Not only do physical spaces express who we are, they also evoke who we expect others to be as well – and while today’s spaces seem unremarkable to us, as time passes and our tastes and technologies change, the unchanging but gradually decaying past space serves as a haunting reminder of the way we were, as displayed in this mesmerizing set of pictures posted on Daily Mail (November 7, 2013):
Abandoned: Urban explorer Dan Marbaix has travelled around the world taking pictures of unusual derelict buildings such as this decaying doctor’s house in Germany
(The photographs were taken by Dan Marbaix, who, as the Mail says, has travelled around the world to capture some of the most beautiful abandoned buildings.)
Once a home: The ornate twin beds at this Belgian chateau are still intact but the wallpaper has peeled and the floor is covered in rubble
The 33-year-old photographer creeps, ducks, climbs, scrambles and squeezes his way into abandoned sites and buildings to get unparalleled holiday experiences – even having to sidestep security at times.
But for all the times he’s been arrested or given a stern telling off from police, he insists it’s all worth it.
Mr Marbaix, of London, said: “I’ve seen sneaking around places I shouldn’t have been in since I was a teenager but have been more focused in the past five years.”
All too often, the past is lost to us because the past is looted and cannibalized. Grave robbers strip corpses of their finery.
Frozen in time: Some abandoned buildings such as Hospital Diablo in France has fallen foul of metal thieves and vandals
Light leaches warm colors from tapestries, silks, and carpets. Wind rustles books and papers. Dust covers all.
Creepy: This atmospheric picture of a derelict Belgian hunting lodge looks like it could have come straight out of a horror film
Interior spaces have meaning only if they are occupied; when they are empty, we notice not the space as much as the forlorn objects. Yet at the same time, the objects themselves imply so much about the now-vanished people who acquired them and placed them in their context.
Left in a hurry? Hundreds of books have been left on the shelves in this but abandoned UK manor house but the wallpaper is ripped and the ceiling has partly collapsed
We are also so used to moving of our own volition that a place abandoned as if in mid-thought evokes its own story – perhaps the owner was stricken with a heart attack or stroke, taken to the hospital and never returned home to his manor, while his heirs closed the place up in anticipation of an estate sale that has yet to come.
All that remains: Objects like the stuffed pheasant at a Belgian villa (left).
“I enjoy seeing what most people don’t get to see when they go abroad and the buzz of getting into the buildings. I used to work in the city so the peace and quiet of an abandoned building and the lack of people getting in my photos were also things I enjoyed about it.”
Technology also offers its clues: the radio dates from the 1950′s; the stove below looks early twentieth century. Between them they speak to both continuity and change.
The shoes left in front of the burner at a hunting lodge (right), give clues to the former owners
Technology itself is a great disrupter, which is in turn disrupted:
Left behind: This vintage Singer sewing machine has been left in the chateau with a cotton reel still attached to the top
I am old enough to remember my grandmother having and using a sewing machine like that; and she knew how to use it.
Technological disruptions are not confined to personal or household items; entire infrastructure networks can be remade by new power sources and new sensibilities.
Untouched: ECVB power station in Ghent, Belgium, was hugely popular with urban explorers wanting to capture on film the huge rusting machinery but it is now being pulled down by the authorities
Former glory: The National Gas Turbine Establishment in Hampshire, known simply as Pyestock, was once an iconic site of British engineering but has been neglected since its closure in 2000. It is now scheduled for demolition but, in its heyday after the Second World War, it was at the forefront of gas turbine and jet engine research
Technology changes our patterns of socializing, and that has implications both for the homes we inhabit, and the public spaces we do not:
Hidden gems: The photographer often has to squeeze through windows and gaps in buildings or climb up walls to get in to abandoned rooms like this Belgian theatre
Buildings express what we value – and buildings that have fallen into disuse are the cenotaphs to what we used to value, and no longer do.
Place of worship: Two religious statues – in almost perfect condition – still stand in this abandoned Belgian monastery
Holy site: The stunning mural can be seen on the far wall of this Belgian church but it seems to have been abandoned by its congregation
Macabre: The green bed screens are still pulled across in this abandoned ward in West Park Mental Hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Built in 1923, the hospital was slowly run down from the mid-1990s and most of the buildings closed in 2003
Still, we cannot judge too harshly.
Glimpse into the past: Lights and a table still covered with a white sheet remain at this UK hospital (left) and candlesticks and glass vases and mirrors have just been left in this Belgian chateau
We are strangers to the past, have no contemporaneous guides to etiquette and conduct, and of course we know how the story comes out.
Glorious: This dome sits on top of the former Beelitz-Heilstatten sanitorium in Germany, where Hitler recuperated after his World
War One injury.
From 1945 to 1995 it was used as a Red Army hospital but attempts to privatize it after the Soviet withdrawal were not wholly successful. While some buildings are still in use, the surgery, psychiatric ward and rifle range were all abandoned.
Abandoned buildings also mutely testify to economic failure, and as they stand empty, they are reminders of costs sunk and unrecovered.
Eerie: Mr Marbaix said despite the creepiness of buildings like the Masonic Boys School, in the UK, he is not interested in ghouls.
School’s out forever: This beautiful building was once filled with British schoolchildren but is now slowly decaying
But the most common victim of time are the obsolescent McMansions of their time, the chateaux, palazzos, and country houses of a bygone era, taken for death duties, or maintenance costs, or just heating and upkeep.
Mysterious: Little is known about the ornate Chateau Lumiere in France but it is regularly visited by urban explorers fascinated by its decaying splendour
Beautiful: Sammazzano Castle, in Tuscany, Italy, (left) is one of the most spectacular captured by the photographer. It is commonly known as Non Plus Ultra – meaning ‘nothing further beyond’ – because the words are decorated inside. Built in 1605, it is filled with dazzling Moorish designs and mosaics.
Fortunately, if the building has good bones, and if time and urbanization work their magic, it can be revivified as a respectable throwback.
“‘Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
– Noah Cross, Chinatown
Some buildings are rescued for just that reason:
Industrial: The original Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London was built in 1868. Now replaced by a modern sewage pumping station, Abbey Mills is used as a film location and represented Arkham Asylum in Batman Begins
Others have a pedigree so good they anticipate being revived:
Stunning: The Chambre du Commerce in Belgium is a huge draw for urban explorers. The building, in Antwep, was erected in 1872 as a reconstruction of a 1531 Stock Exchange. It ceased being used in 2003 after failing to meet fire safety regulations and lay abandoned for seven years until a series of renovation plans were put forward. A private investor wants to turn the building into shops, a grand cafe, restaurants and a luxurious hotel. Renovation work on the outside of the building has begun.