Urban Archaeology: The Detroit Public Schools Book Depository

A beautiful and interesting photo set with an explanatory blog post.

A lot of the commenters on the photos infer sad or even tragic meanings from them. I’m not so negative. Sometimes a ruin is just a ruin, and at least the warehouse can be partially recycled as an art object before it is ultimately razed and replaced by something else. It isn’t the Parthenon or even Aerojet, merely a decrepit warehouse owned by an inept municipal bureaucracy. It fits into the bigger story of Detroit’s many abandoned buildings, which is a story that interests the person who made the photos, but that is not a story that can be understood merely by looking at photos. But they certainly are nice photos.

(via John Brownlow)

4 thoughts on “Urban Archaeology: The Detroit Public Schools Book Depository”

  1. There are no straight lines in nature but we build with straight lines. When a structure begins to decay so does its straight lines. It begins to fill with more organic curves and fractal edges. We begin to see natural beauty in once sterile platonic lines. I think this is why ruins often seem so beautiful. We see the natural world fusing with the artificial.

    I think the book depository is clearly an emblem of official dysfunction. Long abandoned and unmaintained buildings in general indicate dysfunction but ones filled with contents are even more so. It speaks poorly of an organization that they can just walk away from a structure without trying to clean it up and mothball it.

  2. The photos are nice; the wasted lives are not. Yes, the colors, the lines are remarkable. But. Detroit and New Orleans have in common the kind of school systems to which no normal person would want to end their kids and a police/judicial system that often seems ineffective (& a culture that has a hazy sense of the rule of law).

  3. Ginny, how right you are about Detroit police/judicial system!

    The photos: they need some weeding out; I’d leave just 3 (the perspective in brownish tones, where the columns are reflected in the paddles; the elevation of window wall with light streaming in; the one with mushrooms, for textures and blue-gray/yellow color combination). Otherwise, I agree with you – nothing tragic or particularly sad about it.

    Maybe I’m just used to views like that. I have done so many demolition surveys with kilometers of film documenting it, it doesn’t strike me as symbolic of decay, only as “before” record. Before something useful – and hopefully beautiful- will be built in its place.

  4. A lot of the commenters on the photos infer sad or even tragic meanings from them. I’m not so negative.

    I am. I subscribe to the broken windows philosophy. Detroit is in worse shape now than New York was in the ’70s. Not only does it have broken windows, it has broken buildings.

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