This blog reflects on a subject that has long fascinated and perplexed me as a young designer, looking at the wonder that is abandoned buildings and the places everyday life has forgotten about. In particular I’m drawn towards those of an industrial character where they combine building and landscape, machine and nature, and all wrapped in the nostalgia of a bygone era of manufacturing, industry and making.
Most people will find a strange beauty in these images of decay and dereliction. It is, however, something altogether different to experience their real life smells and sounds, scale and temperature, and the ghosts of times and people past that still haunt these places leaving them charged, whilst eerily silent.
There is a sense of journey and discovery that’s frustratingly difficult to replicate in new architecture (or landscape design), probably due to a sense of dare, apprehension and curiosity that are seldom found in a client’s design brief.
There’s a tension between building and landscape that evolves and shifts as entropy builds and the site becomes gradually reclaimed by the earth. In this state the building shares an intimate connection with nature, reacting to the seasons and weather for a phenomenon of ‘internal’ space quite unlike we’ve experienced in the every day hermetically sealed buildings we inhabit. These buildings occupy a small space in time between manmade building and untamed landscape, a transient state of being shrouded in a confusing sense of both sadness and joy. We want to cling onto our built heritage, but can’t begrudge this hard worked building its right to find peace, seen to be crumbling, deconstructing, now breathing, settled, and at rest.
As their layers begin to peel away so it exposes the true nature of their anatomy and authenticity of construction, with a rawness of matter as never intended by the designer. There is a curious process of deconstruction underway being led by nature (although helped along by the few who continue to interact with these buildings), and in this state of defiance over our forceful manipulation of matter into useful form, there is an undeniable beauty found through decay.
The machinery and exposed componentry of the beast contribute to their evolving complexity and a rich reading of these spaces, built for the animation of manufacture, but now seized in their redundant state. Tracing through the rusted gears, delaminating belts and switches, the eye plays through the motion still embedded in the very code of these objects. I cannot help but appreciate the beauty in the synchronicity of its parts, each painstakingly ordered and engineered to function, and can now only imagine (through the silence), the sound this thing must have made.
These are powerful, phenomenal and awe inspiring places to behold. Reflecting on such experiences has, and continues to influence the way I like to think about design, the use of materials and the kind of atmospheres I aspire to create for myself in architecture. We could, of course, never truly replicate the authenticity of natural decay, and for this reason the abandoned building will always occupy a unique space in our cities and our psyche. Even in dereliction they serve a great use, sparking the imagination as we seek to create something anew, and where of course an understanding of how to construct something well, starts with an interest and awareness of how things eventually fall into ruin.