Every town has its abandoned places. Weed-choked, pigeon-haunted, windows toothed with shards of glass. These are the crumbling, forgotten parts of town, where graffiti blooms in shells of rooms, trees cleave foundations and girders grasp the sky. Spiked pewter fences and nailed plywood defend the carcasses of buildings or the spaces where they once were. Perhaps a battered for sale sign or a warning to keep out: nature and man conspiring to repel visitors.
Nature is quick to claim the things we discard. These are the buildings that have served their purpose. Unlike ruins, which are valued and preserved, these are the unloved spaces. The broken warehouse that was once a canning factory; the tilting façade that was a town hall. Buildings with an uncertain future – to be demolished, renovated, or left to collapse. Buildings that attract the wrong kind of attention: graffiti, vandalism, bad behaviour. They are the forgotten history of the town, unwanted relics of old ways of life. Reminders that everything is temporary. If something once desired can be so easily neglected, if something substantial can so easily fall apart, then what is to become of us?
The abandoned places remind us that we aren’t safe. We want to live in neighbourhoods that are attractive and cared for. When derelict buildings begin to appear, we worry that it’s only a matter of time before our neighbourhood declines. So we walk quickly past them or rail against their presence, demanding that they be removed so that we can feel safe again. But look past the dereliction and they offer beauty of a different kind. The charm of weathered wood and sun-scorched stone. Of guerrilla art and the drooping purple of buddleia. The unruly tangle of trees bursting through roofs. The revelation of structure and the spaces in between. It is a stark beauty that isn’t for everyone: the beauty of decay.
These buildings no longer bow to human rules or opinion. And though they sometimes seem brooding presences, as though resentful of their neglect, I suspect that actually they revel in it. They quicken at the blast of wind through empty windows, sigh at the drench of rain on dusty floors. They offer welcome to the pigeons and the mice that flutter and scurry through silent rooms. These are feral buildings now.
I’m vexed by a memory. An abandoned house, glassless windows. A friend bounces on an old mattress as I watch through the gap. I don’t know if this is a real memory, but it haunts me as all abandoned places do. I want to wander their broken rooms, sift through the debris of former lives, absorb the memories that bleed from the walls. I want to know what remains behind those unfettered doors.
I want to remember these abandoned places. Not as they were, but as they are. The sliver of building above has already become a story. Its ruins have an inhabitant and a mystery to be solved. It may be starved of attention in the physical world, but the world of imagination is a more forgiving place. In this world, nothing is abandoned, it is only re-shaped, until it finds its own story.