What causes us to forget a building? Deemed useless through changing trends, through war or natural disasters? And why can some find a new lease of life, whereas some becomes relics to the past? HEKKTA delve into the question, taking a look back at some abandoned and forgotten histories.
It is very rare you see an abandoned building these days.
When you pass an old, forgotten building or structure it’s almost a case of double taking. Especially in London where every square foot is developed within an inch of it’s life; you almost can’t believe there are still abandoned buildings in such a sought after space.
But what happens when giant architectural projects, used for decades, are suddenly eerily empty? Nobody wanting to buy the space, and no architect willing to reinvent it?
A fascinating new book by Dan Barasch, titled Ruin and Redemption in Architecture, delves into the history of the forgotten buildings, to question if or how they adapt to changing times.
Obvious examples is those of wartime architecture; mammoth objects such as huge German aircraft hangers or massive concrete barracades suddenly rendered useless overnight. As with many, they are left for a while, the country still licking its wounds from the conflict. But then what?
Some places, and in this case whole islands, are just simply left in the way they were, everybody either too afraid or too ashamed to go back to fix them up to a new purpose.
This is what happened on Hashima Island off the coast of Japan. Once home to a prolific coal mining facility, the Mitsubishi Corporation believed there to be a vast oil bed beneath it, and they were right. So right, that it became a key source in powering Japan’s industrial expansion during the Second World War.
The community that it was to become was built backwards. In order to house the miners, huge apartment complexes sprung up, aswell as restaurants and shops, and soon there was a thriving community of miners and families all crammed into this tiny island.
But when the coal ran out, almost overnight it was abandoned, Mitsubishi leaving the island as it was, and eager to hide the fact that much of the oil extracting was carried out by forced labour, they deserted it and never returned.
The island, which was once the most densely populated place in the world, was completely uninhabited for half a century.
So what is Hashima Island now?
Well, after it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015, the island with a very murky history became a tourist attraction.
Is this because it’s past was too visceral to try to reimagine? Or that the site of hundreds of completely abandoned towers and houses was an attraction enough in itself?
It was even the location used in the infamous scene in Skyfall between Bond and Silva on the deserted island. If it was fit for a baddie in a Bond film then maybe it was too eery to try to bring back to life!
However, architectural decay and eventually death is not the way for all wartime structures.
The Berlin Tempelhof Airport, built in 1927, was used on a huge scale during WW2, but as time went on the airport was used less and less, until in 2008 it completely closed to air travel. Once a key cog in the German war effort, now merely an empty terminal.
Dilapidated and adandoned, the question facing architects is how do you transform the use of the space, whilst paying respects to it’s history? Many projects like this never truly find the answer, and sit for decades until the land becomes cheap enough to be bought up by developers.
However, now the Tempelhof Airport is a gigantic park, a huge public space bigger than New York’s Central Park, host to several events, and even skaters are welcomed to use the indoor terminals on the ramps and rail jumps. Ironically, it even started housing refugees in 2017 during the refugee crisis.
It is a space that has changed it’s face with the times, and despite the remnants of the past being glaringly obvious, it’s the city and the people who have faciliated and accepted it’s adaptation.
So maybe the will of the people, and specifically the local authority, is arguably more important than any developer demand or architectural ambition.
It’s not always wars that cause us to leave full societal establishments to rot.
Buffalo Central Terminal was once a bustling hub for New Yorkers coming in and out of the Big Apple; a huge art deco train station designed by the same man behind Grand Central, Alfred T. Fellheimer, it was a station for the booming era of the 20s.
It began full operation in 1929, and almost immediately after this grand station opened it’s tracks, the Great Depression hit.
Combine this with the changing trend from rail to automobiles, the station never fully took off and was left abandoned for around 50 years, a hotspot for vandals, kids, skaters etc.
Once again, this train station with huge ambition at birth, struggled to find a new identity. Such beautiful design, of the moment architecture with massive potential, but nobody wanted it.
It was too expensive to knock down, estimated at something like $50 million, and too specific for people to reimagine. After it’s decay, an organisation sought to restore it to it’s former glory, and it is now a museum. A similar fate to Hashima.
But what happens when grand plans and big budgets fall short?
This was certainly the case with the infamous Torre de David in Caracas, Venezuela.
Standing at 620 feet, and the third largest building in the country, when the skyscraper began construction it was intended to become a huge bank. The Centro Financiero Confinanzas began construction in 1990, but due to the Venezuelan banking crisis, the building was never completed and was just simply left uninhabited.
Then the squatters moved in. Thousands and thousands of people, with whole families, essentially moved into the tower making it world’s largest vertical slum. People would have homes, businesses and even shops within the skyscraper, a skyscraper with no running water or electricity.
They are still there today, and despite government efforts to remove them, they stood their ground.
So perhaps the abandonment of buildings need not be a negative, but rather their use changes hands as opposed to changing it’s purpose entirely.