The Evliya Parthenon

“Despite all the destruction,” the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi wrote of the Parthenon in 1667, “no other mosque known to us can open up shining paths in the soul of man. Every time you visit, you discover more and more new masterpieces, which-during previous visits-escaped your notice.” He also admired the sixty pure white “marble columns” that “attained a height of twenty-five cubits,” he also admired the “reliefs and the decorations” but mainly, he admired the four columns made of ruby red marble, which could “reflect even the shade of one’ face,” the “gold-plated dome,” the “four pillars of green marble near the minbar… decorated with elaborate flowers,” “the colours and the stones on the doors and the walls that resemble eyes, of cats and of fish, etc.”

No one can say whether Evliya, on his visit, had “actually” seen a transformed Parthenon or some completely different building. Undoubtedly Evliya is not referring to the same Parthenon Pausanias wrote about. But again, no one can pinpoint the moment a structure loses its identity, no one can say, in an approved and absolute manner, when a building ceases to be “itself”. One cannot even define when the building remains “itself”, and what meanings this identity may assume, what the structure replicates of its past self, and how, as something new, it differs from that earlier one. Reuse inaugurates repetitive temporal cycles, simultaneously marking the limits of similarities and differences. Repetition, finally, may only be experienced through paradox let’s keep this in mind, recalling Kierkegaard’s book.

And the new building, housed in the old shell, frequently welcomes not only the paradoxical presence of the structural elements of the earlier one (columns and marbles walls in the case of the Parthenon), but is also called upon to house the absence of the past-housing the absent is one of the pre-eminent functions of a ruin. The ruin is indissolubly linked to an opposition to the deletion of some trace of memory, inscribed on its body. And it would be exceedingly hasty of us to accept that reuse simple-mindedly insults and desecrates the building’s inscribed remembered content. It is certain, however, that reuse handles memory differently than the archaeological approach.

Incorporation into the new does not delete the old. It assumes a distinctive nature. We need only remember Byzantine masonry and the permeation of memory incorporating ancient fragments offers its surfaces. The presence of this fragment in the new structure, as well as the presence of the structure’s very past in the new structure haunt the new structure on a fabulist’s level. Evliya wrote of a “dome” where, they said “the divine Plato went up… and taught the people,” he admired the ancient reliefs stressing that “one must have the range of Aristotle to understand the range of their artistic value,” and noted the existence of a huge cup carved of white marble, which could easily hold five people, explaining that-tradition held-the founder of the temple would treat his workers wine from it. “How huge folk must have been during that era that they could swallow so much wine from such a large cup all at once!”

In spite of Evliya’s enchanting exaggerations, what is important is that his description does not ignore the existence of the ancient temple, the specific first temple, the structure the foundations first supported. The description cannot be made without some ghost of the ancient temple, and understood thus, the presence of the new monument does not annul the ancient past. Something of the first period remains in the modified monument. Evliya’s Parthenon then, serves as marvellous raw material, while at the same time reveals a certain capacity for memory. The same building frame-reused-simultaneously governs memory as well as matter. This particular organization of memory might appear primitive in the eyes of a contemporary westerner, but we let’s not forget that the nature of the narrative then called to compose historical conscience was not characterized by the systematic collection of data.

One might also wonder whether today’s image of a ruin worth seeing shows any greater respect to “historical” memory. We know that the Parthenon has undergone continual alterations and that the selection to highlight the classical monument was an ideological choice. No aesthetic or historical verdict can fully justify this pre-eminence; a pre-eminence whose ideological origin is revealed by today’s heavy use of the monument.

We should not then consider Evliya’s Parthenon to be radically different from today’s, because the monument has supposedly been “cleansed” of any “sacrilegious” interventions, but rather because today, the Parthenon is called upon to play a completely different role. It is asked to present the visitor (on the basis of all the data at our disposal) with the ruin of the classical 5th century BCE temple. Even more, it is asked to be the symbol of some point of departure, the form that symbolically represents the source of Western civilization. It no longer needs to house something to be something. And yet, it plays a very specific role in the contemporary social environment. The ruin is so burdened functionally that we might say that such a structure can hardly be characterized as a ruin. We know what falling to ruin and abandonment mean to a building-an extreme decline that results in the building having no use. Today’s Parthenon is, on the one hand, the result of the ancient temple falling into some sort of ruin, but, on the other, as an ancient sight, it retains these days an important position in our social and financial life. It participates actively in both and, therefore, it is possible for the government to fund restoration and conservation work, which may or may not advance “civilization”, but certainly does make a greater number of visitors and a more expensive admission ticket possible. The past may be visited and this visit must be paid for, just as one would for a journey. The ancient attraction constitutes one of this journey’s destinations. Perhaps then-after a many-sided examination-the attraction (understood here as a tourist draw) should no longer be considered a ruin.

