Post-industrial Meccas and the phenomenon of urban exploration.
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POST-INDUSTRIAL MECCAS AND THE PHENOMENON OF URBAN EXPLORATION: Joseph Bloor December 31st 1997 Buffalo New York State U.S.A The grand plans for a Paris Boulevard stretching between Buffalo Central Station and Buffalo City Hall failed, and for the last 25 years the Rail Terminal stands empty. Still as imposing as it's nearest metaphysical neighbour, Grand Central in New York City, but a ghost of what it once must have been. Merciless scrap merchants and peddlers, together with the unwanted attention lavished by the vandals of a city in the midst of an industrial and economic post mortem have stripped the decaying monolith bare. The planned street stretches two miles out from the city centre and leads to an off axis asphalt plaza in front of the station. It is not a place we should be, even within the relative safety of an automobile. The only signs of life in the empty lots are the glowing oilcans, burning trash and warming a large but invisible homeless population. The street is deserted save for the shadows of a criminal element that are etched into the bare brick walls of abandoned townhouses and failing businesses. The plaza itself has more potholes than 'The Beetles' "Blackburn Lancashire" featured in "Day in the Life"1; upturned concrete flooring slabs and abandoned vehicles dotted like fireflies force the approach into a pitfall picturesque detour. The main building owes more to the builders of gothic arches than to the American Dream of the Skyscraper. The ticketing hall seems larger than that of Grand Central, maybe because it has been stripped of all but the most inaccessible of its fittings, and even then, some gravity defying feats have been pulled to remove the chandeliers from their privileged positions. Its raw brick surfaces, and the fact that it is currently occupied by three people (as opposed to the thirty thousand commuters and tourists that flood through its still functioning big brother every day) ...read more.
The work of Gordon Matta Clark contains a level of urban exploration, in locating the sites for his work he frequently occupied areas of urban decay. Rather than being through some pre-occupation with the romantic notion of the ruin, these were the sites which were available, and logistically where such 'ground breaking' work could occur. "Among the conditions my training and personal inclination have taught me to deal with, is neglect and abandonment. These words when applied to children or human beings of any age evoke a profound call for alarm and rectification, yet when existing in massive proportions throughout our urban environment evokes only bureaucratic and juridical ambivalence and inaction."3 These comments demonstrate Matta Clark's proactive interest in individual rights of free expression, and the state of freedom in society. Attempting to clarify these 'situations' through artistic intervention in the urban fabric. Matta Clark's awareness of prevailing conditions and their need for improvement, exposes one of the beliefs held by urban explorers: That these peripheral spaces are given up (through neglect) by their associated organisations, and in the action of inhabiting them (winning them back) once again become part of the public realm, that people were once able to freely explore. There is a distinct moment when you leave a place you are allowed to be and enter a place where you are not. It takes momentary courage to break the plane and flout the rules. Once you pass through the portal, mental and physical you enter a new mind state, a lawless environment. Less philosophically it is like finding a secret level within a video game, though far more rewarding. In fact the parallel goes beyond the simple discovery of hidden doors or passageways. The Jinx and Infiltration websites function as "cheat books" not for places within a virtual gaming environment, but for places in the real world. Documentation of the Lawrence Subway Station, part of the Toronto Underground pans out into a how to guide for future explorers. ...read more.
Innovations in building technology and materials have been made in order to increase the length of time a building might stand. It is apparent that the monument syndrome of static permanent architecture as persisted throughout history into these dynamic times."10 Despite striving for monumentality, in many cases the building seen as a throwaway item. This leads to the deterioration of large areas of architectural fabric of the city, where the property market is all-pervasive. "Most industrial products are today manufactured for useful life-spans much shorter and costing less than those which only recently were considered essential and economical. But immovable human shelters and cities are manufactured for a physical life far beyond their socially useful life on the original site."11 Rather than advocating the design and construction of dynamic architectural structures, which physically and functionally adapt to the needs of the users. Thereby remaining profitable and legitimate within the capitalist economy. We should accept the directions of social and economic fate, with an understanding that we can gain valuable lessons from periods of decline. By stepping off the well beaten track we are able to record conditions which we may feel are disturbing but are an essential part of contemporary society. But more importantly we can develop an insight into our own condition, through the exploration of these dwellings. These buildings reveal a miscalculation by the planners and architects and this maybe the reason why they are shunted to the periphery. Cordoned off as if they might infect the rest of the city, public access is denied by the respective councils to reduce the risk of an epidemic. The dysfunctional syndrome seems to threaten those responsible for its appearance, but allows the buildings themselves and their occupants to experience the true essence of their partnership. By inhabiting the places of this essay, you will feel truly alive. "To preserve the fourfold, to save the earth, to receive the sky, to await divinities, to initiate mortals-this fourfold preserving is the simple essence of dwelling. ...read more.
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