Ghost Building

Ghost building in Rochester, Minnesota (photograph by Oliver Hammond/Flickr user)

Sometimes when one building comes down, the ghost of its architecture is left embedded on its neighbor. These “ghost buildings” as they’re sometimes called, remain as an unintentional texture of memory in the destruction.

As Dornob cited in their post on ghost buildings, photographers like José Antonio MillanXenmate, and Marcus Buck have been using this “ghost” architecture in their work to give haunting views on urban development. Web Urbanist notes in their ghost buildings article that the building relics are sort of like architectural drawings. Although here they are suggesting the memory of a building destroyed, not one that has yet to be built. And while each is unique to that building’s memory, there’s something similar to the ghost buildings found all over the world, as shown in the Unconscious Art of Demolition Flickr group, which brilliantly describes it as “open-plan interior design photography displaying the best in unintended geometry.” It’s short of a shared tone of memory that’s left like breath on a mirror.

Looking at the photographs in the Unconscious Art of Demolition group — selections of which are posted here — you start to see a recurring language of interiors. There are the zigzags of staircases that divide up frames of color which were once walls, sometimes with wallpaper or even furnishings and plumbing dangling out into the void. Officially, these are the remains of the “party wall” which is the division between two buildings constructed side-by-side, but it’s just as much a phantom of the lives that were once lived in the spaces.

Although the overriding feel is that of absence, some street art captured in the photographs interacts with the skeletal remains, repopulating them with painted furniture, adding figures to cavort across the non-existent floors, or interacting with the staircases. They also remind me of those other architectural fragments like ghost signs from businesses long gone that are left in faded colors hawking their wares of yesteryear, or the foundations of buildings that are lodged in the city’s surface long after the wrecking ball, an imprint of architecture that remains.

Lyon, France (photograph by Nathan Livings/Flickr user)

Pittsburgh (photograph by Marius Watz/Flickr user)

Asturias, Spain (photograph by Carmen Alonso Suarez/Flickr user)

San Francisco (photograph by Shannon Kokoska/Flickr user)

Leipzig, Germany (photograph by maco.foto/Flickr user)

Washington, DC (photograph by Daniel Lobo/Flickr user)

Newcastle Upon Tyne, England (photograph by Draco2008/Flickr user)

Huesca, Spain (photograph by Ekain Jiménez/Flickr user)

Philadelphia (photograph by Andrew Evans/Flickr user)

Reykjavik, Iceland (photograph by Michael Cory/Flickr user)

Philadelphia (photograph by Jukie Bot/Flickr user)

Valencia, Spain (photograph by anroir/Flickr user)

Zamora, Spain (photograph by inthesitymad/Flickr user)

View more photographs of ghost buildings in the Unconscious Art of Demolition Flickr group.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

One reply on “Ghost Buildings and the Inadvertent Beauty of Destruction”

  1. The second photo from Philadelphia is also of a project by artist Ben Volta and students from the community. They took the outlines left over from the former building and imagined/designed wallpaper based on what rooms had been there.

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