Every since I was very young, I’ve always held an unusually high level of fascination for abandoned buildings, spaces that once held purpose but now sit disused. From an old warehouse across a river I always see from a distance when I visit MCM Comic Con London, to the abandoned public toilets building that I spent nine months walking past on walks to visit a friend, there’s something about the combination of utility and disrepair that I’ve found endlessly mesmerising.
When you look at an abandoned building, particularly one you come across by yourself without additional outside context, there’s a whole host of thoughts and feelings that, at least for me, come to mind. What was this building used for? At what point did it enter disrepair? How did that happen? Does someone still own it? Was it not viable to repair? How much of this is still hooked up to the grid? Can someone seriously afford to own all this land, this infrastructure, but not afford to make use of the land, remove the buildings, sell the area, or make something new?
While these questions are often tough to answer, I recently tried to find out if I could answer any of these questions after visiting a very large area filled with abandoned factories, warehouses, and buildings, which all appeared to have undergone massive fire damage, structural damage, and looting.
The area I had been exploring, as best I can tell, compromised two factories, owned and operated by one big company. One handled plastic production, melting down lots of small plastic pieces into molds to produce, I don’t honestly know, something made in a production line out of plastics. The other half of the site was comprised of a paper production site. There were two large primary production buildings, one for each company, and a variety of smaller buildings for stock holding and meetings.
Around forty years ago, both factories burned down, receiving large amounts of structural damage, when a fire broke out in the primary plastics production factory and got out of hand. The fire spread, and the initial damage to the site was so severe, the buildings were no longer structurally sound. With massive damage to the factories, and a huge loss in stock, rebuilding the site would have required tearing everything down and starting from scratch. The company could not afford to do so, and the site has just sat empty ever since.
If you visit the site today, there are remnants of what once was, visible to see. There was one room we found while exploring, where entire pallets of plastic pieces melted, burned, and solidified, creating what on first inspection almost looked like tree trunks fused to the ground.
Aspects of the plastic factory’s history remain, including ventilation tubes, and pieces of equipment from the production pipeline, remain, albeit damaged in places beyond recognition.
The entire area is relatively safe to traverse, with a daytime visit featuring no obstacles whatsoever to exploration. A few doors have been boarded up, or had dirt piled in front of them to discourage entering them, but largely, so long as you stay safe and watch your footing, you could easily spend a few hours exploring unimpeded.
There was a somewhat surreal quality to exploring this huge area. It almost felt like being in the ruins of the end of the world, following some natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, until you would turn a corner and spot a band doing an album photoshoot in the rubble, or a fashion model taking glamour shots in a place that looks like a war zone. If you ignore the bottles and cans, remnants of many a rebellious teen party or makeshift homeless shelter, it almost feels separated from the world at large.
There’s also a real beauty in watching something built with so much purpose, with a creator assuming it was more important than the nature that had to be carved up to support it, being slowly reclaimed. Plants starting to grow through the concrete, animals nesting in the walls, it acts as a reminder that long after we are gone as a species, life will hopefully find a way to thrive in the huge areas we have taken for our own and stripped of life.
Because, no matter how important we feel the things we build are, none of them are going to last forever, and getting to see what our world looks like once it’s not seeing regular upkeep is just a fascinating lens through which to view the world at large.
[Photos by Jane Magnet. You can support my work on Patreon]