Megan McChesney on Modern Ruins

Any talk of “exploring ruins” usually leaves us thinking about ancient cultures. But today’s society has ruins, too: places bricked over, abandoned and unused, some built as recently as the last decade. This kind of decay—relics of past commerce, war or outmoded morals—lies forgotten all around us, often in plain sight. Curious individuals describing themselves as urban explorers, building hackers or haikyo collectors seek out these places where no one else wants to go, and document what they find. The resulting stories and images are, without exception, fascinating and breathtaking. They’re also a reminder of how short our memories are, and just how big our ambition can be.

Megan McChesney is a writer, online editor and web producer. Her writing has appeared in Fashion Magazine, the Toronto Star and Canadian Family. She is also the co-host of The Twitter Friends video podcast. Follow her @meganmcchesney

1. Sports World, Izu, Japan

In a country as densely populated as Japan, it seems impossible that there are any unused spaces, let alone spaces that have been abandoned. But contemporary ruins, known as haikyo, are surprisingly plentiful and consist of everything from love hotels to theme parks. Michael John Grist is an experienced haikyo explorer and photographer, and his shots of Sports World, an abandoned water park in the process of being reclaimed by the surrounding jungle, are stunning. His whole website is worth exploring.

2. The Burlington Nuclear Bunker, Wiltshire, U.K.

This 34-acre nuclear bunker, situated beneath the quiet town of Wiltshire in England, was kept top secret until 2005. Within its vastness lay a hospital, kitchens, a pub, offices, an immense phone system and an underground lake. Construction was completed in 1957, and the intent was for the facility to provide refuge for important members of the British government and between 4,000 and 6,000 support workers for up to 90 days, in the event of a thermonuclear disaster.

3. 100 Abandoned Houses, Detroit

One could argue that Detroit is the largest modern ghost town. With approximately 12,000 abandoned homes, it’s hard to believe that it was once a thriving beacon of industry. This photography project by Kevin Bauman is at once beautiful and tragic. And it makes anyone living in a city like Toronto green with envy that houses once so stately and beautiful are deteriorating and being sold for a song.

4. Prohibition-Era Bowling Lanes, Queens, New York

In 2009, new owners of an old garment factory in Queens uncovered a prohibition-era secret in its basement. Hidden beneath all the junk and boxes were a pair of well-preserved bowling lanes, believed to be have been built to provide entertainment for patrons of an illegal speakeasy. It’s nice to know that drinking and bowling went hand in hand then as they do now. A film scout photographed the space, so you might want to keep your eyes peeled for this location during a future episode of Boardwalk Empire.

5. Dark Stores, Ghostboxes, Dead Malls, U.S.A.

A mall is one of the clearest symbols of commerce there is. And when financial collapse and crisis leave people pinching pennies instead of shopping, the result is a lot of quiet stores. Artist Brian Ulrich travelled the U.S. capturing haunting images of empty or nearly empty malls, stores and restaurants, including the infamous Dixie Square Mall near Chicago, which was left to fall into ruin in 1979.