The Moslem or preceding Christian proposal for the Parthenon respected “the” monument no less than today’s intervention respects it. According to the schema of “use-non-use” that is frequently equivalent to the corresponding “desecration-respect”, we observe that respect, as understood by us today, functions as a violation of the ruin in order to render it a point in the utilitarian logic of restoration. And because the purpose of “reuse” is firstly to honour the presented building achievement (believing it something that cannot easily be repeated) we may safely claim that in every situation (including the present one) the Parthenon was organized as a place of worship, respecting the ruin, but simultaneously reversing its ruined state. A ‘de-ruination’, one might say, that begins from this very respect for the ruin. As regards the current “de-ruination” of the monument, it should be noted that it is not unrelated to the archaeological administration, but archaeological administration is not solely responsible for the current operation of the monument. In each case, there is an ideological priority that precedes archaeological research.

A theory of ruin

Panos Kouros (to whom I owe, to a great extent, my first contact with the theoretical world of the ruin), attempted to associate the “alteration” in how the ruin is perceived with the advent of the Renaissance. For him “The Middle Ages” still live “the past within the present,” while after the Renaissance, the ancient ruins “stand out from the corpus of contemporary structures as… bearers of a historical and moral conscience.” Already, however, in the example of the medieval Parthenon, we saw the monument managing memory via the singular means of the period. For Kouros, it is only after the Renaissance that “the presence of the ruin in space has,” no longer, “the value of an organic union with the contemporary urban environment, but is experienced as otherness, fragmentation, elimination… It is the elimination of this living time from the ruin that gives it the character of a ‘fragment of history’.” Kouros accepts the conventional division that divides the ruin into incorporated or unincorporated in each civilization that confronts it. Still we should pay serious attention to this incorporation. One the one hand, if we consider the Parthenon an indicative case, we might say that incorporation is inevitable, from the moment the ruin’s value is accepted. The ruin is registered as such the same moment it provides the prospect of some such incorporation. It is immediately presented as matter requiring completion; and yet-on the other hand-it is, perhaps first and foremost, something that cannot be completed.

The act of incorporation into the civilization that embraces it is especially importance to the ruin (the decision to characterize wreckage as a ruin, as something noteworthy). I am not referring here to buildings that present themselves as already established ruins, which serve as attractions, but to those that are built through contemplation, i.e., through the inventiveness of the gaze, those that the traveller’s gaze uncovers already forgotten. We read the buildings that are not presented this way in a completely different manner. The ruin is built by the gaze that upends the difference between forgotten and worthy of admiration, introducing the insignificant into the sphere of meaning. The ruin is only recognized as useless. Its characterization marks a sudden alteration in its nature; the useless is transformed into something useful. The gaze that sees the ruin is a gaze that resurrects. And if we accept that the ruin is born in moments of such discoveries we must also accept that the ruin dies at the very moment of its birth. The ruin is deleted at the very moment it is recorded. It loses its character since the ruin’s definition contradicts any specific presentation. In a way, it is necessarily invisible and is therefore born in the very hour it is put to death as a ruin.

However, the body that bears this transformation of useless into useful, of insignificant into significant, retains something of the struggle between usefulness and uselessness. Something that will characterize the ruin from that moment on. The body that struggles to surrender to the before or the after of the ruin, to the insignificant or the significant, to the “as is” or to some projection that might complete it. Every effort that seeks to fulfil the ruin (to construct a whole out of a fragment) tends towards usefulness, while every move that seeks to fix it towards uselessness. And yet the “as is” already completes, already frays of itself when it organized as a gaze. No ruin can be authentic without remaining in some fashion unattainable, in some fashion dark. Between the dark and the dazzle of excessive light the ruin finally remains invisible and the gaze that sees it blind.

