“At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which in itself is a form of horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.” – W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
Notes from the Zone: Factory
A huge, sprawling and long abandoned manufacturing plant now dominates the isolated forested site, which was built on what would once have been the pleasure gardens of the run-down and itself almost derelict big house which backs onto it. The structure is slowly being reclaimed by nature however as rain comes through holes in the roof and trees grow very close to the building from out of its once manicured grass verges. I even, to my shock, encountered a confused deer walking around inside. Foxes, birds and other small wildlife no doubt enter for shelter or curiosity from time to time as well. It’s quite post-apocalyptic and in some alternate reality I can easily imagine these types of places becoming almost sacred places of mystery and confusion where survivors return to sift through the wreckage of their civilisation and ponder what has happened to them and their society. A decaying monument to the illusion of permanence.
I don’t know what other people feel when they enter the building for the first time but I was on my own and it was fear and trepidation. Time seemed to slow down inside as I quickly found myself absorbed in the moment. I didn’t know yet if I had been observed on camera and if security guards were on their way to apprehend me, or if I was about to disturb someone else who might be lurking inside who might mistake me for some lone authority figure sent to remove them. It struck me that this was one of those places where the normal rules of society do not extend and more than once asked myself why exactly I was putting myself in this vulnerable situation. It hadn’t been so bad outside in the light but once inside no one could help me but myself. In that respect the Zone is truly a separate territory, you might as well be in outer space, and every one of your instincts knows this and starts working to the maximum to protect you, to give you some edge if you need it or the chance to escape, fight or flight.
Once inside I let my eyes adjust to the low light as they became sensitive for any movement and I scanned for any sounds that might mean trouble. While there was little movement inside there were sounds which I constantly had to filter for danger. Coupled with this I didn’t want to make any noise myself to alert others to my presence so had to step carefully. Consequently I found that simply walking through the building took a lot of mental focus. I don’t think this same experience would have happened if I had gone in company. If so I imagine I would have felt more confident and blasé with strength in numbers and anyone we might have come across would probably have already heard our bravado coming and avoided any contact or confrontation with us. I also tried hard to never let a route to an exit out of my sight, although this was not always possible as I pushed myself to go deeper into the huge dark voids I came across (of course I never thought to bring a torch).
If you search for abandoned buildings or factories online you very quickly notice they all look-alike and my own pictures here are no exception but I still love their timelessness and lack of direct reference points. They could all be from one enormous broken and useless structure and in a sense they are. I found that all of the machines had been stripped out with some of the internal walls removed to facilitate this and storey high piles of rubble marked where these walls had once been. So the huge rooms were mostly empty with scattered debris and cement platforms or the ends of jagged metal rods sticking out of the floor revealing where a machine had once stood. Much of the ceiling ducting, pipe-work and lighting was left intact however. For over a decade from when I was 18 I worked as a printer in places very much like this and can remember traces on the floor of previous machines dating from when the factory had been used for other purposes. So in some ways being here was very familiar to me and made me wonder about the fate of the previous buildings I had worked in as I know that all of those companies have since closed down too.
There is something strange in itself of being in a place which is no longer used for the purpose it was constructed and designed for. A place where key elements are also no longer present, such as machines, contracts and a workforce, makes it an even more incongruous and purposeless space. Sometimes a building can be converted and used for another process but often it’s more economical to build a plant from scratch. I cannot reveal the location I am talking about but I know they had been manufacturing a now almost obsolete piece of technology here and that was the main reason for the facility to close. Previous to this there had been another company on the same site who had made a different product which closed as it was probably cheaper to manufacture it elsewhere.
If left as it is, like many other empty industrial plants across the country, will it overtime find a new hidden purpose we might not fully understand? If buildings are not maintained nature gradually takes them back. These types of abandoned places become many things to different people; eyesores in the landscape, deteriorating and dangerous places to visit unsupervised, investment opportunities, locations for artists to clandestinely photograph and explore, a venue for vandals to wreck and robbers to plunder. I have always liked them and feel very drawn to wander and explore these out of time and upside down places for some reason; still standing like many other ruins from earlier times, but not held in the same regard, perhaps because we know their histories too intimately.
Something different however is claimed to be happening at this ruin due to its location in the Zone. Everything that gets placed here is said to become charged with the same mysterious energy that permeates it and the factory is no exception. All of the industry and activity that went on here is thought to have even fed whatever is so unusual about the place, bringing it some claim, to some even higher level that is just waiting to be rediscovered, understood and tapped into. I don’t know what this might be or what form it might take but I have a strong feeling that the Zone has always been a place of pilgrimage, a place in which to dream. Perhaps those dreams, wishes and desires really can take shape and become real here for some reason if you believe.