March 23 2008

BLDGBLOG Comes to Baltimore

Geoff Manaugh Lecture_Image 01

This week Geoff Manaugh, creator of BLDGBLOG among other things, lectured here in Baltimore. He was invited to speak through the AIA's Michael F. Trostel Lecture sponsored by Preservation Maryland. The lecture was generally angled to cover historic preservation, but to my delight, Manaugh managed to move the discussion well outside the traditional boundaries of architectural preservation. Geoff described the lecture on BLDGBLOG as:

There will be stabilized ruins, abandoned prisons, a post-human Detroit, the architectural reuse of war debris, gene banks, epoxy-sealed Utah arches, and the slow fossilization of cities over eons of geological time. There will be liquid silicone, plaster casts of famous statuary, and old Hollywood film sets preserved by the desert sand.

Many of these topics can be found as recent posts on BLDGBLOG and all are juicy even as non-sequiturs to those just interested in a few good reads.

Read in context however, the topics are all thread together by the common theme of preservation. It is preservation however that changed in each instance. Preservation in the case of the Non-trivially Braided I-95 Interchange just north of Baltimore implied that there are multiple intended and unintended meanings behind any significant act. In the case of the freeway interchange future generations might imply that the mathematical significance was paramount to our building the structure. Manaugh also begged the question of what we should do with obsolete infrastructure and furthermore what could even feasibly done to preserve such works.

Preservation in terms of the post-human Detroit proposed by Jose Camilo Vergara was about how to deal with contemporary ruins. The project by Vergara suggested taking 12 square blocks of downtown Detroit, stabilizing the buildings and turning it in to an urban park. The idea was to let animals recolonize the ruins of our capitalistic society and let people explore the area only as visitors. This proposal, in my mind, was about the relationship of the natural environment to the built environment and also about our perception of permanence. What would be dramatic than seeing the monuments of capitalism decaying under a blanket of vegetation.

Preservation can also be an imposed system of structure and controls as was discussed in the example of the epoxy sealed Utah stone arches or the silicone covered underwater cities. Preservation in these cases was an awkward system, often technological, applied to an artifact. These examples naturally led to the question of "what should be preserved" because theoretically anything can be saved.

Finally, the oddest instance of preservation was the set of Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments. During the creation of the film the director called for the creation of the largest film set ever created (to date) and upon it's retirement he had it all buried in the desert. The set was later discovered by two college students and is now preserved as an artifact. The fact that it was an Egyptian stage set only adds to the absurdity of the story. Manaugh asked what would be the interpretation of the set if found in a millenia. What would future archeologists speculate happened in the deserts of America?

I'll leave it to you the reader to explore these topics and decide for yourself the future of preservation. Suffice to say it is going to get even more interesting in the decades to come.

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