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New Book: The World of Urban Decay by Martin ten Bouwhuijs

March 6, 2014 Books, Featured 5 Comments

Exploring, and photographing, urban decay is a natural attraction to many of us. There’s something fascinating about viewing abandoned buildings as they slowly decay. A new book takes a look at urban decay in European:

Arresting art photography takes the curious into the depths of worlds that normally remain hidden behind gardens overrun with wild vegetation and tall fences blazoned with “Keep Out!” signs. Photographer Martin ten Bouwhuijs’s regular urban exploration missions throughout Western Europe have culminated in this collection of haunting images made in abandoned hospitals, morgues, monasteries, power plants, schools, factories, swimming pools, and castles. Each location is described in a brief history. Capturing the venues in various states of neglect, these photographs reveal remnants of once-habitable spaces: from furniture still in place but covered in thick dust to dramatic vaulted ceilings speckled in mold and water stains to walls that have given way in complete disrepair. More than 150 dramatic images continually heighten anticipation by showing long views down empty corridors and wide views of rooms with doors that lead elsewhere – you never really know what you are going to see around the next corner. (Schiffer Books)

This book is beautifully photographed, with 196 color photos. I’d love to see someone do a St. Louis version.

Cover of the hardbound book
Cover of the hardbound book

Urban decay usually involves very old buildings, but can also include abandoned Olympic sites. The World of Urban Decay is available locally through Left Bank Books.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. guest says:

    I’ve always found the fascination with “ruin porn” to be generally offensive. It’s mostly an activity of middle class white people leering into the shattered world of others’ suffering. At least here in St. Louis. In the Dewey Decimal System, file it next to graffiti artists, brick thieves, and hipster pastimes. Question for the lovers of this “genre”: Is this the best thing you can do with your free time?

  2. BC says:

    Looks like an interesting read. This is quite an ‘activity’ in Japan as well. Check out this blog for more on urban decay (and plenty of images) in that country:


  3. guest says:

    I guess if you don’t have much chance to see abandoned buildings this would be sort of cool. But if you spend any time in St. Louis neighborhoods, this kind of thing is sort of old hat. Rather than “appreciating” the emptiness, we need to do something about it. Ruin porn tours is hardly it.

    Similar sentiment for the loss of our latest historically significant STL building – the Palladium. All the photos and memories in the world don’t do a thing to save it from demolition. If the goal is redevelopment, the “chronicling” of decay is hardly effective. It’s sort of gross. “Hey, let’s load up the wagon from our safe and happy home and go photo dilapidated buildings in ESL or NSTL or wherever!” Pretty lame.

    Frankly, it sort of glamorizes our decline. Really have a problem with that. I don’t see how anyone can think that sort of thing is “cool”. But hey, maybe it is. Maybe I’m just not chic enough to understand true art. Right?

    • gmichaud says:

      Actually books like these are what helped people understand what is happening to America. Years ago there were a few books like Lost New York and Lost New Orleans and then you have Richard Nickel in Chicago who was instrumental in furthering awareness of preservation and was so passionate about it he lost his life photographing a building under demolition.
      And yes the photographs are art, nicely composed, attractive, that certainly helps. They are also social commentary, history and a lot more. What kind of culture do we have that we can just walk away from what is pictured above on the cover of the book for instance.
      I agree with you that we should be actually doing what is necessary to save buildings. Not every building can be saved to be sure, but the wanton neglect and destruction of old St. Louis is unforgivable.
      This book highlights many concerns, that as you point out, are still active with the Palladium and many other buildings like the Castle Ballroom, which in just in the past few days it was reported that it is going to be demolished.
      Turns out the politically connected guys that make policies concerning the reuse of buildings owned it. Meanwhile the slightest indiscretion in Lafayette Square or Soulard property owners are nailed to the wall.
      So yes a book like this is still capable of generating discussion and worth the effort, it is still a significant subject to be sure.

      • dempster holland says:

        Remember Mayor Slay wanted to put absentee landlords in jail if they tool too
        long to fix up their buildings. Obviously that threat did not extend to his own staff


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