How Pictures Of Abandoned Buildings Tell A Secret History

There is an increasing amount of interest in abandoned buildings for a wide variety of reasons. Some people like the eerie sense of loss that surrounds them, others are interested in them for political reasons such as reclaiming land for ordinary people, squatting, or issues of sustainability and recycling.
One of the interesting features of abandoned buildings, though, is how much they tell us about the times they came from.
For instance, the number of farmhouses abandoned in the nineteen thirties and recorded by painters and photographers for posterity is no coincidence.

Image: Public Domain
As the Great Depression took hold, many lost their livelihoods. Farmers had their properties foreclosed by banks desperate to recoup losses from any source.
Rebuilding for the Future
In the 1940’s, buildings were destroyed more by war than by the economy. The period up until the ’60s was largely one of rebuilding.
However, come the 1960s, some types of building – especially old-fashioned mental asylums – were no longer relevant to medical practice. As old ways of treating and dealing with patients changed, so did the properties that were abandoned.
Inhumane prisons also started to be put out of public service, and the general atmosphere of social progress was reflected completely in the types of buildings that were being abandoned.
Urban renewal programs were also put in place in this period.
Was Urban Renewal a Failure?
By the ’70s and’80s, however, economic deprivation caused by disastrous governmental policy decisions ensured that many of the buildings created by urban renewal programs fell into crime, unemployment and slowly became uninhabitable. Many buildings have stood empty or deprived of basic utilities to this day, without even a low cost estate agent to sell them on.
But are the 90s and 2000’s any better?
Contemporary abandoned buildings include hospitals, factories, and warehouses. Most are in usable condition, or at least could be with minimal investment.

Image by Justus Hayes.
In many ways, the modern obsession with novelty has contributed to a vast amount of waste. There are countries in the world which have no access to radiation equipment, and yet the machine above sits quietly unused and starting to rust.
Further, we are seeing public entertainment buildings like libraries, swimming pools, ice rinks, gyms and even cinemas completely abandoned.
As we move to a more digital age (again, for reasons of novelty as much as practicality), we abandon the old ways and the places we used to meet up become places we can go to be utterly alone.
The depression of the thirties, the destruction of the forties, the asylums of the fifties & sixties, the deprivation of the seventies & eighties, the waste of the nineties & new millennium.
Think of the area you live in, are there any abandoned buildings that could be put to better use?
Let us know in the comments!
James Duval writes about abandoned buildings for eMoov, who are an online estate agency offering low prices on a vast array of property.