We shall therefore not insist on the alterations the character of the ruin underwent as time went by. Viewed in such a light, this “nature” may have never been constituted before, or without a particular conception of otherness, of distance and of the fragment. It may also not have existed before the fragment’s potential inherent drive towards completion. We are interested in the ruin’s conception, as matter that produces space for absence. The ruin begins its life within a certain idealization of the useless. It begins its life without a beginning, as well as without a specific end.

To a ruin, before is necessarily meaningless, while after is necessarily meaningful. The dynamic of the metamorphosis of the unimportant into something important creates games of usefulness and uselessness in a ruin. It makes sense for a ruin to remain useless, i.e., it is a ruin when it is useful in its uselessness, useful as useless. Every reuse of the ruin interprets this paradoxical rule.

Thus, the ruin may simultaneously be described as the useless admiration of the unattainable and useful raw material for something that is being prepared. At that same moment, it is that which is constantly fleeing, the body of the fleeing meaning, but also the fragment seeking completion (either as raw material for construction, or as a supplemental section of information). The ruin provides direct access to a landscape of absence; we can consider it without any other intent or attempt-in relation to it-to complete some image of it. And here, simply considering is not viewed as something derogatory, nor, however, as an absolute value.

The considering position, that special position that does not touch what it sees is the supreme theoretical position, which is also within the vortex of the alterations between usefulness and uselessness. The ancient Greek vision is, according to Jacques Brunswig, the vision of a sight without hands which leaves things as they are, as they cannot but be. And indeed on a scale of values that is often emphasized in classical Greece, the superfluous often surpasses the necessary, the disinterested the useful, the gratuitous the profitable. The Greek values system then, according to Brunschwig, reserves the highest position for theory, i.e., for the scrutiny and the specific intellectual vision that constitute theoretic deliberation. Just like eyesight, intellectual vision is, or may be, a gaze from a distance whose field of vision grasps objects beyond its reach, hence by many concepts untouchable; untouchable, also, in the sense that one cannot touch them, one cannot come into contact with them, untouchable as well, in the sense that one cannot damage them, one cannot affect them, alter them, make them other than what they are. Brunschwig’s gaze, which does not damage, and does not get involved, is an idealized gaze that arrives at seeing without seeing. It is a vision built of ruins.

The proximity of the ruin to the idealization of the useless brings it close to a passion for the ignored and the strange. Such passion is not necessarily linked with systematic study, or if it is, it resembles a collector’s passion. Even if we consider the ruin as one more detail (that concerns some broader shape the fragments will complete), we still want it to be a rare fact, a strange piece of the puzzle, which will suddenly cast a totally different light on the total. In each case, the rarer appears more precious here.

Richard Stoneman linked the first steps of contemporary archaeology with the existence of the ‘society’ of antiquaries, individuals who expanded their interests beyond antiquities to every sort of strange knowledge or construction, ranging from natural history to alchemy and to mechanics, to filling galleries and collections with coins, stones and rare items. The archaeological shard and the ruin were also oddities, worthy of being included among the interests of naturalists. The ruin was something memorable and rare.

Perhaps-for the needs of this essay-one might maintain that in the naturalist’s conception of the fragment, the shard, the curious find, we have already encountered an important advanced concept regarding the ruin.

The very fact of placing archaeological findings in the collections (curiosity cabinets) of individuals who themselves were often considered useless, abandoned to pleasure, depraved, and maybe even slightly insane, whose collections contained apart from antiquities, embalmed animals, Indian garments, shells, trick chairs and hinges may have a unique significance. It makes us wonder, amidst all this, what was noteworthy about these fragments, which presage the systematic interest in ancient ruins? One might say that they were simply beautiful. There are many reasons that render such a premise unsound and unsatisfactory. The uniqueness of the ancient shards appears to be the very fact of their strangeness, the fact that they could be carriers of some unfamiliar world. A function such finds continue to play, regardless of how much light scholarly knowledge may cast upon them. Accepting their uniqueness would amount to accepting the unassimilated and recognizing the ruin would be presented to a large degree as equal to recognizing the absoluteness of the strange, or the uninhabited.

