of urban exploration
There's something that's been bugging me recently. I've been wondering if there's a term for a person fascinated by abandoned buildings, and/or a term for the act of exploring such spaces. I've only just got round to googling it and have discovered that yes, of course, a term does exist!
"Urban exploration, also known as urbex, building infiltration and urban spelunking, is a movement that flies under the radar in a bid to investigate and photograph abandoned buildings and places, which often comprise the modern ruins of our recent industrial, military and civic past."
I'm quoting from a brilliant site I came across called Urban Ghosts which is totally comprehensive on the subject, including both a brief introduction to urban exploration and a weekly write-up on new abandoned places.
So I'm happy to know now that I'm part of a movement. I'm an urban explorer.
I've snuck into and wandered through abandoned spaces all over the world. Derelict churches in forgotten Czech villages, crumbling colonial mansions in Malaysia, abandoned billiard halls in India, 17th century catacombs deep beneath the streets of Prague, even a whole Umbrian village deserted post-earthquake.
I love the illicit thrill of exploring spaces once inhabited and now left to decay. The uneven floors, the crumbling staircases you hardly dare climb, the ceilings that have collapsed inwards and opened to sky. Nature so often has slowly, slowly begun its stealthy encroach - birds nesting in the eaves, tendrilous weeds sprouting from cracked walls, rain water puddled on rotting floorboards. I love coming across traces of past inhabitants - possessions forgotten, wallpaper peeling from a wall, broken bathroom fittings covered in moss - or graffiti traces of those who've come since to scavenge and desecrate. Absence seems a thing almost palpable in such places.
"Take only photographs, leave only footprints," is the urban explorer creed, although I've stretched that to allow for notes, too, because inevitably I find that these deserted spaces inspire me.
For now though, what I want to share with you is a few photos and a short film about my most recent exploration, this time to St Peter's College in Cardross, an abandoned 60s concrete seminary lost up a leafy track in the west coast of Scotland. Despite being a category A listed building and regarded as one of the most important modernist buildings in Scotland, the structure is falling into ruins and its future is uncertain. It was designed by the architects Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, but was used for its intended purpose as a centre to train candidates for the Catholic priesthood for little more than ten years. Since then, it briefly served as a drug rehabilitation centre before falling into disuse. Even now, it's possible to see how remarkable the architecture must have been in its time, how forward-thinking, and I think this is what makes its current derelict state all the more haunting, together with the knowledge of its formerly spiritual purpose. Architecture writer Frank Arneil Walker has said about it "nothing prepares one for the sight of the new grown prematurely old."
During its time as a seminary, a wordless documentary film was made to celebrate the building called Space and Light. Years later, filmmaker Luke Alexander made another short film in the Concrete Britain series which transposed original footage from Space and Light with film of the building in its present state. It makes the contrast very apparent. Take a look (it's worth opening it here in Vimeo so that you can see it at a larger size):
I was taken to St Peter's along with others from Cove Park. An excursion intended to catalyse thought and discussion, although in actual fact while we were there we mostly retreated into our own thoughts and there wasn't much talking going on. There was singing though. I remember Jen from the Shetlands singing as she walked around - a clear, bright sound that chimed against the dank concrete walls, her tune sweet and unwavering.