Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Peace and decay


Am I the only one who feels a certain peace and serenity in the presence of the city’s decaying buildings? It’s not unlike the feeling I have when driving through the mountains or careening along the Pacific Ocean. It’s that of a simple, meditating calm brought out or produced by the energy that is nature reclaiming the Earth.

Growing tree roots slowly crack the cement, wind and rain rot wood, shingle and even wear away metal, children break out windows, letting in the elements to eat away at the buildings’ soft, man-made innards.

I’m all for the growth and redevelopment of our city, although I can’t help but cheer on nature’s patient power as she tears away at the structures we’ve built, used and carelessly abandoned. Please don’t get me wrong: I am a fan of great architecture and admit sheepishly that even tract housing can be a rather nice complement to the Earth’s contour.

This reclaiming, though, is poetic justice. When I’m in need of creative inspiration, nothing in this flat Midwest sparks me like Detroit’s underbelly. Often you can find an old building accessible for a walk through. I like to imagine people at work here years ago, rushing around with the buzz of machinery reverberating. I wonder what it smelled like and I wonder what was made here.

I imagine the life and death of the building, from empty field to working structure to ad hoc shelter, until the last standing brick walls, overrun by tree and green, are knocked down and hauled away.

My favorite dilapidation is on the west side – its walls are crumbling and it looks rather plain from the outside. Once inside the gates, it’s like a hidden courtyard with lush vines, trees and leaves draping everything, sucking all noise out of the air, creating a postindustrial, Zen-like garden.

These are nature’s art spaces just as the mountains and the ocean are, a place to retreat and contemplate. Many of these dilapidated buildings are being torn down and paved over. I buried my precious canine buddy, Django Boone, in one lot, and this is good because he’s been immortalized in a way.

I’m all for the rebuilding of Detroit. There will always be a steady supply of empty buildings for me to ramble through, because nature is relentless.

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