New York's Abandoned Landmarks & Endangered Vernacular Architecture

October 2015 -

Over the Spring and Summer of 2015, Curbed NY published a series of my photo essays about New York City's endangered vernacular architecture and abandoned landmarks, for my column Camera Obscura. Written as the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law, these essays explored some of the important places that remain unprotected in NYC, including historic structures that the Landmarks Commission has refused to designate, as well as officially designated Landmarks that have been abandoned and left to collapse. In both cases, the fates of these important structures have been left to the whims of developers and city agencies.

These photo essays included everything from 30 year old Bronx casitas to 1930's bungalows & boardwalks to the 19th century officer's houses of Admiral's Row, the famed Fulton Fish Market, and a collections of civic structures - schools, courthouses, police precincts - which are now facing demolition, collapse, or redevelopment.

A link to each photo essay is included below:

- In the Bronx, Art Fills an Abandoned Neighborhood Landmark (April 2015)
- What's Next for New York City's Many Abandoned Landmarks? (May 2015)
- Revisiting Brooklyn's Abandoned Admiral's Row Before It's Gone (June 2015)
- As High Bridge Reopens, a Neglected Park Remains in Its Shadow (June 2015)
- What Comes Next for the Changing Coney Island Boardwalk? (July 2015)
- Rockaway Boardwalk Re-emerges With a New Identity (August 2015)
- Is This The End of the Brooklyn Bungalow? (August 2015)
- The Slow Resurgence of the Rockaway Bungalow (September 2015)
- Inside the Casitas of the South Bronx's Community Gardens (October 2015)

Documenting A Decade of Destruction

March 13, 2015 -

Ten years ago today, I decided to explore an abandoned powerhouse in Long Island City. It was not my first time inside an abandoned building, but it was the first time I purposefully brought a camera with me to photograph the space. Roaming through the old structure, into empty offices, dusty tennis courts, 275-foot smokestacks, and a turbine hall with a missing roof, I captured the initial images for a documentary project that has continued throughout the past decade.

125,000 photographs later, this project is still evolving and expanding. Begun as an attempt to document the rapid destruction of New York City's industrial heritage in the new millennium, this growing collection of photographs cohered two years later into a series of photo essays, published online once every two weeks since March 13, 2007. There are now 170 original photo essays in this series, documenting New York City's abandoned and industrial edges on this website, and at my Curbed column Camera Obscura, which began in 2012.

Over the years, the focus of these essays has changed from Urban Exploration adventures inside post-industrial ruins, to portraits of decaying and demolished neighborhoods, to considerations of how humans are altering the natural landscape, especially along the waterfront. Ultimately, the project has grown to become a large scale portrait of the specific effects of the Anthropocene Era within New York City, chronicling the permanent impact of humans on the environment, from the industrial revolution to today.

The Long Island City Power Station, built in 1906, was a coal powered facility that ceased operations in the 1920's and became home to the Schwartz Chemical Company in the 1950's. Shortly after I visited it, the building was partially demolished, like many of the city's other century-old powerhouses, refineries, silos, factories, warehouses and garages, which I have also photographed. Yet even as the aging structures of the industrial revolution are swept away from the American landscape, the ongoing impact of the pollution caused by human activities continues to shape our future. Radiation, oil spills, chemical waste and sewage overflows are all daily realities in New York City, and are helping to cause the sea level rise that will bring more storms like Hurricane Sandy.

In the context of human history, or of a geologic era, 10 years is nothing. But within the past decade, an enormous amount of change has occurred, both in the built environment and in our understanding of the impact we are having on the globe. In the brilliantly illuminating book "The Sixth Extinction," published in 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert explores the meaning of this period of time, as it exists within the Anthropocene, the current geological era that is only now being recognized: "Even a moderately competent stratigrapher will, at the distance of a hundred millions years or so, be able to tell that something extraordinary happened at the moment in time that counts for us as today. This is the case even though a hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man - the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories - will be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper."