, be one day a ruin.


Ruinenlust 2, it’s a German word for for ‘Ruin Lust’, the word meaning finding pleasure in ruins, and how we find beauty in the destructed and decayed. The word first came to use when an English writer Rose Macaulay reintroduced it in her studies in 1953. She published the book ‘Pleasure of Ruins’, which was one of the first books to explore the subject of architecture decay. The beauty of ruins in the term is “from an imagining of a past (and thus a future), from destruction and the hope for rebirth or from an understanding of the passage of time and the inevitability of death.” 3 The idea of our fascination and fixation of ruins is an on going addiction, from today to ancient times. The love of ruins especially intensified in the 18th century, with many artists celebrating the beauty of ruins, from J.MW Turner to Michael Gandy. Part of the attraction of ruins is in it’s decay into nature, how there is beauty in the merging of built structures and it’s natural environment. However the beauty in decay requires a certain amount of time, for nature to overtake the architecture. Beauty in decay is only half the answer to Ruin Lust, what else is it about ruins that are so attractive aside from it being absorbed by nature? What makes ruin beautiful and what is it that have always captivated us and make it so hard to turn away. So infatuated with the subject that we have always repeatedly over history turn back to the allurement of the beauty in ruins. 


“Consider what the ruin has meant, or might mean today: a reminder of the universal reality of collapse and rot; a warning from the past about the destiny of our own or any other civilisation; an ideal beauty that is alluring exactly because of its flaws and failures.. an image of equilibrium of nature and culture, a memorial to the fallen of an ancient or recent war;… a desolate playground in whose cracked and weed-infested precincts we have space and time to imagine a future.” 4


In the introduction Brian Dillion wrote in his book Ruin Lust, he questioned what ruins represented and starting to introduce how ruins present us the occasion and chance to envision a future.


To begin with, in the essay there are three types of ruins, each with it’s own case study. Each defines ruins in it’s own way. There are the ruins, which are ancient, abandoned and are starting to decay, the true ruin. Then there are the semi-ruins, regarded by some as ruins, old structures filled with historical representation yet not completely abandoned or destructed. And there are the ruins that are brought back to life, re-inhabitated and converted into a difference space, the revived ruin. Structures with the shell of the ruins, but re-inhabited and revived. Comparing the three different types of ruins, here we attempt to question, what outside of the decay attracts us. Is it how they defy time, remain standing and merges with nature or that the beauty in ruin in simply not the ruin itself, but the death of ruin, the no longer ruin. 


Revived Ruin -The Cement Factory


The Cement Factory’ is a beautiful conversion of an old abandoned factory into a ‘Fairytale home’ and studio for and by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill. The project has been praised for it’s fantastical, imaginative and stunning appearance. In someways, there is magic, magic in the design of the architect, bringing the complex back to life. The structure is 40 years in making still expanding and renovating. Originally it had 30 massive engine rooms, and many underground structures. Bofill brought the factory in 1973, and it needed a little over a year for it to be liveable. It took two years to make it into an architectural office. As of right now, it is not only the architect’s home, but his architectural firm, with a conference room, archive, exhibition space and model workshop. The complex also has multiple gardens, which liven up the ruin itself. As a lot of work has been done to create a comfortable, grand, beautiful inhabitable space, the raw concrete walls and oxidised surfaces were preserved wherever possible to keep the ruin’s identity and it’s original beauty. It is done so to preserve the existing structure. Bofill said, “I like the life to be perfectly programmed here, ritualised, in total contrast with my turbulent nomad life,”5 said Bofill. His firm says the project “will always remain an unfinished work.”


The factory was merely abandoned building before spotted by Bofill, unnoticed, overlooked and neglected. In comparison from then to the conversion today, it is glorified for it’s beauty in it’s transformation, re-inhabitation and revival of the ruin. There are two questionable controversy with this, whether the beauty is in the ruins or the artificial decorative, modernised interior. Or perhaps the cement factory is no longer a ruin, but in fact an example of the death of the ruin, where the ruin has been revived. The beauty in the ruin, is not as much the ruin or the modern furnishings, but allurement and charm is in its restoration.


Semi Ruin -The Nakagin Capsule Tower


The Capsule tower, known as the Nakagin Capsule Tower was designed by Kisho Kurokawa. It was one of the only built metabolism works, a movement inspired by biological growth which envisioned architecture megastructure built on the sea and in the sky. It is valued and famous for being one of the only built examples of Metabolist movement in Japan,  an architectural movement inspired by biological growth. The tower was designed to be a residential building, with 2.3 x 3.8 x 2.1 m capsules or rooms. The capsules can be connected to make bigger spaces, but each are independent elements. The idea is that the capsules can be replaced and upgraded for future use. However the project was a failure due to the usage space being too rigid, the price to replace the capsules are too expensive, and with the price of the district going up (Ginza is a core commercial district in Tokyo), many proposed to tear it down. The building is still functioning, although over half of the capsules have been abandoned. However, there are still about 40 people living in this ruin, in fact one capsule opened as a BnB.


In my thoughts, the tower is regarded as the semi-ruin. It is called a ruin by some and proclaimed as a monument of architectural history, but at the building itself is still in use and was never completely discarded. There were multiple proposals and attempts in demolishing the structure, but it stays standing today due to it’s architectural historical value. It is regarded as a ruin because of the it being partially abandoned. However it is also still partly inhabited. At the same time, unlike the cement factory, the building was never converted in anyway. Some capsules have been turned into offices and studios, but mostly still inhabited as homes. It is appreciated for its legacy and history, in eyes of architects, historians and designers is represents one of the only remaining and only built metabolism architecture. To other people outside the circle of the discipline, it is seen by many as something to be disposed of. Going back to the idea of beauty in revival, does a building need to die, in order for one to notice it for it’s value and beauty? The need of a building to have no trace of life remaining, to have the opportunity of restoration, to be given the title of common, universal beauty. Beauty that is accepted by not only those who is fascinated by it’s historical value, but purely as a ruin itself. Appreciated outside of the circle, away from it’s history but beauty in it’s purest forms, what is appealing to the eye, is interesting and fascinate others.


The definition of beauty in it’s most general form is a “quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, a meaningful design or something extraordinary” 6. It is important to state the three different interpretations of beauty used in the essay. There is beauty defined in the most simplest of forms, structures that gives comfort, contentment and excitement. Simply labelled as beautiful in one’s subjective view.  Then there is the generic context of beauty in ruins is the beauty they see in the merging of nature and man made structure. This is beauty that is measures the essence of life and the natural states of the earth. Lastly, there is the beauty in the definition of Ruinenlust where beauty is in the decay and hope for rebirth, the definition that defines beauty in this essay. 


True Ruin - Rio Olympic Stadium


The Rio Olympic venue was opened in 2016 for the Olympic games, it as only been a year (to date) since then, and the site is completely abandoned, vandalized and forgotten. It is said there were over 75,000 people at the opening ceremony, and the games itself were broadcasted to millions internationally. The site itself was abandoned within 6 months the games ended and it was closed to tourist after the games due to the unpaid bills, causing dispute between the stadium staff, the Rio government and olympic organisers. 


The stadium was built to be a legacy, a place there’s where moments of glory, historical moments of records broken, pride for the country to hold the Olympic Games. The intention of it was to make it into a historical monument, pride of the county, yet right now it is labelled as “Abandoned venues are becoming an eye sore” 7 on news articles. 


“Albert Speer’s concept of ‘ruin value’: oversized architecture of Hitler’s projected Germania was to be conceived precisely with a view to its future decay, centuries hence, in picturesque manner.” 8


Architecture such as the Rio Olympic Venue was designed with the intention of not just the games, but as a site where history is made. As Speer talked about his concept of the ruin value, the stadium is a failed example of that. Speer was designing Adolf Hitler’s empire through the inspiration of Rome. The designs were to last thousands of years. His theory of the ruin value is that it is beautiful after it has survived a ‘passage of time.’ Although it has not been centuries as the quote states, but the inception the first intention has utterly failed, with the structure marked as the opposite of beauty and glory. Categorising this has the ‘true ruin’ out of the three examples, can we imagine beauty growing from the stadium revived? The idea of beauty in ruins is not entirely of the ruin, but in it’s revival. The beauty in Ruinenlust, directs to the ancient ruins, the beauty in man made structure blending in with nature as William Gilpin has described the image of the Tintern Abbey as ruins.


“Nature has now made it her own. Time has worn off all traces of the rules, it has blunted the sharp edges of the chisel, and broken the regularity of opposing parts.” 9


As argued by other writers and stated at the beginning of this essay, ruins are not merely just representations and monuments of the past, but a model for the past, present, future past and future. In a sense that it prompts you to picture another time, whether future or past future. The ruin in it’s current state, it’s past state and future state. Ruins are not restricted by time, looking at it as a comparison to a clock, it is a mean to show the magnitude and capacity of time. Or more like a Time Machine where it allows you to envision the architecture at different eras. Similarly to a clock, ruins are not constrained within a certain period or hour, but there is a cycle of creation, decay and renewal.  Imagine at the 1:00 hour, it is the hour of creation, the building of the structure. In between 1:00-6:00 is the existence of the structure. Slowly as the clock is getting towards 6:00, it is starting to become a semi ruin. By 6:00 it is abandoned and starting to decay, marked as a true ruin. From 6:00-12, it is the period of being a ruin and at 0:00, it is at the point of renewal. Revived, re-inhabitated and converted into a new form of structure. This is the cycle of life in ruins for as long as the building is not removed or demolished. Unlike the clock, there is no restricted time in how long it stays at one state, but the idea is that being a ruin is a cycle in the life of the architecture. 


“The ruin lust of the eighteenth century begins in parts as a way of thinking about - fearing and hoping for - the future. Romantically or picturesquely conceived, as we have seen, the ruins traffic with more than one timeframe: it arrives from the past, but incomplete; it may well survive us…among its empty vaults perhaps, it conjures a future past, the memory of what might have been.” 10


In the case of the true ruin, the Rio olympic stadium, now it is at the hour of decay, not yet at it’s renewal. It may not even be revived, which means it break the cycle of the ruin. However if it does, it would be at it’s revival state where, without a doubt, noted and celebrated it’s re-inhabitation, and beauty in renewal. In the case of the Rio olympic stadium, due to the amount of debts currently held, it is unlikely the revival state will happen, and even if so, not anytime soon. The semi ruin, the Capsule Tower, is yet to decay completely. It is in need of complete abandonment where there is no more inhabitation or use for the building. Finally the first example, the revived ruin, also could be marked as the no-longer ruin, the Cement Factory, is at the 0:00 point, the point of renewal and re-inhabitation. 


“But Piranesi also saw that ruins were not static, and spoke to each other as well as to our present - his juxtapositions of vastly different times and places suggest that ruins allow us to set ourselves loose in time, to hover among past, present and future.” 11


By why Piranesi as commented on ruins, they are in fact not ‘static’. But as previously said, a container to mark time, similarly to a clock how it governs time and creates a cycle in the life of a structure. Ruins are celebrated for their beauty when they are re-inhabitated and when their legacy is respected. At the same time with it’s shell preserved and the structure finding new purpose and is reside in. As suggested part of the beauty in ancient ruins are their connection and how the structures fuse into nature. The other part of the beauty in ruins, that exist in ruins that does not necessarily relate to ageing, is the appreciation in it when it comes back to life. When there are essence of life in these seemingly dead structures. That is the magic of allurement that people see as beauty, the beauty of ruins revived. Another way of seeing it, it is how ruins defies time. It is the beauty of it sustaining time. There is beauty in appreciating the significance of the past and redesigning it, bringing it back to contemporary today. For it to be liveable structure, yet full of stories and past history merging with the present. Revival is something all creatures cannot do, and there is fascination in that because humans ourselves cannot defy time. Architecture and ruins is a way for us to mark our history and past, this is why ruins are important and why there is beauty in reviving a ruin and not simply discarding it as an abandoned structure. For ruins to merely be waiting to be demolish, or left aside unnoticed. 


In comparison to the other two case studies, and in reference to the cycle mentioned earlier, Rio is a ruin in wait to be brought back to life, for people to see the beauty in it’s revival. However as suggested before, it is unlikely Rio is a structure that would be revived, but more likely be demolished and escapes the cycle. The design of the stadium with it’s lightweight structure also suggest that even before the it becoming a ruin, it wasn’t intended to be renewed. If its abandoned, then it’ll be abandoned and demolished at one point. In the current state, it would not be regarded as beauty, but with the possibility of renewal itself is. For the the Capsule tower to be appreciated for it’s beauty it need to die. In a sense where it needs to have no sign of life, or any function, in order for it to be revived. When it is renewed, or brought back to life, that is where the beauty of it is in. Imagine overgrown plants and rusting in the structure, then it is re-enforced with new sections, possibly some new capsules and re-inhabitated. The beauty would be in that, the structure coming back to life. The Cement factory is the example of revival ruin, the beauty in no longer ruin. Beauty in the no longer ruin, is the revival, of the ruin defying time, a structure that is designed to represent a relationship between the past present and future, it is beautiful because there is a sign of life, and history is marked, preserved and that is is a ruin no more.




1. Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg,30



4. Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg. 5



7. Caption of Image in article

8. Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg. 30

9. Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg. 10

10. Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg. 48

11.Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed. pg. 6


Dillon, B. (n.d.). Ruin lust. 1st ed.

Dillon, B. Ruins: Documents of contemporary art

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Lin, Z. (2010). Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist movement. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Scobie, A. (1990). Hitler’s state architecture. 1st ed. University Park [Pa.]: Published for College Art Association by the Pennsylvania State

University Press