The Bones of Ghosts 1: Hauntology and Architecture

A month ago, an architecture blog that I read called Life Without Buildings was looking for a definition of Lo-Fi Architecture. I knew immediately that I had to talk about hauntological architecture. I first started expressing my current hauntological views in the context of a course on the philosophy of architecture during my undergrad. Actually, what I was interested in in the context of this course was an “architecture of impermanence,” specifically looking at Baudrillard’s writings on graffiti and comparing them to some McLuhan (I was interested in spaces defined by their participatory and malleable nature).

In this course, I had the chance to meet with two internationally renowned architects, Brian MacKay-Lyons and Talbot Sweetapple of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.

What does this have to do with hauntology? Well, Brian MacKay-Lyons runs an annual architectural experiment called Ghost Lab. Each summer, a group of architecture students get together on his expansive property in southern Nova Scotia and within a couple of weeks they design and build a Ghost structure (or more). The buildings are “ghosts” in that they are usually not permanent structures, but also “ghosts” because they are built on old sites often using materials from these ruins, some of which are upwards of 400 years old. I think the hauntological aspect becomes apparent now. We have structures as ephemera, “the bones of ghosts,” in that they are built simply and not intended to be solid structures but to change with their surroundings. Also, they are deeply connected with the ruins of their context.

The best example of this is probably “Simon and Wilson,” aka “Ghost 6:”

These towers were built on the same locations, occupying the same space as the first two settlers of the area, two brothers name Simon and Wilson.

We have impermanent structures, rooted deeply to the past, make essentially of the corpses of long lost entities, made with and in the spirit of these pasts. These are ghosts brought back. Architecture as necromancy. This shows exactly what I mean by the possibility of ghosts returning in a Spectral Realism, the idea that their bones could reassemble, perhaps not in the same way, but in the same spirit. In this way, a ghost can never achieve the perpetual peace of absolute non-existence, but is always only “almost dead.” No ghost is ever entirely here, nor are they ever entirely absent. The referent in “Ghost 6,” the ruins of past lives, and the context of life happening in southern Nova Scotia… this is all memory, this is all an assemblage of ghosts, from the fallen trees, to the brothers, to the builders, it is a complex network of spectral interactions, not all of which can ever be known. It isn’t necessary for a ghost to ever show itself, but when it does, it is always appears that the ghost was dormant, that in every event, a resurrection. A ghost is always possible.

Read an interview with Brian MacKay-Lyons about Ghost Lab.

“Close your eyes and imagine a foggy mid-summer’s night. Imagine the glowing, translucent ghosts of archetypal buildings on the ruins of an abandoned village at the edge of the world.”



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4 responses to “The Bones of Ghosts 1: Hauntology and Architecture

  1. Pingback: The Tower of Beowulf and Hauntological Architecture « Frames /sing

  2. Pingback: Nostalgia for the Future » links for 2009-03-14

  3. Pingback: Thomas Ligotti: Speculations in Black | noir ecologies

  4. Louis Fabu

    I am a student of Philosophy and very interested in this topic. Are you still reading this here then please contact me. I can‘t find you anywhere else on the web.

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