Albert Speer famously developed the architectural concept of "ruin value," designing his buildings for the Third Reich in such a way that their eventual destruction would leave behind suitably inspiring ruins. Lest we should think that this fascination with architectural decay was somehow unique to the Nazis, Tate Britain gives us Ruin Lust, an exhibition that traces Western art's long-standing fascination with ruins.
There is a very pleasing breadth to the exhibition from J.M.W. Turner's Tintern Abbey to some gorgeous photographs of the concrete bunkers that litter the French Atlantic coastline. There are also examples of artists whose lust for ruins extended, like Speer's, speculatively into the future. These include Gustave Doré, who in 1872 imagined a ruined London visited by a future New Zealander.
While ruins can be beautiful, what are we supposed to think when we see our own society crumbling around us in Laura Oldfield Ford's drawings of housing estates? I have been watching the destruction of the Heygate Estate over the recent months with a keen interest. While it was left derelict, the estate had a kind of majesty to it. I fear this quality will be lost when it is replaced by another development of luxurious plutoflats. Perhaps the value of ruins is in the way that they make us reflect on failure, a function that is lost when we eradicate the evidence.
Ruin Lust is at Tate Britain until the 18th of May, 2014