Aesthetics of Destitution

In 1964, Bernard Rudofsky organized an exhibition titled ‘Architecture Without Architects’ and published its results, causing big shockwaves in the world of architecture. He showed vernacular architecture from around the world, featuring the past wisdom of architecture (which modern architecture had forgotten about), unimaginable problem-solving methods and primeval beauty. Through the exhibition and the publication, which was released at around the same time as “The Savage Mind” by C. Levi-Strauss (1962), Rudofsky emphasized that ‘Timeless and unconscious vernacular architecture’ is never inferior or of low-grade. On the contrary, he claimed it is in harmony with the environment, it is people-friendly and even abundant.

Vernacular architecture built with limited and local resources and techniques was referred to as “bricolage’ by certain groups, such as the “Cold Society,” which C. Levi-Strauss described as having no relevance to fashion or styles, yet preserved the original healthiness of house-building.

We regard the architecture of slums in a similar way: Slums, which are considered a failure and disgrace in the context of contemporary urban planning, are ugly and violent, yet they somehow retain a unique beauty. The poverty of residents, the undeveloped infrastructure and lack of urban planning has forced the slum residents to become bricoleurs and to prepare their own dwellings. The building materials used by these poor people are scarce. Their building methods are ad hoc. There are neither rules to be followed, nor taboos that these people should avoid in the building process. Such conditions gave birth to ingenious solutions that are impossible to find in established architecture.
In slum architecture, there is a vitality and honesty that is difficult to be found in high-class architecture.
Its organic, spatial organization is also dexterous and original. This is a case where poverty and want are sublimated into aesthetics.

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