What's Behind Our Fascination with Abandoned Spaces?

Decaying buildings have a certain appeal. But what is it that draws us to them?
Andrew Amistad / Unsplash
If you were asked to describe the feeling evoked by photos of abandoned places you'd likely fumble for words. Is it wistfulness? Nostalgia? Remorse? Enchantment? Dread? Wonder? For most of us, it's a muddled and mysterious cocktail of all six.
Whatever the reason, we're relentlessly compelled toward artistic shots of deserted homes, abandoned theme parks, and decommissioned factories. The mass popularity of subreddits like r/AbandonedPorn and Instagram accounts like @deserted.places are clear evidence that they've found a wide audience online.
But what is it that has spurred our love affair with ruined sites and urban decay?

It's not a trend - it's human nature

Thanks to the internet, indulging in the appeal of abandoned places no longer requires breaking and entering. These days, urban exploration is as easy as swiping your thumb or hitting 'play' on a YouTube video. But our curiosity concerning these beautifully eerie locales was rampant long before the internet opened the doors for easy access.
As it turns out, our fascination with abandoned places isn't really a trend at all - it's a pretty consistent part of human nature. The obsession is even well-documented in our art and writing.
Renaissance painters, for example, frequently chose Greek ruins as subjects for their masterpieces. During the Romantic era, abandoned castles were considered artworks of the highest aesthetic.
The internet has made it easier to feed our obsession on abandoned spaces - but it certainly didn't create it.

Why we can't look away

When attempting to describe urban decay photos, the word "post-apocalyptic" often comes to mind - and for very good reason.
In his paper Apocalypse, or, the Logic of Late Anthropological Ruins US academic Jacob McGrath argues that, "The posthuman gaze at modernist ruins reminds us that, no matter how many new objects we produce, consume, and discard, those objects will in many cases far outlive us."
Whether we realize it or not, our fixation with abandoned places stems from an underlying fascination with our own mortality. What's most jarring is that these sites aren't just portals to the past; they're also ghostly windows into an inevitable future - a future where we're no longer around.