Abandoned, Not Forgotten: A Look at the Haunting Beauty of Modern Ruins

As the twentieth century recedes farther and farther away from us, many of its most recognizable symbols — factories and public schools, shopping malls and war monuments, diners and movie theaters — fall into disuse. Some decay slowly; others get demolished in one fell swoop.

Before they disappear, however, a few architecture and history lovers are documenting these modern ruins, many of which are still strikingly beautiful even in their abandoned, broken state. Here’s a selection of bloggers and photographers who recently focused on these fascinating structures.

Peeling Walls

Image from "Detroit: The Time Capsule"
Image from “Detroit: The Time Capsule,” by Liz at Peeling Walls.

At Peeling Walls, artist and photographer Liz shares images and reflections from her journeys across the Rust Belt, whether it’s an old theater in Upstate New York or a defunct aquarium in Ohio. She captures both the grandeur of the architecture and small, intimate details, like coffee mugs left behind in a kitchen cabinet. Behind her quest is a wish to preserve a slice of cultural history:

I think it’s important to document these buildings while they’re here, as quickly as possible, because things are changing so often and many are already renovated or razed, or just damaged beyond recognition and repair. Their stories are what shaped each city to become what it is today. It feels particularly urgent in Detroit, where wonderful things are happening and the population is quickly rising — and where close to 10,000 structures have already been demolished.


The Kosmaj Monument in Nemenikuće, Serbia. Image by Nate Robert.

For another take on post-communist decay, visit Hristo’s photo essay on the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria.

Travel blogger Nate Robert has a soft spot for Eastern Europe — especially the countries that were formerly part of Yugoslavia. In a recent post, Nate focuses on the socialist-era concrete monuments known as spomenik, which still dot the landscape from Macedonia in the south to Slovenia in the north. They’re often described as futuristic and cold, but Nate’s photos channel the monuments’ “beautiful crumbling decay” and their connection to human stories of loss and resistance.

Abandoned Southeast

A detail from Birmingham, Alabama's Empire Building. Image by Leland Kent.
A detail from Birmingham, Alabama’s Empire Building. Image by Leland Kent.

Some of the most fast-disappearing buildings in the US are shopping malls — read about their rapid decline in Paul Mullins’ recent essay, “Boredom in the Ruins of the Mall.”

In its short life — just four months — Leland Kent’s photoblog, Abandoned Southeast, has already become a rich archive of images taken across the southern US, from a shuttered school in New Orleans to a century-old skyscraper in Birmingham, Alabama, soon to be stripped of its patina to become a new boutique hotel.

A long-time architecture and history buff, Leland explains his obsession with decaying structures:

Several years ago I read an article online about the abandoned Six Flags theme park in New Orleans and became fascinated with what people left behind. The more abandoned places I went in, the more I wanted to see. I started photographing abandoned buildings after I noticed them starting to disappear — being renovated or demolished. These amazing buildings were lost to time and forgotten. I wanted to share with the world the things I was seeing and experiencing inside places people rarely go or get to see.

After the Final Curtain

Brooklyn's Loew's Kings Theater. Image by Matt Lambros.
Brooklyn’s Loew’s Kings Theater. Image by Matt Lambros.

New York-based photographer Matt Lambros has documented America’s most iconic old theaters from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, sharing his work on his blog and in his books — including the upcoming After the Final Curtain: the Fall of the American Movie Theater, which will be published in October 2016. Matt recounts the origin of his interest in crumbling theaters:

I started exploring abandoned buildings in the early aughts. Eventually, I started to wonder if there were abandoned theaters. I did some research and found the Loew’s Kings Theater in Brooklyn, NY, which became the subject of my first book. I enjoy photographing theaters because I find the ornate architecture and rich history fascinating.

Matt’s work channels these theaters’ faded glory, still visible underneath decades-old layers of dust.

Inspired by the work of the bloggers featured here? Write a new post in response to our recent writing prompt, Abandoned.