Obsolescence: An Architectural History


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Where does the idea come from that architecture can become obsolete, suddenly lose its value and utility, and so become expendable in a short period of time? This paper traces the origins of the idea of architectural obsolescence to early-twentieth-century American financial district demolitions, tax policies, and decaying cities. In mid-century, many architects worldwide responded to obsolescence positively by embracing ephemerality and short-life buildings.


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Daniel M. Abramson is professor of architectural history and director of architectural studies at Boston University. Previously, he taught at Tufts University. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia.

An Architectural History

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  6. Sort order. Mar 05, Elizabeth rated it liked it. This is a small book - about pages - that gives a concise overview of the concept of "obsolescence" in architecture; it touches upon its rise, fall, and complicated present. The book is easy to read without being over theoretical.


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    I particularly enjoyed the author's coverage of the demolition of Boston's East End. However, the compactness of the book sometimes falls prey to simply being a laundry list of moments when obsolescence enters the public dialogue.

    The book could benefit from a few This is a small book - about pages - that gives a concise overview of the concept of "obsolescence" in architecture; it touches upon its rise, fall, and complicated present. The book could benefit from a few deeper descriptions of particular buildings or writings on the topic. That said, there are many points made that other scholars may find worthwhile to explore further. The bibliography at the end of the book is broad and provides good source material for further scholarly work. Sep 04, Ajk rated it really liked it Shelves: design , non-fiction.

    If buildings are going out of functional use nearly as quick as they are going up, what stops this from turning into replacement-as-consumption?

    Obsolescence: an architectural history - LD

    The book levels several critiques against capitalism, but not all of them hit the mark. On the other hand, his tracking of the American peculiarities of obsolescence is on point. If a landowner can make more money from a new building, minus demolition costs, than they can make from the old building — then the old building is obsolete.

    Nevermind how it fits as a part of the fabric of the city or a space for working, argues Abramson, obsolescence is a product of capitalism and the way land is valued.

    Architecture and Waste: A (Re)Planned Obsolescence

    This is the city with the best-recorded booms and bubbles in land values and the most expressive use of architecture to portray these prices. Abramson succeeds the most where he shows how obsolescence became an inevitability, the death and tax effect of a building. Again, the book gets a bit looser when it leave the US to show how architects have tried to conquer obsolescence.

    Obsolescence : an architectural history

    It would have been interesting to bring in more voices: how did teachers deal with schools with moving walls? Did patients appreciate a hospital with inhuman proportions? As Abramson concludes, he examines gentrification in the 21st century. He begins to venture out of the Western European tradition and looks at adaptive reuse.

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    Cities like Istanbul, who had its historic core of Istiklal gutted in order to provide rent-seeking, are ignored. These are my own pet peeves. For as much fascinating work is in Obsolescence, it still can fall into the trope of heroic architects grappling with a system. The system of financially-guided obsolescence is his first target and certainly the most interesting part of this work. Dec 18, amy rated it really liked it. Even design "fixes" end up enforcing forgetting sooner or later. Katie rated it it was amazing Oct 20, Tizziana rated it really liked it Jan 08, KMiriam Date rated it it was amazing May 07, Jon rated it really liked it May 08, John rated it liked it Jul 26, David rated it really liked it Jun 12, Matthew Raketti marked it as to-read Mar 06, Jules Frakes marked it as to-read Mar 24, Todd Yeager marked it as to-read Apr 03, Elliott added it Apr 06, Stephanie marked it as to-read May 07, Meng Tsun added it May 10, Steve Alvord marked it as to-read May 13, Claire marked it as to-read Jun 01, R marked it as to-read Jun 01, Mariella marked it as to-read Jun 02, Lisa Selligman marked it as to-read Jun 06, Chris marked it as to-read Jul 08,

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