Theses Master's

Ruin Recovery: Emergence of Incompleteness as a Preservation Aesthetic Three Museums at the Turn of the 21st Century

Tichenor, Micah

In the first decade of the 21st century, the trend of architecturally iconic museums as a way for cities to secure cultural prominence in a global market, commonly referred to as the “Bilbao effect,” was beginning to show signs of fatigue. Simultaneously, a movement was emerging, primarily in Europe, of ruined buildings as an opportunity for rehabilitation, influenced by the rise of Postmodernism and criticisms of post-war reconstructions. Over several decades, this perception developed into a new preservation aesthetic, which I refer to as ruin recovery. Currently, there is no comprehensive study or documentation on the physical expression of history that is seen in ruins which have been visibly incorporated into a new work of architecture. This thesis examines the emergence of ruin recovery and its impact as a preservation strategy through case studies.

After establishing a list of architecture projects that incorporate and visibly display a ruin, spanning 1957- 2019, three museums were selected as case studies to highlight this turning point in the field of preservation: the Mill City Museum (1997-2003) in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Kolumba Museum (1997-2007) in Cologne, Germany; and the Neues Museum (1997-2009) in Berlin, Germany. These museums demonstrate a shift in the early 21st century to urban cultural projects that are interested in communicating identity through the specificity and history of place, and not through distinctive authorship. Preservation provides the tools to achieve this sense of identity, visibly displaying a building’s past, and by extension, the values of the city. The three projects are analyzed through a variety of publication sources that reveal a conversation about ruin recovery that is celebratory, contradictory, and often uncertain in how to define the aesthetic and its potential. This analysis calls attention to the trajectory of a new preservation aesthetic that embraces damage, decay, and incompleteness as traces of a building’s history.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Bollack, Francoise A.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
August 10, 2020