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Abandoned Architecture: Beauty in Decay

When viewing derelict and decaying man-made structures, common responses lament the travesty of waste and frustration with someone else’s inability to sustain good repair and maintenance.  “Too bad, it was such a beautiful building!”  “Who would let such an amazing place crumble like this?!”

There is a different perspective.  That there is beauty in this decay.  That it is hopeful and spiritual.

The elements of decay–rusting metal, peeling paint, rotting wood, vegetation infestation–are all natural processes that occur without human intervention.  If left to decay, such structures eventually crumble to the elements, back down to dust, and eventually and fully reclaimed by the earth.  This is further proof that the earth can heal itself.  It may take time, perhaps multiple human generations, for this too occur.  But at the very least, these decaying artificial structures ironically provide a glimmer of hope.

If you believe in an almighty Creator (and if you don’t, that’s cool too), then you likely believe that God created the heavens and earth, the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the grass under our feet and the trees over our heads.   He also provided humankind with the responsibility of environmental stewardship:

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.”

And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth. “

For centuries, humans, most likely as hunter-gatherers, lived harmoniously with nature.  Then the agricultural revolution changed everything.  Land became valuable and we began to horde it and create fences and borders.  Western civilization was born and evolved into a hungry beast feeding its dissatisfaction with more building and, eventually, industrial growth.  What started with the plowing of fields during the agricultural revolution has culminated with the building of stone, brick, and steel structures, more concentrated in our cities.

The stark contrast caused by this shift was made abundantly clear when the conquistadors and settlers grabbed land from Native Americans who had little or no understanding of real estate ownership.  The Natives believed the land belonged to everyone, much like those in the Old World and Middle East prior to the agricultural revolution.

In any event, during this process, humankind betrayed its responsibility of environmental stewardship by claiming dominion and subjugation over the land.  Some believe our current dominion over nature is an act of environmental terrorism.

While we all enjoy the benefits and luxuries of these roads and buildings, we undoubtedly are creating scars upon Mother Earth.  We continue to lay asphalt slabs criss-crossing the landscape and concrete, build brick buildings in lieu of trees and wildgrass, and otherwise replace the natural with artificial.  We do so with the subconscious and erroneous understanding that these buildings will be maintained and will be useful for an indefinite amount of time, if not forever.  However, even our own witness and logic dictates this to be untrue.  The world is complete with ancient ruins from prior civilizations.  Eventually, our current civilization will likely realize the same fate.  As humans are mortal, so are our creations.  Buildings will outlive their usefulness and will be discarded as a forgotten relic.  How will we deal with the remains?


But as we know, buildings crumble. With neglect, they become reclaimed by the earth, rotting and falling slowly with the pace of time and evolution. The earth is continually cleansing herself. Her use of vines, bacteria, precipitation, wind, and other tools do not leave abandoned buildings immune to her powers.  It is for this reason that decaying buildings are a vision of beauty.  While some lament the death of an artificial structure, what truly is happening is the Earth healing itself.  The scars are being smoothed and the materials of workmanship are being reclaimed by Nature.


This healing is beautiful. I yearn to capture an infinitely small portion of those long moments. The paint crackling like dried mud on a desert plain, the glass broken by its sagging frames, the metal twisted under the weight of time. It also provides a potent backdrop or canvas upon which other lively human stories may be told by providing an eloquent lens to the varying elements of the human condition such as loneliness and self-awareness.

As such, the title of this site, PhotoAbandon, is purposefully ironic. It is us humans who have abandoned our architectural creations. But with my photography, I am celebrating the Earth calling the materials back home.

Nevertheless, I hope you are able to draw your own conclusions. Or to simply enjoy the aesthetic beauty of reclamation.  Either way, don’t be base by calling it ruin porn.

-Jason Schlosberg