The United States had made an admirable showing for itself at the very first World’s Fair, the Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in the United Kingdom in 1851. British newspapers were unreserved in their praise, declaring America’s displayed inventions to be more ingenious and useful than any others at the Fair; the Liverpool Times asserted “no longer to be ridiculed, much less despised.” Unlike various European governments, which spent lavishly on their national displays in the exhibitions that followed, the US Congress was hesitant to contribute funds, forcing exhibitors to rely on individuals for support. Interest in international exhibitions fell during the nation’s bloody Civil War; things recovered quickly enough in the wake of the conflict, however, that the country could host the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. Celebrating both American patriotism and technological progress, the Centennial Exhibition was a resounding success which set the stage for another great American fair: the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Victorian Architecture: The Latest Architecture and News
With cracked paint, overgrown vines, rust, and decay, abandoned buildings have carved out a photographic genre that plays to our complex fascination with the perverse remnants of our past. While intellectual interest in ruins has been recorded for centuries, the popularity and controversy of contemporary "ruin porn" can be traced back to somewhere around 2009, when photographer James Griffioen’s feral houses series sparked a conversation about the potential harm in the aesthetic appropriation of urban collapse.
A favorite subject within this field is the American insane asylum, whose tragic remains carry echoes of the unsavory history of mental illness treatment in the United States. These state-funded asylums were intensely overcrowded and often housed patients in nightmarish conditions in the 20th century. Beginning in 1955, with the introduction of the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, these institutions were closed in large numbers, never to be reopened . Now, these closed but un-demolished asylums that dot the country are the subject of "ruin porn" that neglects an equally important piece of the buildings’ narrative: the beginning. In his recent photobook Abandoned Asylums, Photographer Matt Van der Velde depicts this earlier period of asylum architecture, when the institutions were built in the belief that the built environment has the power to cure.
For this edition of The Urbanist, Monocle 24's weekly "guide to making better cities," the team head back in time to explore London in 1891, examining some of the city’s achievements to get a glimpse of what life was like in the British capital. They investigate the architectural legacy of Victorian London, see how the introduction of the railway changed the city, and chat about Charles Booth’s pioneering study into Victorian Londoners’ quality of life. They also take a tour around the country’s first council estate.
Empathetic historicism and romanticising older buildings has become an ever-common sentiment in modern Britain. In an article for the British daily The Telegraph, Stephen Bayley tackles this trend by questioning whether Victorian-era architecture is actually all worth saving? Victorian architecture, so called because it was implemented under the reign of Queen Victoria, was stylistically preoccupied by Gothic Revival — an attempt by architects and commissioners to impose a 'pure', chivalrous unifying aesthetic designed to instill a sense of civic importance and reaffirm a social hierarchy. Yet "their architecture," according to Bayley, "has an inclination to ugliness that defies explanation by the shifting tides of tastes."