Defacing Architecture: 8 Acts of Vandalism Against Iconic Structures

Iconic buildings have a tendency to provoke defamation, whether through graffiti, structural damage or symbolic acts of protest.

James Bartolacci James Bartolacci

Back in 2014, Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France, was damaged by a group of vandals, prompting an international outcry for greater security measures and criticism for the already deteriorating conditions inside. The vandals entered the chapel through a window — and not just any window, but the only one that was hand-painted by Corbu himself — and threw the empty concrete collection box outside.

Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut; via Wikipedia (Valueyou)

Largely considered one of the architect’s finest works of the 20th century, with a peculiar mushroom-like form, concrete shell and punched-out square windows, the Ronchamp chapel grew into a pilgrimage site both for devout Catholics and architecture admirers.

Following the break-in, Antoine Picon, president of the Foundation Le Corbusier, enlisted immediate emergency security and cited the problems with excessive moisture inside the famed structure. Sadly, because the vandals destroyed the window pane where Corbu painted a small blue square displaying a howling man in the moon, it was nearly impossible to restore the chapel to its original state.

Corbusier’s window before damage (right) and after it was smashed (left); photos via Metropolis and France Télevisions

This is not the first time that lauded buildings designed by esteemed architects have been defaced by vandals. The considerable media attention and occasional controversy that surrounds iconic sites has a tendency to provoke defamation, whether through graffiti, structural damage or symbolic acts of protest. From the first modernist structure in the world to a contested museum in Rome, we look at seven more buildings and structures that have encountered damage at the hands of vandals:

Via Mimoaand NBC

Museum of the Ara Pacisby Richard Meier & Partners Architects, Rome, Italy

With its white walls, sharp angles and generic appearance as a Texas gas station dropped in the middle of Rome, Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis has faced criticism for clashing with the city’s classical architecture since its opening in 2006. Perhaps that’s why on June 1, 2009, a group of men covered the white outer wall in bright red and green paint and left a porcelain toilet and two rolls of toilet paper at the foot of the building.

Via Wikipedia

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman, Berlin, Germany

One of the more disturbing acts of vandalism on this list was documented in a video that surfaced on YouTube showing a group of men urinating on Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and launching fireworks from its surface on New Year’s Eve 2013/’14. Since the incident, German officials have strengthened security at this solemn site in the heart of Berlin.

Via Wikipedia and The Dallas Morning News

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by Santiago Calatrava, Dallas, Texas

Some of the mega-projects of famed architect Santiago Calatrava have become mired in controversy. Commissioning this master of skeletal forms seems to almost guarantee complications, from the over-budget World Trade Center Transportation Hubto his reputation for leaky roofs. While Calatrava’s cable-stayed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge was meant to be a bright new symbol for the city of Dallas, the large concrete walls of the bridge’s exit ramps have become a blank canvas for graffiti artists and vandals.

Via Wikipedia

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum by Zaha Hadid Architects, East Lansing, Mich.

Before Zaha Hadid Architects’ prismatic Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened at Michigan State University, vandals caused an estimated $1,500 worth of damage by spraying graffiti and destroying elements of the concrete and steel structure.

Via High Snobiety

Miller House by José Oubrerie, Lexington, Ky.

Designed by Le Corbusier protégé José Oubrerie, the Miller House in Lexington, Kentucky, is a rather underappreciated example of 20th-century residential architecture, with its rigid concrete forms and ingenious integration of three dwellings in one. When the Miller House’s owner Penny Miller sold the house after the death of her husband, however, the now-vacant property was broken into several times by vandals who painted graffiti, broke windows and destroyed much of the plaster. Oubrerie estimated that repairing the damage to the historic home could cost $300,000.

Via Wikipedia and Architizer

Unity Temple byFrank Lloyd Wright, Chicago, Ill.

In September of 2010, 56 of the 72 bronze letters were stripped from the façade of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in the Chicago suburb Oak Park and likely sold as scrap metal. Built from 1905 to 1908, the temple is widely considered to be the world’s first Modernist structure built with a single material: reinforced concrete. Metallurgists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art analyzed the remaining bronze letters to find the exact alloy that Wright chose for the design and faithfully restored FLW’s original design — though the restoration cost an estimated $42,000.

Eileen Gray’s E.1027; left via, right via

E.1027 residence by Eileen Gray, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France

While Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel faced irreparable damage by vandals, the modern architect was also involved in an infamous and widely debated act of vandalism himself. Fellow modern architecture pioneer Eileen Gray originally met Corbu in Paris, and though influenced by his aesthetic, she went on to develop her own distinct interpretation of the movement — exemplified by her seminal E.1027 residence looking out over the Mediterranean in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.

Designed in collaboration with her lover, Romanian architect Jean Badovici, Gray moved out of E.1027 when the two split up. Badovici held a deep admiration for Corbu and invited the architect to the house on several occasions. While Corbu became intrigued with the residence, he subsequently painted eight large murals, in a shallow cubist style charged with sexual imagery, on the house’s interior and exterior walls. While the murals were preserved in reverence for the esteemed architect, Gray considers them an explicit act of vandalism.

Read more articles by James

After Zaha: What Now for Women in Architecture?

What does it mean to be a woman architect, businessperson and innovator in the 21st century?

© Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Burntwood School // Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

London, United Kingdom

+