To rubble

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Allen Hall Construction Project

When I returned to the UO this fall, my old department was a giant crater. The journalism students had been swapping rumors about the “Allen Hall Transformation” project for years, but it was shocking to finally see it as a construction site.

The project is squeezed into a tiny space; the sides of the pit drop feet from the sidewalk, and the skeletal remains of the building unfurl in plain view like a cross section in an architect’s notebook.

Sunday’s catastrophic earthquake in Turkey and my ancient art class (which could also be called architectural anthropology 101) had me thinking about buildings that stand and fall when I finally stopped to look at Allen Hall’s remains.

With a little craning of my neck, I could peer into classrooms in which I’d sprawled for countless hours. Walls and floors that once seemed as solid as the earth had been shattered, fragile as eggshells.

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The experience got me in the habit of imagining every building I step into as a version of the ruins of Akrotiri. The ancient Mediterranean island society was described by my teacher as a “Bronze Age Pompeii.” Just like the Roman city, Akrotiri was perfectly preserved under a thick layer of ash from a nearby volcanic eruption. You can walk through eerie streets and climb to the third story of some of the buildings.

Look around you right now and imagine the room as dusty, dark and devoid of all but a few scattered possessions. Some future archaeologist will dig to your door and spend days dusting away, trying to piece together clues about your daily life.

“This is the modern day,” you say skeptically. “My house will be razed and rebuilt, shinier and newer, before it becomes a dirt-covered archaeological site. Our empire will never vanish under the ground!”

That’s what the Romans (and the Minoans) thought, too.

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