Exhibiting remnants as things that are no longer what they were, is a strange activity that deserves attention; things are shown as such, which can never be anything as such, those that are not anything any more. “No longer” is an expression that defines the ruin; “pas plus” in French, expressions that love and reject excess, that guide us before something already lacking, to some absent excess. In the ruin’s case, its very self coincides with its rejection.

It is indicative to consider that contemporary archaeology is not a discipline inaugurated as a science that sought to replicate some bygone world, but was perhaps simply attracted to whatever might be conceived of as a “strange” find. Heidegger is interested in the power related to any inauguration. In his “Introduction to Metaphysics”, Heidegger argued that one may encounter in the uncanny character of any beginning a power that is lost in whatever follows it. Whatever follows, whatever comes after a beginning cannot be defined as an evolution, but rather, on the contrary, as some type of flattening, which no longer retains the inwardness of the inception. According to Heidegger what remains unassimilated is what it is, since it retains inside itself such an eruption of inception; during inception, everything erupts violently and struggles to subjugate the very power that usually subjugates it. Some violent presence of unknown things establishes them through the flux they first appear in. The uncanny character is organized during the inception of some difficult subjugation. It is within this inception, which hinders the subjugator that the power of uncanny things is revealed. And despite the fact that Heidegger’s words encompass an inflexible schema, it may make sense to view-for a moment-the evolution of archaeology as a decline of the ruin, similar to what Heidegger describes so vividly. Maybe the oddness, the impropriety, the foretelling of the strange, would prove to be for the ruin the source (viewed from this perspective) of a certain power that could not be eradicated, without which the ruin could not be declared as such.

With the passing of historical time there appears in architecture a certain synthesizing trend, which would justify the following hybrid phenomenon: the useless admiration of the ruin as is, which is offered by the contemplation of the ruin, succeeds in becoming itself the raw material for something else, something pending, or something now being built. The ruin as is has become in and of itself an architectonic theme. One might place directly into this hybrid architectural category the gardens and the constructions they contained, known as follies, which were designed as ruins from the beginning in order to “directly” provide the emotion of this simple contemplation. It was not by accident that the very theory of the picturesque, as it was devised up until the end of the 18th century in England, sought irregularity and sudden variations. The ruin once again works for the strange.

One might, however, understand through the identical hybrid phenomenon the Zeppelinfeld example, and Albert Speer’s drawings depicting it as already in ruins-in the future-after years of abandonment. The anticipation of its falling to ruin is what defines the newly-erected building here. The building, already fallen into disuse, becoming a simple object of contemplation, defines the character of the planned useful building. The ruin must live up to future circumstances; therefore, the compositional work must also include the contemplation of an already damaged building, the building as wreckage.

And so that no one might think that such an incorporation of the “fallen to ruin” character always results from some megalomaniacal or some external depiction of existing prototypes, one might refer in a similar manner to the work of Pikionis and especially to his modifications of the Acropolis, as at least, Zisis Kotionis read it1. Here the contemplation of the fragmented, the unattainable, the ruined is the internal creative mechanism of an architecture that has succeeded in denying an awakening. The siege of the absent that is sought in the effort to include the contemplation of the ruin in architectonic creation many then take completely different forms.

remains, blindness and the theatrical scene of architecture

Thus, reusing the industrial (for the most part) ruins that haunt the city outskirts and centres as well, does not open up a ruin to new horizons of questions. And yet, this building recycling gives birth to some new questions. These are buildings, which over the last decades are being used-more and more-as gathering places, occasionally even as simple residences, studios or workshops; former printers’ and artisans’ workshops and factories are frequently transformed-in the large contemporary cities of the West-into theatres, restaurants, art galleries or dance spaces. Is this the result of some need to keep down the cost of the new installations? Such interventions are frequently not financially profitable. Why then is this type of ruin given priority? What exactly is appreciated in these building remnants? Why are they being honoured? To begin with, a ruin’s conventional presence, as described above, is non-existent. And this is not because these specific buildings are architecturally inferior to those of the classical period. I hope it has already been made clear that a “qualitative” differentiation, however one might interpret it, is not what is actually being investigated here. A factory, however, is not specifically used in this case because any particular importance is attributed to the building’s specific past or because the importance of its period is being stressed in any instructive fashion. Unlike the “great” classical or Roman ruins, these ruins are not immediately transformed into sights. Moreover, utilizing these ruins does not abandon them to “sightseeing”, which occurs with the “great” ruins of the classical or Roman period. The structure is not directly delivered to the visitor who will view it, but some different reuse of the structure, some new function that operates the building differently, interfering violently into the period it is falling to ruin, suspending it while consolidating it at the same instant. The selection of these structures has not even been done in absentia of their former function, which has decisively defined them. They do not constitute the scena fissa that welcomes endless functional transitions.

