Abandoned But Not Forgotten

The financial crisis has left hundreds and hundreds of abandoned buildings, taken from their inhabitants or built and never even filled with any human being. The voice of citizens asking for social projects at these places is growing and, despite being mostly private, the presence of these structures is being continuously questioned by the public. Initiatives from spontaneous associations, studies and researches made by bloggers and magazines are highlighting the problem and many theories are being formulated. Among them there is a strong critique against the kind of voyeurism that abandoned buildings generate. A recent article by John Patrick Leary on webmagazine Guernica explains the concept of ‘ruin porn’ quite clearly:

“As a purely aesthetic object, even with the best intentions, ruin photography cannot help but exploit a city’s misery; but as political documents on their own, they have little new to tell us.”

In the article you will find some good references to ruin photography in the city of Detroit, which is turning into an icon due to its massive shrinking and to the state of decay brought by a crisis with a long, long history. However, it is worth to give voice to other examples of a different, more humble kind of photography on similar themes in the same city, such as ‘100 Abandoned Houses’ by Kevin Bauman, already featured on BUNNKR.

Besides appreciating or depreciating the photos, a reflection on the presence of these empty structures is indeed necessary and, along with photography, there are other media available to help us. Video documentaries, for instance, are used to testify not only the decay of abandoned buildings, but also the relation that citizens have with them. One interesting example is ‘Michigan Central Station — Rediscovering Space’, which is part of a series of documentaries shot by a group of Danish planning students in the context of a research experiment on how to use film as a method of urban development.

Moving away from Detroit, but still talking about videos, one noteworthy piece questioning the use of abandoned buildings in the city of São Paulo is the 2005 film ‘Dia de Festa’, directed by Pablo Georgieff and Toni Venturi, which follows the steps of the MSTC (Movement of the Homeless of the Centre of São Paulo) while squatting many long-time-left structures with the purpose of renewing them to give a decent, temporary shelter to the city’s homeless people.

Mapping these structure and questioning their aim is also a task for bloggers and a noteworthy project to present is [Im]possible Living, a blog which aims to build a database in order to collect facts and locations about dead buildings and ideas to give them a new life. Another growing collection of data is the one on contemporary ruins by Barbarela architects, which I already described in this post.

Citizens are collecting a huge amount of material and are thirsty for projects. Artists, architects, photographers and researchers are increasingly expanding their interests towards these seemingly forgotten clusters. It is of course a sign of care towards their city that we can not ignore. What are public administrations doing?