The Meaning of Ruins

Professor Andreas Schönle, from Queen Mary and Westfield College, spoke to the two older branches of the WP about what ruins are, and how their interpretation can teach us about how we view the world. A challenging and high-level presentation.

The students discussed what we mean by ruins, suggesting “the London Wall” (preserved near the Museum of London) and various castles. It was generally agreed that ruins were structures which were falling down or a state of decay. More interestingly we then talked about whether ruins had to be “old” and Prof. Schönle showed us various “modern” examples of ruins from Chicago (an old theatre – now used as a car park, and the old railway station) and London (Bankside and Battersea Power stations and the successful adaption of one of these to become Tate Modern). This opened up a discussion about how we use ruins, as visiting them just to look at them (and, latterly, paying money for doing this) has only relatively recently become popular – from the grand tour onwards.

We then moved on to the Coliseum in Rome and its changes of use over time, and to a “modern” building in East Germany built on the site of an old castle – there was huge debate in Germany about whether to knock down and conserve the castle/rebuild the castle or whether to keep the “modern” building; it was finally decided to rebuild the old castle, but this decision has taken years and it has been discussed at length.

In the final part of the talk Professor Schönle introduced the idea of people’s different views of, and interpretations of, ruins.

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