What occurs is that use changes, and at the same time there is some sort of monumentality that remains strictly outside of use. What never directly affected use becomes a central compositional direction. Intervention, operation, must unfold via the scarce means that will not betray this peculiar fall to ruin. Before anything else, use defines falling to ruin, it is what constructs the ruin, what organizes a certain admiration of the unattainable and the useless, providing one more example of the architectural hybrid phenomenon we described. The peculiarities here concern a certain exploitation of the abandonment; something that functions gain must simultaneously remain abandoned. Some resolve is now being expressed in order for the building to remain old. Its demolition is being delayed so that it may be used as something old, not as something contemporary; always preserving it outside the current function it incorporates.

Without its “natural” transformation, which would selectively use sections of the structure, something that occurred to Evliya’s Parthenon, what we have here is a reuse that commences at the still point and not based on the prospect of transformation. Contrary to the case of Speer, whose buildings were designed in order to be constructed “from the beginning” in anticipation of some magnificent fall to ruin, in these cases these structures were rather unexpectedly transformed into ruins, i.e., a decision was made for them to assume the form of ruins worthy of conservation, and are designed as such (as ruins of their past) in the context of an architecture that attempts to begin and end the intervention at the same point, that attempts to exercise such discretion towards the existing building, so that the decision to intervene minimally is more important than anything else that concerns that very intervention. These interactions do not however, operate parasitically towards the building’s past, they are more interested in establishing, within the contemporary space, the contemplation of the past. A contemplation that does not fix something that is pre-existing, but is inaugurated along with the architectural intervention. Architecture here no longer organizes some crafted admiration resulting from the work upon the remnant of the gaze. Mumford noted that once a building ends up meaningless, we immediately cease to see it, even though it remains standing. Architecture for these buildings is put forward as work on a gaze that has been annulled, work on blindness. Structures that we may not have noticed have the power to provide the pleasure of contemplating ruins, because the very decay of time can concentrate the virtues of indirect contemplation (i.e., the virtues produced by the absence of the abandoned building) in the current wreckage.

For Mumford, architecture is called upon to harmonize its symbolic and its functional parts; a theatre must provide the appearance of a theatre, a bank the appearance of a bank, a printer’s workshop that of a printer’s workshop.

Mumford denounced the confusion that reigned during the recent past when businessmen considered their offices cathedrals, or when devout benefactors viewed university buildings as personal mausoleums. For him, architecture’s greatest importance is located in the effective harmony between symbol and function. There is a place for function as well as expression in all architectonic systems. Thus, according to Mumford, every building has a mission, be it something as simple as keeping the rain out or standing up against the wind. At the same time, even the simplest building creates an optical impression affecting anyone using it or looking at it, whether unconsciously or with a purpose; the structure says something to the observer and affects his natural reactions, be it to small degree. Constantly invisible functions remain outside the architectural picture, and therefore an underground building would probably not be described as architecture. But every visible function contributes up to a point to expression. In simple monuments, such as obelisks, or in more complex edifices, such as temples, the building’s function is subordinated to the human aspiration it embodies; if such buildings do not delight the eye and educate the intellect, no technical boldness can keep them from ending up meaningless. Indeed, in a work of architecture, ideological ruination is more fatal than technical. This is why-for Mumford-as soon as a building ends up meaningless, we cease to notice it, even though it remains standing.

For Mumford then, architecture depends on the relation between function and its expression. The building is speaking; it allows meaning to consistently grow with consistency between the impression of the building and its functional content. The building speaks “correctly” so long as it expresses its content, when function is expressed through the form of the building. And it stops speaking, becomes mute, falls to ruin in the most absolute sense of the word, when it is reduced to no meaning, its function no longer apparent. The ruin-as we already remarked-would thus be something already undermined and dark within the gaze, something that would not be visible or that would cause temporary blindness. The mute building would then be the paramount ruin, and its obsolescence would correspond to the limitation of the structure’s relationship with the one reading it. But this reading (as a process by which to approach architecture) would be unable to evaluate such architectural intentions, such an interpretation of the composite procedure we have described. Beyond the difficulty of establishing the “effective”, for Momford, “harmonization of symbol and function”, we must admit that disharmony between symbol and function is a valid architectural purpose.

