Abandoned

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

84 thoughts on “Abandoned

  1. I love these inspirational old buildings, they can be romantic and melancholy, sinister or oddly safe. Somebody at the pub (always an accurate source) once said that if new York was abandoned it would be in ruins because of weeds within fifty years, that is a chilling thought, that and weeds that break through concrete, it’s like something off of Doctor Who! I loved the phrases ‘feral buildings’ and ‘the beauty of decay’.

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  2. Andrea, I was delighted the moment I saw a new post from you in my inbox — and you did not fail to please with this wonderful, unexpected, unique post. I loved hearing/reading your thoughts and uncanny insights with each photo. Have a wonder-filled week. Mega hugs!

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  3. “…these are the unloved spaces…” Yet another stunningly expressed – as we’ve come to expect – posting. I have always remembered the silliest tiny thing that I read years ago: when he was a kid Teilhard de Chardin cried when he saw that a plough blade began to rust. So I’ve always thought that decay is not necessarily just of the “unloved space” in itself, as you point out with ruins. Thanks for making us love these unloved spaces!

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  4. Great post, Andrea…yes…nature takes back the memories and redefines them. Kind of just like Mt. St. Helens that was so desolate, but nature came back in to repair it. Interesting perspective! Have a great day!

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  5. I like your take on abandoned buildings and the way you anthropomorphized them as rebellious rule-breakers – feral. That’s a cool idea. Not quite haunted but alive in a new way and that way makes us feel uneasy. I love old buildings, too. On our recent holiday out west in Canada we drove through so many tiny places with crumbling old buildings. I wanted to stop in them all to take pictures. Anyway, I loved this post and the photos to go with it.

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  6. There is sadness in this post, Andrea, but also triumph and hope. We could learn from these buildings: if we embrace change and flex and enjoy it as these buildings have/do, we would handle life’s less pleasant times with more grace and less resistance. I am reminded of the comparison between water flowing through a stream and humans: flow over rock hurdles and around bends, always moving forward, never hastened by regret…or something to that effect.

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  7. I enjoyed your blog here Andrea. Yes if those old walls could talk – the stories they would tell. They are not just buildings made of stone, brick, wood, and steel. They are places where people lived and worked and made their lives day in and day out. They are places where people spent the most important commodity we all have called time. And those four walls are not just made up of stone, and brick and steel – they are made up of so much more….the walls of our very lives that are built every single day.

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  8. Isn’t it amazing how quickly buildings become “feral” ( love the way you call them). I visited my Grandparents home that I knew was abandoned after a fire. It was about twenty years ago, but there was literally nothing, only crumbles. There was no road anymore – forest took it. We came to take a couple of snaps for our family history records, but there was nothing I could recognize.
    Thank you for your post, and a poignant reminder of the passing of time. You always look in the core of things in the most beautiful way.

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  9. “Remember(ing) these abandoned places, not as they were, but as they are.” This somewhat counter-cultural perspective reflects a great appreciation for history. What tales these abandoned places hold and continue to spin.

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  10. You really captured the emotions behind abandoned buildings. Terrific writing here Andrea. We recently had a fire break out in an abandoned factory one town over. It’s sad that these places are left without anyone to care about them or repurpose them. I love the emotional journey you took us on through our reactions to abandoned buildings. Brilliant!

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  11. I love your beautiful poetic thoughts and thought provoking photos Andrea …thank for a morning delight .
    When my sister was shuffling through some photos on my camera recently she said ;
    ‘Cherry why on earth a photo of rubbish and a graveyard ?’
    ‘Because ‘ I said ‘ You will always find a sparking diamond in the rough’
    Cherryx

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  12. Andrea I am captivated by your story. Enjoyed reading this and as someone who is a visual person, as a child, if I drove by an abandoned building I imagined ways I could do it up. Such is the curse of someone who hates to see things abandoned and left to rot. I especially love your belief that all things can find a place to exist within our own stories. (beautiful post).

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    • Thanks Kath, I think that’s the way we can still find to love these neglected places, by helping them live on in our imaginations! Many of the buildings near the canning factory have been ‘re-loved’ and turned into something new, but this one seems to have fallen through the gap – I suspect it will be demolished and something new put in its place, which is quite sad.

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      • Im seeing a trend here in Oz Andrea where they keep the face of an old building and rebuild apartments etc. In my home town I saw a fantastic redesign of an old factory site. They look amazing and the apartments are called The Mill because that is what the old building use to be.

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  13. Haunting post, Andrea. I often feel regret when I see buildings left to ruin and decay. They served a purpose once, and I wish that people would put them out of their misery rather than leaving them to suffer. I know I’ve just personified buildings but it feels disrespectful to me, to let them just crumble slowly, painfully. Let nature abound there like it did before, I say.

