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© 2012 ISSN 1479-9456
For this month’s cover story we visit the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl power station in Ukraine, where a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986 sending clouds of radiation over northern Europe. The nearby, evacuated, abandoned, toxic city of Pripyat is one of the hardest ruins to gain access to and, as a result, the number one goal of the intrepid urban explorer. Icon’s deputy editor, Will Wiles, joins a highly regulated tour.
When creating an issue devoted to ruins one faces the obvious charges of aestheticising demise, of turning poverty to picturesque (while ignoring its origins), of offering up “ruin porn”. We look at the phenomenon of urban explorers and their addiction to such faded decrepitude. Instead of finding romantic melancholy in the classical ruin, as those on the 18th-century Grand Tour did, they visit post-industrial sites to indulge in the wholly modern, post-apocalyptic fantasy of being the last surviving person on earth.
Our architecture correspondent Douglas Murphy, author of the forthcoming The Architecture of Failure, looks at how the irrevocable return of nature in the ruin, held in balance by the dream-like iron and glass architecture of the 19th-century (think Crystal Palace or Kew), is gestured towards by contemporary architects who cover their high-tech buildings in greenery.
We also call for certain ruins to be preserved. We visit Oscar Niemeyer’s unfinished International Fair in Tripoli, Lebanon. In 2006, when plans were unveiled to turn it into a theme park modelled on Disneyland, the World Monuments Fund listed it as one of its 100 most endangered sites. The scheme was aborted, but the 104-year-old architect’s seafront masterpiece continues to crumble. The often bulldozed work of Ulrich Müther, known as “the GDR’s Niemeyer”, suffers similar neglect and a precarious future.