However, the way in which this new use of the ruined character is introduced into certain outstanding architectural compositions, does not only doubt the more classical view on the consistency between form and function. This concept of a ruin also questions the opposing view, which would permit every form to house every function. I am referring specifically to Aldo Rossi’s “scena fissa” (fixed scene). Rossi frequently dealt with an alternating succession of different uses that the ‘same’ building might receive. In his Scientific Autobiography, he repeated once again that places are stronger than people, that the scena fissa is stronger than the subject, than the plot that unfolds before it. This is the theoretical basis of architecture; Rossi compared this thought with setting up a theatre. People are like actors once the theatre lights come on, they involve us in a plot that might be strange to us and which, in the end, will remain strange to us. According to Rossi, the limelight and the music are no different than a summer storm, a conversation, a person.

He went on to say that the theatre is often closed, and cities, like large theatres, are empty. What is touching is that everyone experiences a small individual role; in the end, no actor (neither the average actor nor the diva) is capable of changing the state of things.

Rossi always affirmed the contrast between that which is decayed and that which is powerful. He considered this also in the sense of statics, through the strength of materials. Thus, every person who experiences some small role, as well as every civilization which is simply “projected” before buildings, would then belong to the category of the decayed. In front of some constructed scena fissa, each civilization performs itself. Each civilization is simply a role played out on the immobile theatre of the structures surrounding it. The same buildings maintain the background for the various civilizations’ infinite transformations. Then civilization becomes the scenery rather than its constructed surroundings. It is civilization that alternates before the stable frame that may receive everything. And within the concept of the powerful imposing itself upon the decayed, the reflections and the games that continually transform the decayed into the powerful and vice-versa are naturally lost. Within such a correspondence with the theatre, the power of theatricality is presumably undermined; the stage is singled out with absolutely ‘unnatural’ lucidity from the action unfolding ‘before’ or within it. Architecture stops enacting any role within culture; it is condemned to be a stable background for whatever is unfolding before it. The powerful stable building remnant Rossi promoted is presented as an idealized body; it is denuded of life, a depth that may easily be detached from the drama unfolding “before it”. Some new idealization of the ruin is hidden behind some view of living architecture. Rossi considered this to be essentially the potential for living but if we were to radicalize his argument, life would seem to be in complete disharmony with architecture. Life would either take place outside of any space, or the power of the structure must impose itself on whatever surrounds it. The Parthenon, which has survived in Evliya, is not simply “the” Parthenon. The Parthenon, finally, is nothing specific without the environment that renders it something since the various stages the building underwent, during which it was variously occupied by different players serving different purposes, defined different buildings. And in connection with the building itself, which, one might wonder, of the various modifications of the Parthenon (to which we referred to earlier), would Rossi have considered “decayed” and which “powerful”? When the transformations it undergoes are so significant that they rip it apart, so that the very identity of the building must be sought, then what meaning could the separation between decayed and powerful have? No meaning can remain as fixed on a building’s material remnant as Rossi would like. What resists in the centre of the ruin, what remains, cannot be constantly the same, even if some of its characteristics remain “unaltered”. Even more so, the ruin could be defined as something that lacks a conceptual centre; a question we forgot to pose. Rossi’s “powerful” building core is nothing more than an idealized chimera. Just like the idea of stability before any action, it dedramatizes every transfer, it annuls the transfer as a compositional possibility.

By its very nature, a work of architecture takes up space. It does not resemble music to be set free within “immaterial” time, nor is it a book to be stored. It is solidly inscribed in the space its body occupies and its body is massive; with its mass, it imposes itself but also disturbs. Our love for the architectonic oeuvre cannot be silent, love cannot easily be (in the cities of the West and their environs) personal; its size forbids it; a personal relationship with a work of architecture cannot be solely a personal relationship; it competes with social values (land values, real estate purchases, prospective exploitation). On the one hand, buildings have the power to fall to ruin, they can play with memory, simultaneously summoning it and hiding it, but falling to ruin makes a building annoying, and there is not reason not to tear down annoying buildings.

