Temple of the Vanities

A hundred years from now, when architectural historians consider how humans lived in the 20th century, most will look to the commercial centers of the world’s great cities — the early modern skyscrapers of New York and Chicago and London, and successors from São Paulo to Shanghai — and read therein a story about the rise of global capitalism. But perhaps a few will take a cue from archaeology. They will look instead to the modern temples: defense towers, nuclear reactors and industrial facilities sited around the globe, in remote forests and on rocky coastlines, wherever there was oil to extract or a shipping lane to defend.

Paris photographer Thomas Jorion has been documenting these structures in a series about human vanity, specifically the vanity that drives people to construct buildings for the sake of power or glory. Pictured here are political monuments and munitions depots, hulking concrete forms that marked the edges of empires.

Jorion unearthed these temples — first by Google Earth, then by car — in countries shaped by the geopolitics of the last century: the United States, Japan, England, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Some of the structures are located on public lands, others private. Most are now abandoned. He was intrigued by their futurist shapes and Utopian spirit, and the apparent obliviousness of their creators to all that is fleeting.

Thomas Jorion, “Temple of the Vanities,” Places Journal, May 2013. Accessed 28 Sep 2023. https://doi.org/10.22269/130509

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Past Discussions View
  • 05.15.2013 at 16:08

    Would it hurt to have captions, so viewers know where these sites area and what they were intended for? I appreciate the haunting quality of the sites and the quality of the images, but I think that specifics on the particular "vanity" behind these projects would help us to understand the dynamics that created them -- probably with the hope of not repeating them. What projects that we are building today are most likely to suffer this fate if not ones with similar programs?