This article looks at the visual character of post-conflict and post-disaster settings, and shows how states of physical ruin can help to produce an ‘aesthetics of post-disaster reconstruction’. With examples primarily drawn from the author's field site in Timor-Leste, the article shows how ruins, ashes and demolition may be perceived as enabling particular kinds of agency and opportunity. Thus, some of the most hopeful of international-intervention dreams of recent decades have been produced out of sites of mass-scale destruction.