Thursday, 14 June 2012

Abandoned Spaces


Anyone who knows me will know that I have a fascination for urban exploration, and for those places that are 'lost' to regular habitation. I have a particular fondness for abandoned houses, theatres and so on, and I find these spaces both sad and mysterious. They don't always give up their stories easily, and a lot of imagination can be required to re-paper the peeling walls, shore up collapsing ceilings, or repopulate them with the fragmentary ghosts of their pasts. Whenever I pass a ruined house, or a crumbling wreck of a building, I always wonder who built it, and who abandoned it. What happened to its owners?

I'm particularly interested in these spaces as they occupy what is known as 'liminal space'. They are places on the boundaries of existence - they occupy a physical space, and provide a physical presence in the world that can be seen and felt, but they are denied their intended usage, and they stand alone, empty, and often unloved. A house without occupants seems to be half a house, while theatres that no longer host performances seem cold. They easily become sites of horror within popular culture - their existence on the boundary of life grants them a privileged position, and this position can become a portal, granting access to that which dwells beyond the boundary.

Having said that, I came across something entirely new over on Urban Ghosts - that of the 'stub street', or 'ghost ramp', which form part of the so-called abandoned motorways of Britain. Now these are different beasts from the crumbling ancestral homes or faded picture palaces that I normally look at, and it's made all the more strange because I've even seen some of these fragments of road - but not realised what they were. I thought they were still under construction - I didn't know they had stood half-built for any period of time. This image is of the ghost ramps at M8 West Street in Glasgow (Junction 20), taken in May 2003 while the West Street on-ramp was closed for bridge works (taken by Ddmiller).

I think part of what makes these so bizarre is the way they encapsulate such an inherent contradiction. A street is intended to connect points A and B - they allow journeys to be completed, and the implication of a street is that it leads somewhere. These streets and ramps don't. They stop, often suddenly, and halt the progress of the journey. Points A and B become disconnected and the route is severed. Humans will naturally find another route, even if it means making a new one, but there's something unsettling about a road to nowhere.

What I do have to wonder though is...what if they aren't roads to nowhere? What if they do lead somewhere - what would we find there?

Main image by Darren Kirby.

6 comments:

ganymeder said...

Thoughtful post, though the last paragraph sounds suspiciously like a writing promt! :)

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I love abandoned places too, Icy. I once spent an entire vacation visiting ghost towns in northern Ontario. Those roads, though? That's the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Can you imagine heading down one of those puppies late one night with one too many bevvies in ya?

Tony Noland said...

Fascinating post, Icy. Sometimes, these things are built in hopes of stimulating something that wouldn't naturally come to pass.

In a similar vein, when I was in Italy, I saw many, many half-built highways. Enormous roads and elevates ramps to nowhere. Why? Because each government had its pet projects, which were axed mid-stream when the new government came in. All of those roads to nowhere we monuments to the tumultuous political past.

Bizarre and freaky.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - Maybe it is!

Cathy - I just can't believe how many I've gone past and not realised!

Tony - Sometimes the past just won't go away.

Larry Kollar said...

Detroit is full of abandoned houses & office buildings, but many areas are unsafe for an out of town woman traveling alone. You might want to hit detroitblog.org and look at some of the older posts. (The focus has changed from urban exploration to spotlighting local business over time.)

I do like that idea of those stub roads going *somewhere* if you know how to drive them…

afullnessinbrevity said...

I love the idea of thinking about the history and the story behind an abandoned place. I'm a bit of an explorer and love traversing places and imagining the past.
Adam B @revhappiness

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