Live cities shed their dead cells to prepare for renewal. A building may become obsolete because the need it served is not there anymore. A new need has arisen that comes to inhabit the old site. Or it may be so new and different that it needs a new space; so vital and rude that it pushes the old building aground. This is how old buildings go away, replaced by new ones.
Dead cities, on the other hand, live undisturbed in stagnated order. They are not only the completely abandoned communities after the resources that gave birth to them are gone, like former mining and oil towns. Dead cities are also museum-cities, full of tourists, but too precious to change, reproduce and develop. They are like animals of rare species stuffed by a taxidermist: beautiful, but only to look at.
If death of buildings is a necessity for new life, how come we have museum cities like Rome, where different eras have managed to sprout, with their ideas embodied in new construction, while the landmarks of previous societies have been preserved and not demolished to open space for new ones? This is possible for cities with a history of continuous importance. Rome has been fortunate to enjoy waves of significance through the ages within Europe and the world, but each previous culture has kept its stature, which means those in power have needed the landmarks of preceding eras as sources of prestige.
Abandoned buildings in live cities are sad, because they remind of a past long gone, not replaced by a present. Around here, the abandoned buildings are mostly factories. They are witnesses to the societal changes that have taken place in the US in the past century, where factories have fled from North to South, from city downtowns to industrial outskirts, and then from South to other countries. The sight is sad not so much because those buildings are dead, but because they are left the way they are, with no renewal to rejuvenate dead ideas.
And abandoned factories are sad just as abandoned houses. If a house loses its soul when its inhabitants leave, then a factory loses its spirit of productiveness and the optimistic promise of hard work. The purpose for which it was created has lost its importance and the people have gone on to do other things.
There is beauty in abandoned buildings. Nature takes over the material expression of human intention. Colors change, interiors overgrow with weed, walls crumble as a result of the battle between the forces of gravity and the strength of the materials used. The space becomes wild, or, better said, feral.
I was fortunate to see some of these places on a tour by two connoisseurs, Kevin Buchanan of Fortworthology fame along with Steph Scarborough. There is hope for our city, though – many of the abandoned buildings are on their way to be brought back to life 🙂