    Yet, I agree with the story aspect. I see stories everywhere, and absolutely in abandonment and loss. From there we can heal and move forward, as you say so brilliantly.

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  14. I’m always saddened when I see a building like this demolished to make way for yet another cookie-cutter commercial property or apartment building. I feel like starting a Society for the Conservation of Feral Buildings. (I absolutely love your use of that word.) 🙂

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  15. Ahhh, a beautiful and soulful musing, Andrea. And one of my favorite topics, the symbolism and stories of these abandoned, neglected places. I’ve been sitting with an evocative quote or perspective I came across about this, so will reblog your post and share the quote … two bits of inspiration in one. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this – I intend to revisit it. Love, Jamie

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  16. For some strange reason these post apocalyptic looking places often give me a feeling of longing and awe. I love your “toothed windows” and thoughts of fleeting time and change. I love how the feral things seize opportunity. They don’t see it as we do with sadness or fear. They go with the flow of changing fortune and vicissitudes of life. Beautiful post and thoughts Andrea. Great images! The windows are like hollow eyes staring!

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  17. Reblogged this on Sophia's Children and commented:
    This is such a beautiful, soulful, evocative piece from Andrea — have a look at these photos and her musings about these abandoned, neglected places.

    I resonate because it’s something I’ve noticed since I was a wee snippet of a child and wandered such places, or passed by them and wondered about the stories held in their walls and on the ground on which they were built.

    I pass by some on my regular walkabouts, but this topic reaches out for me from time to time too, as with Andrea’s post or this bit of inspiration I came across a few months ago and that’s stayed with me, working like a seed in my awareness:

    “In a symptomatic way vandalism — which favors schools, cemeteries, and churches — paradoxically draws attention to the sacredness of things. Frequently when we have lost a sense of the sacred, it reappears in a negative form. The work of dark angels is not altogether different from those who wear white. Here, then, is another way to interpret the abuse of things – as an underworld attempt to reestablish their sacredness.” ~ Thomas Moore, as shared in a from photographer David Masters.

    Let Andrea take you on a short walkabout and visit with a few of these richly storied abandoned places …

    Big Love,
    Jamie

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  18. Andrea – You’ve paid homage to these abandoned buildings. I was going through photographs last night of a town my great-great grandfather founded that no longer exists. All of the buildings are gone. Years ago I pieced together many facts about my ancestors and realize I need to pass this information along. Today the land is simply another piece of farmland used for growing wheat. Unless someone knew the history of the region, they would never know a thriving town once stood there.

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  19. Ahh yes, what stories would those walls tell if they could speak? Since we can’t communicate with those walls, the imagination can come up with some really fantastical stories to bring them back to life. Great post, Andrea.

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  20. I fell in love with this post as soon as I saw the first picture, and was reveling in the beauty of the romantic, forgotten homes, buildings, workplaces you showed us, when you too, offered your thoughts on their beauty…a lovely atmospheric ramble through so much normally unnoticed beauty, thank you, Andrea .. so beautifully observed and written…

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  21. As a crime writer I just have to glance at those photos and immediately I imagine a body being found there! Derelict spaces immediately make me think of danger and a sort of Lord of the Flies atmosphere. I’m reading Noonday by Pat Barker at the moment and it’s set during the Blitz in London. She writes beautifully about bombed out houses and how quickly they are claimed by nature, especially buddleias. My mother always used to call them the bombsite plant.

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  22. When I first started reading this it reminded me of my house – a run down old place that was left for dead. We moved it and fixed it and painted it and now it looks like a million bucks.

    I love the pictures and the feeling of melancholy and abandonment in your words, Andrea. So poingant xxx

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  23. Lovely piece of writing Andrea. Each of these abandoned places leaves echoes of its former past. I love wandering around these places, trying to recreate a picture of those who went before us there. And abandonedireland.com is a favourite website of mine.

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  24. I love the poetic way you’ve described these places, Andrea. Ruins are so fascinating, their very presence stirring up the imagination. To think that one day, if somebody doesn’t knock them down and rebuild there, Nature will reclaim the ground they stand upon and wrap itself around their crumbling bricks and mortar.

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  25. I love how visceral your writing is, Andrea!
    I always find the interior of houses exposed very moving, especially when there are a number of layers of wallpaper flapping in the breeze – it makes you think of all the lives that have lived within.
    I never saw it, but I thought ‘House’ by Rachel Whiteread was an amazing concept, conjuring with just these issues …

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  26. I love the idea that there is beauty in decay- it says so much to that rawness and imperfection that we are so quick to judge. I will start looking at instead of looking away when I see an abandoned space and see if my perspective changes.

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  27. Love this story, Andrea. Especially the last sentence struck me. “nothing is abandoned, only reshaped until it finds its own story” .. a new story, again.. So true. There is beauty to be found in abandoned places, and I love when nature takes over so wildly, untamed and undiscriminated.

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