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An ambitious snapshot of three centuries of floods, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis – and how architects have helped (or cashed in) after calamities
Two contorted heaps of metal stand on the horizon of a devastated Hiroshima, like a pair of fairground rollercoasters put through a compactor, their steel beams and bracing wrenched into mangled knots. They stand above the desolate remains of the city, post-atomic bomb, looming over a landscape entirely razed but for a lonely church and an apartment block clinging on to the ghostly imprint of the former street grid.
This apocalyptic collage, titled Re-ruined Hiroshima, was produced by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki in 1968, 22 years after the bomb destroyed the city. It depicts the sticky fate of his own imaginary megastructures, as if he had rebuilt Hiroshima according to the dreamy visions of the Japanese Metabolist architectural movement, only to see his creations suffer a similar catastrophe.
“Whenever you draw up a project plan with the intention of it being realised,” he wrote, “you have to accept it will eventually be annihilated.” He had a fascination with ruins, which he saw as “dead architecture”. The fragments that remain after a disaster “require the operation of the imagination if they are to be restored”.
Such operations are at the heart of a new exhibition of architects’ responses to destruction and disaster at the Royal Institute of British Architects, in which Isozaki’s arresting collage features. Creation from Catastrophe provides an ambitious snapshot of three centuries of floods, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis, along with examples of how architects have variously attempted to respond with their altruistic urges, or cash in on the calamities. […]