by Thomas Wagner
Anyone in a bad mood, for whatever reason, almost invariably feels that the whole world and life itself is just one great disaster. Which inevitably leads to the question: How to overcome this almost intolerable situation without opting for the usual anti-depressives such as gin, that when imbibed in larger quantities can have the opposite effect to that intended. Laughter is surely the best method to escape the bleakness. Sadly, the very feeling of being in the midst of a general disaster can seem to be so overwhelming that it wipes the smile of your face before the laughter sets in and relaxes things.
In such cases it’s best to take your cue from people like Constantin Boym. Boym was born in Moscow in 1955, trained there and in Milan as a designer, founded his own company Boym Partners Inc in New York in 1986, and says he has worked for Alessi, Authentics, Swatch and Flos. More to the point in our context, he also joined up with Laurene Leon Boym to devise a series of small architectural models they named “Buildings of Disaster”.
Be it the reactor on Three Mile Island, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Una Bomber’s hut, or the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Boym has not shied away from turning buildings in which human tragedies and catastrophes into souvenirs – the way you usually see the Eiffel tower or the Cologne cathedral. The most recent example: The house in Abbottabad in which the US Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
As regards all these buildings, which may previously have been famous, infamous, noted, prize-winning, or completely unknown: What occurred in them changed everything and seared them in the collective memory once and for all. Boym doubtless has a feel for the idiosyncratic nature of collective rituals of memory. He liking for the semantics of objects that have been visited by misfortune does however make him seem like someone stuck halfway between critique and resentment. Anyone who finds his “Disaster Buildings” tasteless will perhaps exclaim: typical Russian! Or may instead start also pondering what strange ways we think about buildings, the past or souvenirs.
Boym’s idea not only makes us pause for thought but could also be taken further. Who says that only those disaster buildings are worth mentioning that Boym (and any number of other people worldwide) associate with attacks, crimes, or accidents. Not that on viewing the miniatures we forget the victims and the sheer scale of the disasters. But, to be modest about it, beneath this existential level of escalating things there are other architectures of disaster. Yes, you’re already guessing where this is going: There are buildings in which nothing special happened BUT which must nevertheless be regarded as disastrous for the one or other reason. If you’re imagination’s not too rusty you’ll no doubt immediately have various buildings before your inner eye – depending on your biography and taste, how easily you get annoyed, and where you happen to be in the world. And I don’t mean the one or other prefab in Kirghizia, savings banks in Central Germany, the new ‘old town’ in Frankfurt or one of the countless blocks in German industrial estates. No we’re talking about that category here. We’re talking about things like the German Cathedral in Berlin. Or (how strange that the architectural disasters are coming so thick and fast here in the middle of Berlin, maybe there’s some strange radiation at work?) the new-build Berlin Palace, which as we all know is not or only in part actually a palace – and will also no longer be used as such, as the governing (Party) King of Berlin Klaus Wowereit has retired from the office of Lord Mayor.
As regards precisely this municipal palace, and this was a few ago, in fact we’re reaching back to the days when the arts pages were for the very time even mooting the fact that the Berlin palace might be re-erected, and it was on the occasion of a prize being awarded to a translator and a famous actor was present, who is also a great writer and a friend of the translator, meaning it was in the presence of marvelous individuals that in the course of the conversation, a compelling idea arose: How about founding an association whose sole purpose was to push for the immediate demolition of the newly erected Berlin Palace? Even if (and it’s still not too late) the project were to fail, there must certainly be countless other buildings worldwide each worthy of such an association’s attention. And in the process we would shed a little light on an activity that could be termed democratic disaster management.
MORE on Stylepark:
“The World Trade Center, September 11, 2001”, from the series “Buildings of Disaster“ by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, 1998-2008 © Constantin Boym, Laurene Leon Boym, Boym Partners Inc.
“Oklahoma City Federal Building, April 19, 1995”, from the series “Buildings of Disaster“ by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, 1998-2008 © Constantin Boym, Laurene Leon Boym, Boym Partners Inc.
“Three Mile Island”, from the series “Buildings of Disaster“ by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, 1998-2008 © Constantin Boym, Laurene Leon Boym, Boym Partners Inc.
“The Unabomber’s cabin, 1997”, from the series “Buildings of Disaster“ by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, 1998-2008 © Constantin Boym, Laurene Leon Boym, Boym Partners Inc.
“Osama Bin Laden House, Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2, 201”, from the series “Buildings of Disaster“ by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, 1998-2008 © Constantin Boym, Laurene Leon Boym, Boym Partners Inc.
Berlin Palace, Webcam-Image from 17 May Photo © Stiftung Berliner Stadtschloss Humboldtforum