Eulogy for a Utopian Ruin

Lieven De Cauter

2018, VAi

Image: Filip Dujardin

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a half-demolished pavilion
frozen into total openness
an edifice that could become anything
but therefore is good for nothing

quiet receptivity full of possibilities
but precisely because of that a noisy
cantankerous impossible construction
hence an ever-festering building site

one hundred percent accumulated
potentiality which means not-active
an inactive truly unemployed space
une oeuvre désoeuvrée

no coincidence that according to Aristotle
potential and act are inversely proportional
that is not difficult to see because
what is only a possibility a child
has not yet realized itself and what
has realized itself the old man
has activated its options
but also consumed them
as simple as that

the essence of this project resides
in its inactuality its pure potential
the solidified essence of just being there
a completely free space in the sense of
freed of function of any hint of service

merely insisting on its own autonomy
almost stoic autarky Zeno meets Zen
in this oddly enough incidentally
fully detached architecture

relatively sublime in short is this utterly
useless ruin

temenos literally means excision in ancient
Greek but it is also the word for temple
all excisions from the profane become
filled to the brim with gods and the dead
and sacredness
with the luminous the ominous and
the numinous

this cut-out here however is not filled-in
it remains exposed just like that forever
and a day
or will be closed or demolished

profanation is to disable the sacred function
undo the setting aside to enable another
function (says Agamben)
by putting the excision between brackets
so to speak

this building has never been sacred
and is not dedicated to anything
but precisely because it has
been relieved of all tasks
it gets pure consecration

it is a pure means to nothing
purposefulness without purpose
or deliberate inefficiency
pure medium without message
and therefore a goal in itself

see how this entirely dismantled building is
full of pirouettes for the gratuitous
absolutely total loss unrelated architecture
at once perte totale and pure poetry
building smoothly absolved from
its so-called indissoluble function

that’s how it should be
its precious receptiveness should
not be undone
with all kinds of nice toys and garden

the visitor should enter the emptiness
and experience the candidness of
this building rather than walk into a
playground for God’s sake

because beware perhaps this building is
quite unique in its kind like the angels
it est at the same time individual and
species of its own
(not easy for mortals nor for mortar)
it might even be unique in the history
of architecture
a designed ruin is a squared circle where
even the Vitruvian Man
might become a wee bit more tipsy
than Da Vinci

it is completely unplaceable an
atypical utopian
atopic uncommonly deconstrued
at most merely an analogy for
the ideal place

a heterotopia yes for sure another space
is this precarious building of Caritas
outside the ordinary but unfortunately
without any destination without a roof even
it could have been anything
theatre library sauna brothel cinema museum
honeymoon-hotel graveyard or winter garden

asylum that it undeniably is of course
simply because of its context inside
the madhouse
so is the function of this building then
to dysfunction
to embody the refusal to function and
might this explain why it had to be quickly
protected against suicide
who knows could well be

no exalted shudder no goose pimples
barely a Burkeian burp
of terror as cause of the sublime
without the slightest shiver you enter
this marvel
because it simply is what it is
yet lovely stand the tree and the street
light inside out

this ruin is not beneficial however
it may ultimately be untenable
it even makes the architect restless
merely by what it is so complete
without function useless and unnecessary
frivolously frozen interruption
hitch between breakdown and recovery
but of rare self-evident necessity

space outside time outside
service hours of usability
freed from its meanings
and yet full of niches and secrets

a breathtaking break
an icy liberation of space
to mere possibility

highly unlikely that this clotting
ever takes on solid form

you will not get firm footing on the ground
in this building neither any floating feeling
nor rapture

no god lives between these cold barren walls
if haunted then by pure architecture
as said it is at most an analogy for liberation

at best it will be occasionally
used by patients and passers-by
young people might accidentally poke
a fire in the outdoor chimney
as an exercise in beneficial alienation

the transcendental homelessness of man was
according to Lukács expressed in the novel
and right he was but in Melle this rooflessness
is so ridiculously literal that the building will
remain uncanny until the end of time

the architect as master stands powerless here
because everything is possible and
therefore nothing can be done

but who knows whether the mentally ill
are not struggling here hurt people
against detachment
or preparing for recovery for renewed
stitches for reborn presuppositions
anything is possible because here
nothing needs to be done

really I don’t know how or why but
this art of unbuilding makes me sing
and even dream up worlds of renewal


Bibliographic note: Lieven De Cauter, “Eulogy for an Utopian Ruin”, in Unless Ever People, de vylder vinck taillieu and Gideon Boie (BAVO), eds. (Antwerp: Flemish Architecture Institute, 2018), 162-165.

The book ‘Unless Ever People’ is published by the Flemish Architecture Institute in 2018 on the occasion of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of Venice, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. who invited architects De Vylder Vinck Taiilieu and BAVO to present ‘Unless Ever People – Caritas for Freespace’ in the central exhibition.

Tags: Care, English, Psychiatry

Categories: Architecture

Type: Article