[UCP Books]: OBSOLESCENCE: An Architectural History

“This brilliantly conceived, inspiring, and eloquent book will surely enjoy a long life.”Gwendolyn Wright, host, PBS’s History Detectives


An Architectural History

Daniel M. Abramson

Publication date: March 14, 2016 978-0-226-31345-0

International publication date: March 14, 2016


Things fall apart. In fact, we design things to fall apart. In the innovative and wide-ranging Obsolescence, Daniel M. Abramson takes us around the world, from New York City to London, to investigate this notion of architectural expendability and the logic by which buildings lose their value and utility. The idea that the new necessarily outperforms and makes superfluous the old, Abramson argues, helps people come to terms with modernity and capitalism’s fast-paced change. Obsolescence, then, gives an unsettling experience purpose and meaning.

Belief in obsolescence, as Abramson shows, also profoundly affects architectural design. In the 1960s, many architects worldwide accepted the inevitability of obsolescence, experimenting with flexible, modular designs, from open-plan schools, offices, labs, and museums to vast megastructural frames and indeterminate building complexes. Some architects went so far as to embrace obsolescence’s liberating promise to cast aside convention and habit, envisioning expendable short-life buildings that embodied human choice and freedom. Others, we learn, were horrified by the implications of this ephemerality and waste, and their resistance eventually set the stage for our turn to sustainability—the conservation rather than disposal of resources. Abramson’s fascinating tour of our idea of obsolescence culminates in an assessment of recent manifestations of sustainability, from adaptive reuse and historic preservation to postmodernism and green design, which all struggle to comprehend and manage the changes that challenge us on all sides.


Daniel M. Abramson is associate professor of art history and director of architectural studies at Tufts University. He is the author of Building the Bank of England: Money, Architecture, Society, 1694–1942 and Skyscraper Rivals: The AIG Building and the Architecture of Wall Street.
Please contact Ashley Pierce at (773) 702-0279 or apierce@uchicago.edu for more information.


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