The ruin is presented from the very beginning through the need for salvage; however, salvaging it converts it to something else. And, naturally, after an intervention, the ruined structure is no longer what it was before. Nevertheless, through the new appearance, something of the old structure still remains. Such completions of wreckage (like those that reuse abandoned factories or warehouses, or glorify insignificant remains) permit, or perhaps force, the building to remain incomplete. They provide absence with space, in a move that, given the particularities of the moment, needs to be weighed, evaluated, interpreted, in order to be compared to the displacement of absence that tearing it down would bring about.

The artistic part of architecture (its presence as art, which, in a way, includes the technical aspect as well2) is only some remnant, something left over from production. It is a surplus. The refusal to deposit a surplus of this kind characterizes current building production. Construction companies are interested in architecture, insofar as it corresponds to the requirements of “demand”. The same appears to interest most architects. Their refusal to take on this balance is reprehensible.

This refusal, however, might, in other instances take on different ethical dimensions. In interventions on existing structures, such as the ones we aspire to, an attempt is made to substitute the new surplus of a new proposal with an already existing surplus, the latter being the stable core within the “existing” ruined structure itself. A negation to propose such a replacement is a different, difficult task: after this short inquiry, the identification of the core of this replacement seems to always be a new construction, as the one that is proposed with this text.

The building, when, resubmitted as an interpretation of ruins, will not simply communicate some functional logic as Mumford would have wanted. Nor will it constitute a simple stage background, never meeting the various alternating acts of habitation enacted before it, as Rossi may have believed.

If we accept that the ruin is truly considered a building defined by some basic deficiency in its meaning, then this same deficiency may constitute the surplus of the ruin, the “existing” surplus which we are seeking. The surplus in this case would be something missing. Some absent core is burdening the building with some type of insignificance. It remains for us to think on insignificance, its meanings, types and varieties. Insignificance is a surplus to the structure.

Nevertheless, it is important-before we run to a study of insignificance-to consider for a little the condition of the ruin without the word ruin any longer. The deficiency we are referring to is not easily diagnosed. Indeed, as we saw in Momford’s writings, in another context, the noematic deficiency causes some sort of end to the gaze, some disappearance of the ruined construct. How this blindness and disappearance-these experiences of nothing-becomes a surplus? And if the ruin does actually signify some form of disappearance, how can we continue building in a world that is more ruined than active? How can we manage the period of construction as a function of this disappearance?

If we view the ruin in this way, then it is nothing less than the name of the relationship with what is not visible. The search for the constructs’ ruined location points towards its architectonic management.

This architectonic management does not differ distinctly from the work to salvage ruined shards. This is where one may find the meaning of some noematic recycling that will leave behind the grandiose idealized architectonic act. The actual interpretive management of finds is the architecture before us. The finds, in fragmentary form, cut out as if in a display case, constitute the material for noematic connections. Walter Benjamin once wrote that an essay organized articulations between existing extracts. The architecture that insists on the ruin asks for cuttings, cut outs, trials, and connections to attempt to restate reality. In what setting? This may be where the problem of “every” archaeology appears. The setting it acts in is always an idealized magic picture.


  1. Kotionis, Zisis, Το ερώτημα της καταγωγής στο έργο του Δημήτρη Πικιώνη, (The Question of Origin in the Work of Dimitris Pikionis), Technical Chamber of Greece Editions, Athens, 1998.^
  2. The Greek word techne the origin of technical can at the same time describe the craft, the technique, and the art as well.^


Aristide Antonas is an architect and writer, associate professor in T.A.M. (Volos School of Architecture, University of Thessaly, Greece), post graduate seminar director in the National Technical University of Athens, co-founder of the plural academic persona Gregorios Pharmakis and of the curating group Built-Event (spatial practices for architecture, art, curating and urbanism), lectures in Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), Instituto Universitario de Architetura de Venezia (IUAV), Architectural Association, London (AA), University of Cyprus Program of Architecture, University Jose Cela, Madrid, Fine Art Academy of Gyumri, Armenia. Essays mostly published in the Internet, 6 literature books in Greek, 2 theatre plays performed by éclats d’ états, France.