Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Challenges of Abandoned Architecture

"At one time, the Buzludzha Monument, designed by Gueorguy Stoilov, was the most celebrated monument dedicated to the sociopolitical movement of communism. Now, in the mountains of Buzludzha National Park in Central Stara Planina, Bulgaria, stands an abandoned communist concrete structure right in the middle of the country taking on a “flying saucer” in appearance. What should be done with buildings that have been abandoned all over the globe?" (Alison Furoto, ArchDaily)
This absolutely extraordinary structure is a prime candidate for both the study of Psycho-geography as well as for judicious "Détournement", as Lefebvre calls it. The "diversion" or "detournement’" of a space  happens when an existing space outlives its original utility and the reasons for which it was built with a particular form and for a particular function. When this purpose becomes obsolete, the space is subject to being re-appropriated, its use ‘diverted’ to something more relevant thus maintaining or increasing its ‘use’ value. This has been discussed in an earlier post.

Psychogeography was described by Guy Debord as the "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." (Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955). 

Debord was one of the members of the Situationist movement of which Lefebvre was briefly a part. A structure like the Buzludhza monument, by virtue of its scale, form and location, was definitely meant to impact the emotions and behaviours of people. This was primarily, of course, to impress on them the glory of the Communist state and create a sense of awe at the huge system which they were part of, a system that was so massive in scale, it dwarfed the individual and his or her ambitions;  a system wherein the individual was insignificant and individualism was to be surpressed for the greater good. 

With the fall of communism, the system and its symbols and symbolism were rendered null and void. This part of the Bulgarian geography, devoted to countless monuments to Communism scattered all over the country represent something else altogether. The emotional impact of this redundant landscape is no less significant as the country and her citizens try to frenetically leave its past behind and embrace the future.

Structures with such strong associated emotional values are consequently a challenge. How does one "divert" the use of a redundant symbol? The challenge lies in finding a use that neither glorifies the values that were once attached to it, and yet keeps the historical integrity of the structure by not assigning a use that outrageously debases what it once meant. (Even if it does look like an ideal shape and size for a future IMAX theatre.)

Author: Shahana Dastidar
Note: All images and information about the Buzludzha Monument from this article at www.archdaily.com

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