Where cathedrals go to die


When large container ships can contain or ship no more, they're sent halfway round the world to so-called "breaking yards," where they're dismantled (basically by hand), their metal is salvaged, and their intact structures, down to the doors and toilet seats, are put back onto the global marketplace.
Today, these yards tend to be in Bangladesh or India – but location is just a question of cheap labor and (nonexistent) environmental regulations.
It's toxic work.


In his book The Outlaw Sea, William Langewiesche visits the Alang shipbreaking yard in Gujarat, India. It is "a shoreline strewn with industrial debris on the oily Gulf of Cambray, part of the Arabian Sea."
His descriptions are great: "Dawn spread across the gargantuan landscape. Alang, in daylight, was barely recognizable as a beach. It was a narrow, smoke-choked industrial zone six miles long, where nearly two hundred ships stood side by side in progressive states of dissection, yawning open to expose their cavernous holds, spilling their black innards onto the tidal flats... Night watchmen were swinging the yard gates open now, revealing the individual plots, each demarcated by little flags or other markers stuck in the sand, and heavily cluttered with cut metal and nautical debris."


He visits a hull rerolling mill where "perhaps a hundred emaciated men moved through soot and heavy smoke, feeding scrap to a roaring furnace leaking flames from cracks in the side. The noise was deafening. The heat was so intense that in places I thought it might sear my lungs. The workers' clothes were black with carbon, as were their hair and their skin. Their faces were so sooty that their eyes seemed illuminated."


These photographs of a shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh are all by Edward Burtynsky, however, which makes this at least my fourth post about the man – but what can I say? His work is amazing.
There's something almost mythological in the sight of men standing round campfires amidst the toxic debris of a structure they themselves have taken apart. A displaced landscape of rare metals leaching into the sand beneath them, poisonous deltas flowing to the sea. Metallurgical micro-hydrology.
Surviving – or not – on the scraps of a first world that sent its waste elsewhere.


But what I was actually thinking – what this post was supposed to be about, in fact – was how cool it'd be if old buildings weren't destroyed by wrecking balls, bulldozers, or well-placed explosives – they were instead uprooted in their entirety, packed onto Panamax cargo ships and dropped onto some beach somewhere, in a tropical archipelago. Complete, intact, ready for salvage. Two hundred old stone cathedrals lined up in the mist at dawn, arches ready for cutting, naves yawning open like hulls of old tankers. Behind them, American football stadiums.
On another island, skyscrapers.
Notre-Dame is collapsing? Well, ship it to the islands, where flying buttresses, arches, and colonnades are stacked round like an inland reef.
Chartres has irrepairable structural damage? The cathedral in Köln? St. Peter's? The entire arabesque'd core of Venice? Off to the islands! Strapped to the flatbeds and cargo holds of unregistered ships, the Houses of Parliament go floating by.
The Seagrams Building? Swiss Re? Canary Wharf? The Empire State Building? The White House?
Stonehenge?


Recognizable chunks of famous architecture litter the island shores of a barely visited archipelago. Sent there on a rusting fleet of container ships.
European cathedrals overgrown with palm trees, half-buried in sand, their crypts exposed, stained glass catching every sunset. Wind-blown bank towers lilt to one side, covered in creeper vines and home to bats.
The intact floors of formerly grand 5th Avenue high-rises, complete with chandeliers, are laid-out in familiar rooms and corridors – but now they're infested with crocodiles and half-burnt by fire.
A photojournalist arrives, walking stunned through the python-infested arches of what was once Westminster Abbey...


(With thanks to Leah Beeferman for the tip, and with the oddly synchronicitous realization that gravestmor just linked to Burtynsky's shipbreaking photos, too...)

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Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

This site is consistenly well-fortified in syllabic content.

December 11, 2005 3:20 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

And... you think that's good or bad? Uh oh.

December 11, 2005 3:26 PM  
Blogger Geist said...

Mythic motifs indeed. Of course, anime has already "imagined" these post-civilization, world-of-debris settings at great length. Me, I never get tired of seeing them.

December 11, 2005 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a compelling notion, yes--but pragmatic, no. there are a number of reasons we should advocate for the recycling of chartres, the palast der republik, a miesian staircase.
disregard for a moment the potent political and semiological implications of using locally grown spolia for your 'hometown' building projects. imagine instead a 22nd-century 'chicago'-area grocery market kluged together with w-sections mined from some derelict structure in a neighborhood formerly known as lakeshore drive...

