Thursday, 13 March 2008

"The dust has only just began to form crop circles in the carpet..."

Recently a group of students from my university have been gathering to play hide and seek in a large building which the university faculty decided to abandon. The university has had a flux of new buildings over the past year and departments have been shuffled around to occupy them. It appears that a large amount of staff moved from the old tradition red-brick building to a new modernist place of glass and metal two minutes down the road: the old building now lies dormant and abandoned with every storey above the first floor unused by anyone.

So we play hide and seek in it. It’s a form of a trend called urban exploration where a group of people set out to explore the derelict and abandoned places of a city. When you really start looking for them, there really are a great number of empty buildings around urban areas: a shocking amount of unguarded places which are left completely abandoned.

As well as being enormously fun to have a huge building as a giant playground, it’s brought to my attention how wasteful it all is. At first I thought playing hide and seek there was absurd, one of those uniquely 'student' things to do because only students have the time to do such a thing. But really it works as a tacit protest against the wastefulness and senselessness of the university's position towards the building. The building has literally just been left as it was on the day the faculty moved out. It looks like people simply grabbed what they could carry and left the rest in whatever state of disarray it was in. Desks are left with papers piled on top of them. Computers sit gathering dust. The phones still get a dial tone. One sink in a departmental office was still full of dirty washing up; plates encrusted with cake crumbs and glasses containing small pools of wine, evidently left over from the moving celebrations. Chairs are left unattended. The rooms which aren’t locked are still full of old but perfectly good furniture.

The effect of being in the building is that of desolation. It’s like being inside one of those narratives where one survivor remains after the apocalypse has been and gone: ’28 Days Later’, ‘I Am Legend’, Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. The sight of it most resembles photos of the city of Pripyat in the Ukraine, the city inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, now nothing more than a ghost town. But whereas that city is actually unfit for human habitation due to radiation, the university building is prime real estate in the centre of an English city. It seems absurd to allow such a wonderful, traditional, and huge building to sit completely empty. And still full of useful items: desks, routers, computer monitors, wine boxes (admittedly turned to vinegar boxes by now), shelves, cutlery, filing cabinets, papers, hundreds of items which could still be used!

With such an emphasis today on recycling and, as the latest Budget can attest, going green, everyday waste like this ought to be addressed. Although it may not strictly be allowed, I know many students will use that building as a quiet place to relax or for some exploration or just to get some reading done in peace. It makes me glad that, even if the people who own the buildings don’t care for them, someone will appreciate them.


MMP said...

"urban exporation"
thank you- the term could come in useful....!

Simon XIX said...

Presumably it stands opposed to 'rural exploration'...