The Beauty of Decay
May 30, 2002

I often find myself torn between the desire for the new and the attraction to the old.

It's something I inherited from studying architecture I suppose, where one is constantly creating something new with the knowledge that time will have an effect on that which is created.

Having worked on both physical and virtual structures, I often find myself reflecting on the nature of the passage of time registering on an object as decay.

decayThe two dimensional surfaces of buildings "remember" the changing seasons. On the surface veneer of a web page, there is no such registration of time. No dog-eared pages, flaking paint or worn down steps here. A web site will look the same today as it did 5 years ago, albeit a little outdated design. Decay to a web site results in broken links, stale content and infrequent visits.

After 9/11, there were numerous memorial sites dedicated to the victims and the events of the horrific tragedy. Where are they now? Or more importantly, who visits them now? Are not memorial created as a permanent reminder of an events, lest we forget? Like Leonard Shelby in Memento, we need to consciously focus to remember. "It's not amnesia, it just that I can't form new memories." That's so true about our condition on the Internet.

In that context, to be able to admire building in a gradual state of decay presents a unique beauty. It's not stuck in the compressed "constant new and now" state of things, but grows old just as we all do.

Recently I began to wonder, what Frank Gehry's visionary Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, with its titanium cladding and serpentine forms - the gleaming testament to our "now" - will look like in 100 years.


I am experiencing a bit of architectural decay myself. In regards to my architectural education that is. As I sit wasting in a such a piece of poo firm as this. Or perhaps someday not far off I will realize I was eating rotten fruit.

Posted by: D Brooks on December 24, 2002 08:35 PM

Im a student studying at the Bartlett, UCL. I am very interested in what you've said. I have recently visited Rome, and it was there that i began to fully appreciate that there is often more beauty in the decayed than the complete.
It is through decay that different layers are taken away (and often more layers are added on). This provokes curiosity within the mind about discovery.
I am currently working on a project in Soutwark where I am focussing on the theme of decay and how this can be applied to the design of a building. I am looking at a nearby burial ground, the surrounding buildings (decayed by water) and the communities litter scattered around the site. This is one of the reasons why i was particularly drawn to what you have said,
kind regards,
Jonny Briggs

Posted by: Jonny Briggs on February 10, 2004 05:51 PM

A web site may look the same now as it did when it was first built, but it can feel old either by the fact that it hasn't been updated in a long while or if the current fashion has changed. At the same time, look at a very old film like Alien and it looks like it could have been made this year. I sometimes complain that certain home design magazines like Architectural Digest or House Beautiful seem dated when they hit the shelves. Ultimately I guess there is a difference between being dated and actual decay, but since the perception of age of a website can only be felt through viewing and experiencing it, then it's "virtual decay" is perceived that way also.

Posted by: charlene on September 29, 2004 11:20 AM

I too am fascinated about how things decay!
I am a fashion design student in my final year and doing my end of year collection on beauty and decay!
I love how things are born/created beautiful! and through time and depending on how much sum1 loves (lets say an item of clothing) it gets worn and torn! it seems the more you love something the more wear and tear it gets!
it shows charachter, it tells a story,
My final collection will have elements of restoration! keeping the charachteristics of the old worn and torn look but bringing it up to date so that more people can relate to and appreciate the stories every garnment has.

Posted by: roisin o neill on October 21, 2004 07:34 AM
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