Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Up the #6 Municipal Flow Outlet with Elephant Gun & Native Guide

Penned upon the 20th of February, 2007

“If […] it be asked us to specify what kind of amount of art, style, or other interest in a building, makes it worth protecting, we answer, anything which can be looked on as artistic, picturesque, historical, antique, or substantial: any work in short, over which educated, artistic people would think it worthwhile to argue at all.”

-William Morris,
Manifesto of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Humans’ constructions are never merely utilitarian, ornamentless shelters: they always reflect the intimate beliefs of their creators and inhabitants. This occurs consciously, as a great public building in the Greek style seeks to make itself known as a place of rational contemplation, or a Gothic tower itself a place of reverent awe. Buildings also accumulate a sense of humanity and purpose through use, from the furniture which fills them and redefines their aesthetic to those minute but important details which their owners become blind to, and even leave behind when they move on: notes, toys, decorations, the scuffs of the path they tread every day.

These buildings serve as living memorials to our world, to the everyday activities of endless generations of unique and fascinating human beings. If such a place is kept alive, one need never be lonely. It is inevitable, though, that every forty years or so, a new art school or political movement emerges which feels it has got it, has invented something completely new which renders the past wholly irrelevant, and in the flurry to explore the new mental landscape, a landmark or two is let to rot – or else psychogeographical ennui sets in, and an exquisite construction is razed simply to build unimaginative medium-cost housing in the absence of any vocal argument not to.

Lately I have been reading some of the very many compelling accounts of those who seek out, explore and record those segments of the urban landscape which have fallen through the cracks of our consciousness; these include everything from Australia’s own Cave Clan, spelunkers of the subterranean network of pipes, drains and tunnels that serve our cities (the Sydney branch boasting some particularly well-documented, if heavy in high jinks, trips) to Simon Cornwell, a specialist in abandoned, often rotting and legendarily haunted, Victorian mental asylums. Simon’s well-written website also boasts some unique cases, such as a tour through a Second World War bunker built for the use of that insufferable puffball Churchill’s cabinet, as well as the extaordinarily beautiful and sad Beedingwood House.

These are but a sample of the literature pertaining to urban exploration the world over, but they are highly recommended reading. That such beauty should ever be left to decay is tragic, but as Mr Cornwell observes himself, it is somewhat calming to see it slowly be returned to nature; perhaps, one day, to be swallowed up and become part of the greenery itself, a forest of stained-glass trees and leafy gargoyles.


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