The age of exploration may be long gone, with every inch of the world scrubbed clean by sat-nav, but we now find ourselves in the age of re-discovery. There are an amazing array of discarded architectural marvels going to waste – ready to be uncovered by the curious eye – left behind by the world, as if it had moved on to better things.
The intertwined, complex narratives of the European continent might be interpreted through its abandoned structures, by the things it left behind. They say you can judge the temperament of a nation by the way it treats its elderly and infirm – perhaps we can come to similar conclusions by the apparent reluctance to tear down these tarnished gems from the past – and also the strange disinclination to regenerate them.
Berlin: This abandoned military hospital complex located in Beelitz dates back to the 19th century. In use continuously from the 1940s on, then used as a military hospital by the Soviets replete with a psychiatric ward, surgical theatre and rifle-range before being abandoned in the 1990s. Former patients included Adolf Hitler. There’s something wonderfully cast about abandoned hospitals, the echoes of frantic organisation still ringing through the winding corridors.
Mesen (the smallest town in Belgium) provides a backdrop for this stunning abandoned castle – endlessly remodeled from the 1500s onward. This resplendent fortress evolved from a defensive stronghold to a boarding school (imagine trying to learn anything here) before being abandoned completely around 1950. Surviving almost unhindered, it is now under threat of being demolished, as if the present can stand it no longer, being dwarfed by the past.
Ryhope (England): provides restful surroundings for this resplendent old-fashioned-futuristic abandoned water pumping station. This dementedly ambitious Victorian structure revolutionized, as all pumping stations did, clean water distribution, killing off diseases and bringing to the masses a basic human right they had been denied. Spookily grand, it’s a testament to its own sheer scale of engineering and carries with it a kind of Utopian optimism. Now that it’s been abandoned, what happened to all that hope?
Paris: What many people don’t know about the infamously unpredictable Metro system is that it hurtles by a labyrinth of abandoned platforms and stations. Some of these have been converted into state supported homeless shelters and others, rather excitingly, are the subject of private tours.
Next time you walk through the landmarks of your city, think of all of the buildings that might one day fall into decay and how they might look more beautiful still, abandoned by society and re-submerged into nature. If you know of any other abandoned marvels, let us know.
Images from weburbanist.com