December 11, 2005 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and incidentally: some bronzed windows may soon be found floating around berlin--http://www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=26&story_id=24661&name=Berlin's+palace+coup

December 11, 2005 8:25 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Geist - The anime thing is totally true, but you should know that BLDGBLOG's secret fantasy here - well, one of several thousand - is to make BLDGBLOG: The Film: somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki, Akira and... Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe, meets a James Bond/Metropolis/2001 mash-up. Full of automated cities, offshore oil platforms, abandoned Gothic cathedrals sinking in the sands of south Pacific archipelagos, robotized Venices, buildings that snow diamonds on you, glass islands, floating greenhouses, singing landscapes/geotechnical wind instruments, fake suns, trans-Asian highway megabahns, and loads of weird, fisheye-Futurist drain-tunnel networks.

AKA: BLDGBLOG: The Film.

Only I can't draw. And I'm not a filmmaker. So...

And, anonymous, this idea isn't practical at all! But I would support you wholeheartedly if you wanted to turn the Lakeshore Drive into a house or two. Or even if you wanted to ship it to the south Pacific. Or put it in Berlin: performance art.

December 12, 2005 2:17 AM  
Anonymous marcus said...

+
For your film - the self building nano-towers in William Gibson's, 'Virtual Light' that seem to ripple out of the corner of your eye.

In fact they would be perfect for the building graveyard too - pre programmed to cut themselves up and rearrange their pieces picturesquely around an abandoned beach.

December 12, 2005 3:37 AM  
Blogger Geist said...

I can't highly enough recommend the Blane anime manga for the aesthetics of urban decay. Strata after strata is travelled through by the "hero" through an ever increasing scale or magnitude of size and monumentalism of architecture the frailty of which seems to correlate to its size.
If you're interested but can't find the anime, send me an email.
The film. I can't draw, and am not a filmmaker either. But I would like to join the project.
Incidentally, industrial debris, my hometown of Itzehoe had (until this year) a Tarkovsky like site of an abandoned Limeworks, called Alsen Zementfabrik. There are several pictures in the archive on my blog.

December 12, 2005 3:48 AM  
Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

There was an excellent program on Discovery Times about this about a month ago.

December 12, 2005 10:11 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

A show on shipbreaking? Or on European cathedrals being sliced down, arch by arch, into the sand of distant archipelagos?

December 12, 2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Geist - Cool pics. I'll look into the Blane manga, too, though I'll probably die of jealousy... Meanwhile, if you're bored, check out the draining webring, which is also something of a post-civilizational photo ring. Loads of abandoned factories, abandoned villages, abandoned quarries, abandoned hospitals. Abandoned catacombs. If it can be abandoned, in fact – there's probably a picture of it up there.

And if the film ever comes to pass - I'll give you a heads-up. Location consultant. (Speaking of limeworks, by the way, do you know this post? Check it out.

Marcus, meanwhile, hopefully those riots aren't in your neighborhood; in any case, I'll look at Virtual Light, I've never read it. I've always liked the title. Your comment makes me picture migratory architecture, however: the bldg knows it's past saving, structurally, and so like a big sad whale it uproots itself and heads off south to the archipelagos. All those old arches, sagging; lift shafts, broken; windows, streaked with rain... And the bldg walks to its death in the south seas... Preprogrammed to arrange itself on an abandoned beach.

2001 meets The Architectural Review via J.G. Ballard? Instead of HAL-9000 the whole bldg walks to its death...

Here's the film: two kids are still inside the building when it uproots itself to walk. The building starts talking to them. The kids befriend the building and experience the world outside their twee English village for the first time, looking through the building's windows: they see the world, new landscapes, storms, new stars. But then it's time for the building to die; he lets them both out, says a sad goodbye - all the kids in the cinema are crying by now - and the sun sets on that Pacific archipelago. The kids are airlifted home. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Concept by Marcus Trimble and BLDGBLOG.

December 12, 2005 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in a Sony store and they were playing the show from Discovery in HD on their massive tv - it was mesmerizing.

December 12, 2005 3:18 PM  
Blogger cemenTIMental said...

Truely amazing photos...

Another anime recommendation is Mamoru Oshii's legendary art anime "Angel's Egg". It's basically pure atmosphere and ruined enviroments, beautiful film. Lots of statues.

Some info about it and pics (tho non of the more architectural scenes) on my somewhat halfbaked fansite here: http://www.cultivatetwiddle.com/angelsegg/

You can't get the film on DVD with english subs, but you can download a 'fansub' version using Bitttorrent here:
http://www.animesuki.com/details.php/7095.html

Highly recommended!!

Actually most of his films, even the more mainstream stuff like the Ghost in the Shell movies, are very architecture-based, and he certainly likes his ruins! (As well as rain, basset hounds, doves, boat rides, etc)

December 12, 2005 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Discovery Times Channel had a show on ships being dissassembled by Indians.

