Architecture Without Us #3 – The Ruin

Image by Gengish at Flickr

In this lecture about architecture, Slavoj Zizek (I cannot find the character(s) to accurately spell his name), the lisping, gesticulating, Slovenian thinker, in trying to understand the depth of the statement “Less is More” (have you heard?) arrives to the conclusion that good art is always missing something. His equation goes something like this:

stuff – something = art

(Maybe this isn’t correct – I was always terrible at math)

Let me try to venture into a different equation that just crossed my mind. This one is about decay being a good predictor of beauty:

girl + time = her mother

mother beautiful => future girl beautiful


What can we derive from this solid, and may I add, quite brilliant proposition I just invented?

As time seems to have only one direction

(please do not challenge me on this topic, all you theoretical physicist reading this blog. I am fundamentally a dumb person.)

Its effects are eventually visible and irretraceable. The process is always in course even if we don’t notice it. A beautiful older woman is essentially a beautiful woman. Time revealed something that young age could or couldn’t already predict.

This is was just a very long road to a simple idea:

Bernini’s most beautiful building is not Santo Andrea al Quirinale, nor is it the colonnade at S.Peter’s Basilica. I think that his most accomplished work is one he never completed at all and that has since turned into a ruin. He never saw this building in its peak state.

I discovered the Chiesa di S.Bonaventura in Monterano close to Rome with a friend, a colleague at the building restoration course in that year’s exchange student program.

We walked for miles and miles through these soft hills, into people’s farms, stepping on muddy ponds, opening splintery wooden gates, almost giving up, until we were face to face with the most incredible man-made artifact I had ever seen.

This ruinous church, the victim of bad construction, French invaders, Garibaldi’s savages and malaria had been shaped and carved into semi-natural structure, only a subtle pediment giving away it’s human origin.

You can never possess any other building the way you possess a ruin. It is only bone, no skin, barely any muscle.

Of course by now the wheels of time are ushering in a new age of reason and in the eternal divide between classical and romantic, Apollo and Dionysius, David and Ruskin, we are tending towards the first set.

It’s almost embarrassing to love ruins, but that will have to be in another post. This one has to remain incomplet



  1. a delicious line of thought* ruins have a time of their own, next post pleas

  2. Mariana Lopes

    I was very curious about this church but couldn’t find it online…then I searched only for “Monterano” (and a new world of information roll in from of my eyes, this “city” is not as unknow as you painted it…) and seems like the church is called Chiesa di San Bonaventura not S.Bartolomeo…this information maybe isn’t right either…can you clarify?

    • DLA

      Dear Mariana, thanks for pointing out my mistake – it is indeed S.Bonaventura – I will correct it shortly. It is not unknown (i didn’t mean to give that impression) but it was definitely difficult to get there, especially as a 22 year old without a car. Believe me. And the feeling, if you ever have the privilege to go there, is what I imagine the discoverers of lost cities must experience. Thanks for commenting, and even though I haven’t been as faithful to my blog as I would like, I hope you tune-in once in a while to discover something new. Duarte

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