Eye Candy: Feral Houses


James D. Griffioen over at Sweet Juniper recently had a post featuring his photographs of what he has termed ‘feral houses’ – homes which, after being abandoned, have ‘reverted to a wild state’. The photographs are at the same time beautiful and haunting – expressing both the ‘death’ of a home, and the enduring quality of nature.

I’ve shared plenty here about feral dogs; I have heard people here use the word “feral” because so many of Detroit’s strays learn to survive long-term on their own. Feral, used in this sense, means they have reverted to a wild state, as from domestication. Our world feral comes from the Latin root fera, or “wild beast,” but it also has a connection to another Latin word, feralis, literally: belonging to the dead.

I’ve seen “feral” used to describe dogs, cats, even goats. But I have wondered if it couldn’t also be used to describe certain houses in Detroit. Abandoned houses are really no big deal here. Some estimate that there are as many as 10,000 abandoned structures at any given time, and that seems conservative. But for a few beautiful months during the summer, some of these houses become “feral” in every sense: they disappear behind ivy or the untended shrubs and trees planted generations ago to decorate their yards. The wood that framed the rooms gets crushed by trees rooted still in the earth. The burnt lime, sand, gravel, and plaster slowly erode into dust, encouraged by ivy spreading tentacles in its endless search for more sunlight.

Like some of the dogs I’ve seen using these houses as shelter (I followed a whole pack into #9 last week), these houses are reverting to a wild state, as from domestication, a word derived itself from domesticus (the Latin for belonging to the domus, or house). Now these houses are feralis. They belong only to the dead.


Interestingly enough, the winner of the ReBurbia Competition proposed returning abandoned suburbs to nature, and converting them into wetlands. While not my favorite entry – only because I wanted to see crazy concepts for the future of abandoned suburbs, not rational solutions, to be honest – this idea of leaving our abandoned developments to be overtaken by the natural environment is incredibly powerful.

Typical homes in the US aren’t built of heavy stone and/or other materials that will endure. Instead, they are built with materials that will succumb to encroaching plant life – much sooner than we’d like to admit, I’m willing to bet. Sure, these homes haven’t only been empty for a year or two – but they won’t be surviving as fascinating relics in the wilderness, like Angkor or other ancient sites. The suburbs -representing major achievements [whether you like them or not] in social, economic, and technological development – will not survive as artifacts. They will be consumed – which is pretty ironic, if you ask me.


For many more photographs of abandoned housing in Detroit, head on over to Sweet Juniper. Really, you just need to be checking out all of this ninja James’ work – as a lot of it is just too too sick. Enjoy.

Posted: September 15th, 2009
at 10:27pm by orangemenace

Categories: architecture,housing,photographie,eye candy

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