December 12, 2005 9:52 PM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

Or Gutted from the BBC and then imported to PBS? On Scottish cod fishing boats, forced to be dissambled per European Union laws by burly Danishes with Taiwanese/Singaporeans/? milling about, scanvenging for spare parts? Which was butchered by PBS, as one New York Times critic grumbled, by the repeated interjections on globalism and environmental issues in what was essentially a poignant family drama? And substituting Standard English for the Scottish brio in the original version? And I just now realized there really could be this other show from The Discovery Times Channel.

December 13, 2005 1:37 AM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

Incidentally, any room for The 1/4 Garden? For those allergic to solemnity, symbolism, and jingoism.

December 13, 2005 1:44 AM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

One more thing...in the somewhat miscast movie, What Dreams May Come, towards the end, when Robin Williams travels to hell(!) to rescue his wife, he finds her in a dilapidated house, which sits, and this is the awesome part, on the barrel vault of a cathedral. The entire cathedral, a massive one at that, is inverted! If it weren't for the fact that he was in hell on a crusade to rescue his wife from eternal damnation, Robin Williams might have enjoyed his time floating in the clerestory, sliding down and into a pool that has collected on the ceiling, mounting over the transverse ribs. I would have. So when can I expect the first cathedral to go belly up and die?

December 13, 2005 2:02 AM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

But why stop now...Cathedral: The Game.

In other words, as it seems customary now in Hollywood film promotion -- BLDGBLOG: The Game. You take on the character of an infamous architect (yes, there are landscape architect options as well), say Borromini, and your weapon are chunks of Baroque churches. But why not “glass islands, floating greenhouses, singing landscapes/geotechnical wind instruments, fake suns, trans-Asian highway megabahns, and loads of weird, fisheye-Futurist drain-tunnel networks.” And you fling them at a rampaging Zaha Hadid who obviously have in her arsenals lethal offshore oil platforms and instant cities ready to be jettisoned across the BLDGBLOG battlefield. Any kitchen sink? Oh, no. Only 10,000-ton flying buttresses and the likes.

Fight incoming hanging gardens with ballistic picturesque car park in the largest, deepest, meanest quarries.

December 13, 2005 3:02 AM  
Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

Good!

December 13, 2005 2:10 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Alex: check out The Torino Scale, wherein it is proposed that architectural masterpieces are flung at the earth's surface from orbit, and the seismic effects are thereby recorded...

December 13, 2005 3:00 PM  
Blogger Pornster said...

This ship yard is a photographers' dream.

December 17, 2005 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure it's aesthetic. Empathetic? NO!

This whole post about neet little images of w.a.s.t.e. and pretty little words to describe it might seem fun but ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE THOSE FUCKING METAL BEASTS APART FOR A LIVING? HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SURVIVE ON A CUP OF RICE A DAY? HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE YOUR CHILDREN STARVE TO DEATH BECAUSE YOU ARE ENSLAVED TO THE "FAT BOYS ACROSS THE POND"?!

THE BIG 8 NATIONS GET TO LIVE LIKE FUCKING KINGS WHILE THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS TO SERVE THEM, CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES, MAKE THEIR CLOTHES, THEIR TOYS AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING,SO THE "FAT BOYS" CAN GAT FAST FOOD, ENJOY INTERNET PORN, TALK ON THEIR FUCKING CELL PHONES, WEAR THEIR DESINGER FUCKING LABEL CLOTHES, WEAR DIAMONDS, DRIVE GAS GUZZLING GLOBAL WARMING CARS, AND FILL THEIR HOUSES AND LIVES WITH USELESS CRAP.

"FREEDOM AT THE COST OF SLAVERY"!

DOWN IS THE NEW UP. KIDS RUNNING AROUND WITH ADBUSTERS.ORG T-SHIRTS ON WHILE WEARING NIKES.

DID YOU KNOW THAT YOUR KIDS ARE GOING TO SUFFER AND DIE BECAUSE OF THE WAY YOU LIVE? DID YOU KNOW THAT "YOU" ARE KILLING PEOPLE, ANIMALS AND THE EARTH EVERYDAY?

JUST TAKE SOME PICTURES OF IT HUH? OH THAT'S REAL GREAT. SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS DOESN'T IT?

December 21, 2005 2:09 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Are the "Fat Boys Across the Pond" a hip-hop group? Thanks for the tip, Anonymous! Good to hear from you.

January 05, 2006 2:55 PM  
Anonymous India Radio said...

Thos pictures are really beautifull.
But people working there have a really tough life...

May 23, 2007 3:44 AM  
Blogger Sisao Tresed said...

...and so it is the way of Earth to recommit is's vested, vestages of time to a slow and ugly demise.

August 17, 2007 12:01 AM  

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