Abandoned Spaces Reclaimed by Art


It’s no secret that we’re big fans of repurposed spaces around here. From bookstores, to libraries, and more, we’re fascinated and enamored with the creative and ingenious ways people have transformed abandoned buildings. We felt compelled to continue our journey through dilapidated houses and deserted structures by exploring the works of artists who have reclaimed crumbling architecture for the sake of social messages, to inspire collective wonder, and to simply give new life to the neglected, decaying spaces. These artists went big and took over entire buildings. Visit abandoned spaces reclaimed by art past the break, and feel free to share your favorites below.

Life-Size Dollhouse

Canadian artist Heather Benning created this candy-colored, life-size dollhouse while she was an artist-in-residence in the small town of Redvers, Saskatchewan. She modified an abandoned farmhouse by painting the walls pastel colors and filling it with furniture to match the period the dilapidated structure was abandoned (the late 1960s). To protect the installation, but make it true to form, Benning opened up the north side of the house and replaced the exterior walls with plexiglass. The scale of the reclaimed farmhouse referencing the miniature toy abodes of childhood makes it a truly wondrous sight.

Frozen Detroit House

Ice House Detroit was created to call attention to the troubled urban conditions in the Michigan metropolis. Photographer Gregory Holm and architect Matthew Radune chose one out of 20,000 abandoned homes in Detroit and froze it, turning the crumbled structure into a crystallized marvel. It was a beautiful transformation with a serious message about the city’s economic crisis. After winter faded, and the ice house melted, it was demolished and reclaimed for other purposes.

Crocheted Gas Station

The International Fiber Collaborative united artists who were concerned about our nation’s dependency on oil, so they started the World Reclamation Art Project (W.R.A.P.), which became known as the Gas Station Project. Imagine an abandon filling station wrapped in a snuggly, knit cozy. Participants collaged fiber panels (all thematically relevant), covering the 50-year-old former Citgo station in central New York. It took over 3,000 knitted, crocheted, sewn panels to complete the project, and the result was impressive and memorable.

Image credit: ExcuseMySarcasm

Painting Detroit Orange

Detroit’s urban blight became a symbol of the United States economic crisis and troubled housing market. Several local artists wanted to call attention to the issue in 2006. The anonymous collective painted Detroit’s dilapidated buildings with a shocking orange color, guerrilla-style. Object Orange didn’t win any admiration from the mayor’s office, which demolished several of the buildings upon discovery — coincidentally they claimed.

Destroyed Houses Obsessively Rearranged

Dutch artist Marjan Teeuwen reclaims abandoned buildings by reassembling their contents — right down to the tiny pieces of plaster littering the floors and objects left behind by former residents. The obsessive project is visually stunning and completely suffocating to behold as the contents of each space are crammed together floor to ceiling.

Community Bucket List

After a friend passed away, artist Candy Chang tried to cope with the loss by creating a project that helped her maintain a perspective about life and death. She transformed an abandoned home in her New Orleans neighborhood into a giant chalkboard, asking people to complete the sentence, “Before I die I want to… ” Passersby could fill in the blanks and share their dreams. The neglected space became a place of hope and renewal. The project eventually expanded to communities all over the world.

Glowing House

Luisa Alvarez used her lighting design background to illuminate an abandoned house with old color negatives, gels, and LED lights, wrapped around discarded objects such as chairs, and installed along staircases and doorframes. Habitando was a temporary installation that reinhabited the unoccupied structure with light. No magic tricks were required, as Alvarez used the natural light shining through the windows to create radiant, colorful reflections.

Creative Amusement Park Ecology

This summer, a creative project known as Kulturpark began a collaborative investigation and transformation of an abandoned amusement park in East Berlin. For one month, artists came together to activate the park for “creative exchange, site-specific art, urban design, historic memory, social connection, and public imagination.” Read a brief history of the park below, then head to the project website to explore the ways artists built upon Berlin’s urban, social, cultural, and political landscapes.

“Built along the Spree River in the Treptow Park forest, Kulturpark Plänterwald was an idyllic and unusual site for leisure built by the GDR in 1969. After the fall of the wall, the park was privatized as Spreepark, and ran until financial collapse in 2001. The surrounding Treptow District contains a complex history including the site of the 1896 Berlin Trade Exhibition, the Archenhold Observatory where Einstein first lectured on relativity, and the Soviet War Memorial with its Stalinist architectures and cold war ceremonies. The Plänterwald landscape inspires reflections on public memory, resistance, leisure, amusement, ceremony, commerce, and technology.”

Wrapped Reichstag

The Reichstag building in German stood as a ghost from World War II. The massive structure caught fire in 1933, which gave the Nazis enough pretext to justify extreme security precautions against the mysterious arsonists (believed to be Communists by the Third Reich), catapulting Hitler to power. It sat in ruin until the 1990s. Shortly before reconstruction was to begin (after the reunification of Germany), artist Christo and his partner-collaborator Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in 1,076,000 square feet of aluminum-coated polypropylene fabric, draped over a 200-ton steel framework that allowed the material to cascade over the sides of the majestic building.

Inverted House

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck — who form the artist collaborative Havel Ruck Projects — took an abandoned home that was about to be torn down and repurposed the architectural framework for an explosive sculptural project. Inversion looked like someone shot a canon through the front door, but it was just a bit of clever construction from the house hackers (many of their projects focus on similar spaces). The cavernous hole was actually a tunnel that snaked through the building and deposited brave suburban explorers into a private courtyard.

Mobile Ruins

This photo of Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over doesn’t do the three-dimensional installation justice. The artist reclaimed the abandoned Yates Wind Lodge in Liverpool, slicing out a 26-foot portion of the building’s exterior, creating a mobile out of it that was activated by a light sensor. The revolving facade was an exciting spectacle for passersby. Do yourself a favor, and watch it in motion below.

Interactive Building Hack

In 2001, hacker collective Chaos Computer Club took over the then abandoned Haus des Lehrers in Berlin. Blinkenlights transformed eight floors and 18 windows — behind which 144 spotlights were installed and controlled by a computer. Animations played across the panes and even allowed pedestrians to remotely control the images with their mobile phones. People had the chance to play Pong and write their own love letters across the skyscraper. For five days, the building became the world’s largest interactive computer display.