The Constructed Ruin

How can historic preservation be reimagined?

The Constructed Ruin explores the tension between the visual and physical construct, through the lens of historic preservation. In anticipation of gradual and catastrophic decay, the project translates the Italian hilltown of Civita di Bagnoregio into an archived representation of itself: a future ruin that compresses history into material fragments.

This work was a semester-long B. Arch undergraduate thesis, advised by Aleksandr Mergold and Mary Woods, Cornell University.

The Constructed Ruin was awarded the 2017-2018 Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Medal for excellence in an undergraduate thesis. It has been published in Cornell Journal of Architecture, Vol. 12 (2020), AAP Association Vol. 11 (2020), and Cornell AAP’s Featured Student Work.

site

Home to a dwindling population of twelve, Civita is visited by thousands of tourists each summer, attracted by the medieval Italian hilltown precariously perched on quickly-eroding volcanic tuff. It can only be reached by a single footbridge, which has in turn created the iconic view of Civita: picturesquely framed from a fixed vantage point throughout its history. Today, a webcam sponsored by the town makes a live stop-motion film of the same view every five minutes, making Civita a life-sized stage set.

webcam footage

Drawing on Civita’s history as a filming location – an alternate life where it becomes a place of magic, theatricality, and contested identity – this thesis asks, can we inhabit images? If so, what is the view from the inside like?

paper model
paper model

As the city decays, it is archived, translated, and condensed: its physical collapse caused by landslides and soil erosion is mirrored in a collapse into cataloged material. The construction of these parallel spaces for the preserved city revolves around the perspectival and historic construction of that single image of Civita; conversely, that image is fragmented into multiple versions of an imagined past and a reconstructed future.

transparency model

Exhibition

Originally staged on 5 December 2017, in 144 Sibley Hall, Cornell University, The Constructed Ruin was presented as an exhibition of the Museum of Civita’s Open Archive.

It consists of:

  • The View of Civita, a site-specific installation
  • 3 films, presented on the TV, laptop, and projector
  • 6 models, displayed on the far wall
  • 8 architectural sections, from 2500 & 3000 A.D.
  • 20 renderings, from 2000-3000 A.D.
  • an explanatory axonometric drawing
  • 6 sets of postcards as souvenirs

exhibition detail
exhibition detail
exhibition detail

The View of Civita (above) is a site-specific installation in 144 Sibley, constructed by 109 tiled 11” x 17” papers. Each piece of paper is reproduced at half scale in the accompanying thesis book: The Constructed Ruin.

The iconic view of Civita can be seen through the central window, and The View of Civita depicts the archive of the Museum of Civita, consisting of fragments, models, drawings, books, and various representations of the city.

thesis review
thesis review

In this installation, models are on display in two-dimensional and three-dimensional form.

Twenty renderings chart the development of four different sites in Civita over a 1000-year time period. They are presented as stills and in filmic form, projected on the screen.

Thesis Review

The following photographs of the review itself were generously provided by Bill Staffeld and Joyce Han.

thesis review
thesis review
thesis review
thesis review

Artefacts

models

model timeline

Through geological time and technological mediation, 6 Models, 6 Eras presents a sequence of growing ruins in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy. As the city decays, it is collapsed into catalogued material: archived, translated, and condensed. A grid of structural wells throughout the ground stabilizes the slope, but also decays over time.

Drawings

Twenty renderings chart the development of 4 different sites in Civita over a 1000-year time period.

renderings

An explanatory axonometric details the process of selective preservation: only the faces of buildings that can be seen from the fixed vantage point across the bridge are preserved from natural decay. A zoning envelope is formed by this viewshed: anything inside this envelope cannot be seen from the outside. Openings in the ground reveal underground caves and structural wells to stabilize the slope. 17 sites of interest in Civita are indicated and categorized, with 4 sites ultimately being tracked across the projected 1000-year time period.

axonometric

These sections are drawn at 3000 A.D., the final stage of the project. They show the collapse of the archive and the aging of structural interventions.

section section section section

Contact

I'd love to hear from you.

Questions, comments, commissions, and collaborations are most welcome - send a message or write to charisseishere@gmail.com.