Disaster Changes Everything

Boym's Miniature Monuments

Of their Buildings of Disaster edition, Constantin Boyn writes: “Some of these buildings may have been prized architectural landmarks, other – nondescript anonymous structures. But disaster changes everything. The images of exploded buildings make a different, populist history of architecture, one based on people’s emotional involvement rather than on scholarly appreciation.” Boym Partners first conceived of the idea in 1997 as Souvenirs for the End of the Century.  The first edition was released in 1998 and it was controversial yet well received. When the Twin towers fell on September 11th of 2001, the Boym Partners re-released their World Trade Center miniature as a fundraiser and then they later added The September 11th Memorial Set featuring the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Production of the first Building of Disasters edition had ended at the century’s close but the events of September 11th prompted the Boym’s to add to their collection with miniatures memorializing other tragedies both recent and past such as Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War and Waco, Texas. In total, the Building of Disaster editions included twenty-five different disasters from all over the world.

Today, the Buildings of Disaster editions are no longer in production and the provocative miniatures can be found in numerous museum collections including the San Francisco of Modern Art, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts in Lausanne.  

A complete list of the works, in order of production:

Chernobyl, April 26, 1968
Texas School Book Depository, Nov. 22, 1963
World Trade Center, Feb. 26, 1993
Oklahoma City Federal Building, April 19, 1995
The Watergate, June 17, 1972
The Unibomber Cabin, 1997
Three Mile Island, March 28, 1979
Triangle Shirt Waste Company, March 25, 1911
Waco Texas Raid, Apr. 19, 1993
Texas A&M Bonfire Tower, Nov. 8, 1999
O.J. Car Chase, June 17, 1994
The World Trade Center, Sept. 2001
The Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001
The Dakota, December. 8, 1980
The Alma Tunnel, Paris, Aug. 31, 1997
The Hands of Victory, Baghdad 1989-2003
The Empire State Building, July 28, 1945
Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1968
Ford's Theater, April 14, 1865
New Orleans Superdome, Aug. 29, 2005
Neverland Ranch, 1993/2005
The Golden Mosque, Samarra, Feb. 22, 2006
The Obama White House, 2009*
The UT Tower Austin, TX, Aug. 1, 1966
Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai, Nov. 26, 2008

*Not part of the Building of Disaster editions. 

The Aesthetics of Disaster

September 11, 2001 changed everything. The shocking images of that day become part of our collective subconscious. Since then, American broadcast media has presented a constantly recycled image of war and disaster, saturating us all with the content of disaster. 

In an interview on BBC in 2002, artist Damien Hirst declared that “The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right.” Taken out of a larger discussion, this comment seems utterly brash, but at the heart of it, one can locate Hirst’s inquiry: Can we, collectively, consider disaster through aesthetic terms?

Constantin and Laurene Boym approach this conceit through the creation of their Buildings of Disaster series of twenty-five design objects that act as sort of mini-monuments to the event surrounding disaster. If their renditions of miniature buildings don’t show actual ruin, as in the case of Pentagon 9/11, then they act as stand-ins for a more encompassing narrative of warfare that the viewer plays out in their minds, as in the case of Unabomber’s Cabin. Both require the viewer to project a certain amount of empathy onto the building or built environment the designers present. In this way, the Boyms tap into a zeitgeist of viewership that finds itself enthralled with disaster, more popularly rendered in Hollywood cinema and, programmatically aligned with the event as artistic gesture. Where the Buildings of Disaster provoke and intrigue, is through the objectification of the event. These miniatures render concrete what only film, television, and verbal storytelling have been able to communicate, and in this way, viewers must come to terms with it on their own time and in their own frame of perspective, not one that’s dictated.


I have been trying to prove that these are objects of design, not art. Of course, the function of souvenir objects is “fuzzy”: they fulfill a need that is elusive and immaterial.

—Constantin Boym

Constantin Boym

Constantin Boym was born in Moscow, Russia in 1955. He graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute before attending the Domus Academy in Milan where he earned his Master’s Degree in Design in 1985. The following year Boym founded Boym Partners Inc in New York. From 1987 to 2000, Boym was a teacher and program coordinator for Parsons School of Design, New York and in 2010 he became Professor and Director of Graduate Design Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar.

Boym Partners has designed products for Alessi, Swatch and Flos as well as showrooms for Vitra and exhibition displays for museums. Their works have won numerous awards including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2009, eight Annual Design Awards from ID Magazine and two Federal Design Achievement Awards. Boym has been the subject of two retrospectives and two books. Objects designed by Boym Partners can be found in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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