Destructive Character

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In 1931, philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote a short piece titled ‘The destructive character’. This text, one of Benjamin’s Denkbilder (‘thinking images’) was written during one of the worst periods in German and European history: after the crisis of 1929, when European fascism was on the rise. Benjamin states: The destructive character knows only one watchword: make room and only one activity: clearing away. It clears away the traces of our own age and has few needs, and the least of them is to know what will replace what has been destroyed. First, for a moment at least, empty space–the place where the thing stood or the victim lived. Someone is sure to be found who needs this space without occupying it.(Benjamin, 1999b, p. 541) In a broader sense, the destructive character had equally been a feature of both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which presented themselves as new developments from the root. The concept also appeared in the works of the architect and writer Rem Koolhaas, where it set itself as a strategy of ‘emptiness’. Koolhaas points to a number of different cities undergoing ambitious renovation plans and starting from a large urban void implemented for various reasons (Mehan, 2017).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVADEMECUM: 77 Minor Terms for Writing Urban Places
EditorsKlaske Havik, Kris Pint, Svava Riesto, Henriette Steiner
Place of PublicationRotterdam
PublisherNAi Publishers
ISBN (Print)9789462085763, 9789462085763
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

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