Thomas van Leeuwen: Columns of Fire.
Baron Haussmann called himself an "artiste démolisseur." I intend to write the book that we missed on our bookshelves: next to all the studies on artists and architects, creators of all sorts of beautiful things, the one study on famous demolishers.
Demolishing a building is nothing but the undoing of the construction process. More and more, architecture has been given an economical duration, the same way other "durable" goods have been determined to live as long as they are not in the way of new products. Automobiles end up in the crusher, but where does a building go? Artistic demolishers, such as the Loizeaux family of Phoenix, near Baltimore, Maryland, who work with finely dosaged explosives, prepare their victims in the manner of a Philippine chicken: carefully removing all critical structural elements before placing the charges. When the blast comes, gravity is allowed to do the rest, bringing down the building in an elegant fashion, quietly imploding it, burying it under its own dust. Demolition is nothing but terminating the life cycle of buildings with dynamite and gravity. Columns of steel, created by fire, riveted or welded with fire, then protected against fire, are finally brought down with fire. The spark of a small fuse sets off an explosion in which the long-lasting fires of destruction of the past are compacted into a brief but infinitely more devastating blast of dynamite. Buildings the size of cities can be brought down in seconds. The first, and still the tallest, building ever to be imploded was the thirty-two-story Mendez Caldera Building in Sao Paulo. In 1975, it was leveled with the help of a mere thousand pounds of charges in a few seconds.
A plea for selective artistic destruction will engage "Columns of Fire" in popular debate. Does not the fire of the forest fertilize the earth for new growth? Why are we made to believe that architecture is permanent, that matter is forever, and that the old is like a bridge not to be burned? From an aesthetic point of view the removal of architectural eyesores by selective destruction should be regarded as an act of artistic creativity. As for now, we still have to wait for the first Grand Prix de Rome to be awarded to the creative genius that will dynamite the Paris Tour du Montparnasse.
Thomas van Leeuwen: Columns of Fire. Center 18, 1998, pp. 128-133.
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.